Jungle To Table Dining in the City

An exquisite orchard-inspired outpost of kampung recipes and Tulum vibes captures the right side of sustainability, community, and style.

By | July 18, 2022

Du·​sun | \ˈdüsᵊn \

  1. remote village, hamlet
  2. fruit gardens: sometimes in the orchard there is also a garden that is not only ornamental but has the power of production

The first thing you notice is a never-before-seen line of people snaking around the front of Bangsar Shopping Centre. It leads you curiously into the last thing you’d expect to find in this chicest of KL enclaves—an orchard. Or at least a restaurant incarnation called Dusun. What could possibly be more brilliant in this almost forgotten corner where sunlight still floods through three 30-year-old Bushida trees?

Beach-luxe vibes, with the Bushida as the central point. Photograph: Courtesy.

The outdoor deck wraps itself lovingly around these Bushidas. Also known as black olive trees, they were salvaged from the previous restaurant that resided in this space to now form the very kernel of Dusun. Elegant bakau branches, precisely-cut from sustainable mangrove forests in Selangor, etch out the frame of the stunning perspex roof that rims the space, sheltering the outdoor tables. There are split bamboo screens and handwoven rattan ceilings. Artisanally cut batu palimanan naturally absorb the tropical heat and slot together like pieces of a minimalist puzzle to form flooring that confirms its literal and architectural cool.

Communal dining, oozing tribal chic. Photograph: Courtesy.

Indoors there are long tables of rich hardwood for communal eating, where customers keep asking if the handsome displays of Indonesian collar necklaces and baskets are for sale, too. Back outdoors squat sculptural stools loiter in the shade of the central Bushido, as they in turn invite customers to loiter in the gravel garden vortex of all this kinetic artistry. It is a spectacular setting that manages to still feel soothing and should be given above the title billing in this restaurant. This isn’t just the backdrop for the food, it’s the reason many come armed with their selfie-sticks.

Co-proprietors Brian Quirk (seated) and Andrew Wong, also the names behind Open House and Acme. Photograph: Courtesy.

Proprietor, Andrew Wong, ne plus ultra of style icons is dressed in trademark Rick Owens. When we meet he’s in badass black satin boxing shorts that somehow impersonate leather. Fierce thick-soled ankle boots are offset by a pink crystal pendant (“for clarity”) dangling from his neck. A seasoned restauranteur with a successful stable of 4 dining brands to his name-including the award-winning Open House—he is passionate about promoting what can be foraged and grown locally for presentation on his recycled hardwood tables.

With Head Chef Azli, Andrew has created a menu that is the synthesis between their inherited kampung recipes and the duo’s contemporary palates. What has emerged from their sessions of “main masak-masak” (play-cooking, like children do) is urban comfort food with a Dusun twist. Think sandwiches, pizzas, pastas, and rice bowls with a filling of chicken kerisik or an asam pedas base. The full menu has launched but let me say I could eat the smoked kampung chicken rice everyday, thank you.

Smoked Whole Kampung Chicken. Photograph: Courtesy.

Dusun prides itself with sourcing, and sometimes revitalising, ingredients that are indigene—pepper from Ba’kelalan, Sarawak; locally farmed herbs and rubs that include ulam raja, daun selom, kemangi and purple selasih; and liaising with various Orang Asli to forage our jungles for “Chef Azli’s closely guarded secret ingredients”. The actual cooking here has been distilled to the most basic kampung methods—api and asap—to flame and smoke. Once again using only sustainable bakau that evokes the open fire kitchen smells of yesteryear kampungs, these bakau embers intensify flavours rather than layering over them. And FYI, Dusun has an offset programme with the Malaysian Nature Society for the reforestation of these mangroves forests.

The Smoked Pucuk Paku, a signature salad that celebrates foraging and local flavours. Photograph: Courtesy.

 

The Okox Pizza, an abundance of mushrooms and kulat kukur. Photograph: Courtesy.

But back to that queue and an opening hum reverberating at a never-before-heard decibel in these parts. They lead to a setting where families and tribes fill every seat. From fathers and sons discussing the soaring cost of airline travel over their Taco Mak, to huddles of girlfriends debating the politics of the day (KJ vs SS!) with a side of Jicama Jungle Kerabu. Everyone is here. Perhaps this zeal was catalysed by a pandemic-fatigued populace, now newly-liberated, but still a touch nostalgic for simpler lockdown necessities. Bingo! Comfort food and a divinely dressed-up space that, once you get to the head of that queue, is warmly welcoming.

But Dusun strives to be more than just the most fashionable eating ticket with its ethos of “bringing together the spiritual and social buzz of the community”. From this month, early mornings and late afternoons will be given over to the public who are invited to make this dreamy space ours, with community-minded causes. Those interested may run workshops and immersion programmes. They have talks on mental health to sambal cooking and candle making classes lined up. Hansen Lee of Ommosapiens will be running 45-minute yoga classes, after which you know foraging for a healthy breakfast will be at close supplicated hand. Namaste. Dusun also donates a percentage of their bottled water sales to a nominated NGO on a quarterly rotation. Any customer may nominate a worthy NGO for consideration.

The gorgeously restrained palette of naturals and neutrals. Photograph: Courtesy.

This is all in keeping with their original intention, when inspired by travels to boho chic Tulum and Bali, Andrew and partner Brian Quirk knew they wanted to one day imbue their restaurants with freethinking and adventure. That the best dining experiences can be laid back and accessible and had in flip flops. And just maybe visitors might even “find themselves” here. They have recast the opulent theatre of Open House in a gorgeously restrained palette of naturals and neutrals. The handiwork of Brian’s design company, Quirk and Associates, Dusun is a celebration of Brian and Andrew’s unique division of talent, love and labour. It’s a potent combination of a match made in style heaven with authenticity, charm and chutzpah. It’s what post pandemic resilience, humour and lashings of style can do. Vibing like the rockstars they are. Have I mentioned the restaurant looks sensational?

Ultimately, it’s about delivering the complete experience of eating out in a community space. Reshaping the perception of what restaurant spaces can do. And feel like. It’s about ripening the traditional. Feeling like you’ve travelled while knowing you’re still comfortingly in 59000. It’s about Andrew saying —yes, crystals aside—a sambal sandwich is my go to pick me up. It’s about treating customers as individuals. And still belonging to a tribe.  #atplayinthedusun #souldriven #everyoneshappy. There you go. Gram that.

Dusun by OpenHouse, G9A Bangsar Shopping Centre, Jalan Maarof, 59000 Kuala Lumpur

Ommosapiens Movement & Yoga, 69A Jalan SS21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya

Shireen Zainudin

Shireen Zainudin

Shireen Zainudin's last short story was published in the anthology 'The Principal Girl'. She is otherwise a freelance writer and photographer, and has staged story-telling events at arts festivals. The avid traveller also co-edited and contributed a story to 'The Lockdown Chronicles', available in bookshops now.