Rare it is to find a chain of vegeries (vegetarian-eateries, of course), let alone one that occupies prime locations in a city centre. The Loving Hut comes close, but it still prefers the relative safety of suburbia. Simple Life stands alone for its sheer willingness to stare risk in the face, and occupy expensive retail spaces in Bukit Bintang, KLCC, Mid Valley City, Bangsar, and further afield as well. The total number of outlets stands at 12, all of which are located in and around Kuala Lumpur. It’s a flourishing business; one that is well-conceptualised, well-marketed, and well-executed.
Business savviness aside, what I like most about Simple Life is its fidelity to authentic vegetarian flavours. Heavy sauces and elaborate mock meats are downplayed, whilst the focus is more on the natural and unrefined tastiness of plants. It reminded me a lot of home-style cooking; clean and simple flavours, and an emphasis on the ingredients more than the oil, sugar, and salt used when cooking them.
The Bukit Bintang branch of Simple Life is located on the second floor of the Lot 10 shopping centre. It’s unmissable, mainly because it occupies not one, but two spaces – a kedai and most of the second floor landing area. Another sign of just how successful – and popular – this brand is. The menu (which can be found on the website) spans a range of Chinese and Western a la carte dishes and some set meals. It also offers nasi lemak; a much sought-after, vegetarian version of the calorific Malaysian staple. Indeed, the menu is so large and enticing that we ended up going twice in two days. How’s that for a recommendation!
The multi-grain rice nasi lemak (MYR 14.90) was what attracted us to Simple Life in the first place. As the name suggests, this dish used multi-grain rice instead of its more traditional, coconut-infused counterpart. A sensible way of cutting calories and boosting the health quotient. The delicious coconuttiness of n. lemak was not, however, lost, as coconut permeated the pumpkin and tempeh curry and, when mixed with the rice, turned out to be a clever and satisfying substitute. The pickled vegetables were sour and crunchy, and the soup was an interesting combination of red bean and lotus root. What surprised me most, however, was the belachan. Whilst I usually find this stuff repulsive (too smelly and overpowering), this one had a strong lemongrass (instead of shrimp) base that added a fragrant sweetness to the chilli. A million miles better than the real thing.
The charcoal sandwich with egg (MYR 13.90) seemed like a bit of a gimmick, but an effective one at that. The benefits of using charcoal as an ingredient are more to do with presentational uniqueness (black bread, anyone?) than nutrition or flavour. But who am I to complain, as this is the exact reason why I chose this dish. A bit like a club sandwich for vegetarians, the mock ham had a nice saltiness that made it taste a lot like the real deal, and the use of mock pork floss and sesame seeds gave each bite a satisfying crunch and savoury aftertaste. The best part, however, was the enoki tempura, which I thought was as original as it was delicious.
On our second visit, we tried the beancurd stick with basil leaves (MYR 18.90), which is one of the set meals on the menu. Whilst the name is both strange and misleading (a “beancurd stick”…?!), this was essentially a Thai-style vegetable curry with a sweet basil sauce. Included in the curry were babycorn, carrot (cut into rather exciting lightning bolts), ginger, snow peas, and shimeji mushrooms. The beancurd itself looked more like a shrivelled pancreas than it did a stick. Not that it mattered, for it provided a nice, if unnecessary supplement to the veggies. A satisfying, but overpriced dish.
The basil leaves pancake (MYR 14.90) caught my attention from the outset. A unique idea that sounded (and looked) good on paper, mainly because its description was so ambiguous. A pancake? Would it be potato, dough, or radish-based? What does the basil do to the flavour? Why is it so expensive? Is it any good? Unfortunately one bite was all it took to pass judgement; it was rubbery, flavourless, and overpriced. The addition of chopped onion or potato into the batter would have added some much-needed granularity, whilst the use of basil as a garnish or sauce would have added flavour. The lemongrass belachan and the elegant plate were the best things about this dish.
Simple Life is a thriving place that deserves a visit when in KL. A lot of thought goes into the menu and dishes, both of which are innovative and well-executed. What I like most is that fact that it embraces vegetarianism head-on by focussing on the natural flavours of vegetables rather than more synthetic supplements. If nothing else, it’s proof that vegeries can be as successful, and prolific, as their meatery counterparts!
Simple Life Healthy Vegetarian Restaurant
S12 & S31, 2nd floor, Lot 10 Shopping Centre, 50 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur
03 2110 5201
Open 11:00-22:00 Tuesday-Sunday; CLOSED Monday