[Kuala Lumpur] Lunch at Leen's Middle East Kitchen

Leen’s Middle East Kitchen at the upper-middle-class Malay suburb of TTDI is the brainchild of Syrian head chef, Ameer Alzalek.

A couple of KL foodie friends had brought me here as I’d asked for the best Middle-Eastern in town. I was also told by others that Tarbush’s branch at the JW Marriott is the best, but that remains to be seen - we had to cancel our (very) advanced dinner reservation there as its timing clashed with the Michelin Guide to KL & Penang 2024’s gala dinner at the Four Seasons. I need to cover Tarbush the next time I come down to Kuala Lumpur.

Back to Leen’s, I was pleasantly surprised by how simple and spartan everything looked. But self-taught Ameer Alzalek’s cooking can best be described as Modern-Syrian: he updates and transforms Syrian dishes by introducing unexpected touches to the dishes, but without changing their traditional essence: roasting chickpeas to give his hummus a smokey lift; grinding his falafel finer, resulting in smooth-textured dumplings with crisp exteriors, and many other surprising little touches. It’s Syrian food as your grandmother would cook it if your grandmother is a Syrian Heston Blumenthal. :joy:

Our lunch consisted of:

  1. Smoked Hummus, served with pita bread - the paprika red-tinged oil had an intense smokey scent and taste which elevated this dish beyond the ordinary. Served with warm, puffy pillows of pita bread, it was a meal in itself. Our lunch could’ve just stopped right here, and I’d still go off happy!

  2. Haloumi Fattoush, with heirloom tomatoes, kyuri, haloumi, shaved radish, olives, parsley, croutons, spring onion oil dressing - this was perhaps the best fattoush I’d ever had: super-crisp Japanese kyuri cucumbers, crunchy croutons made from sourdough, roasted haloumi, sweet heirloom tomatoes - they all came together like a crazy symphony of flavours and textures that somehow worked.

  3. Falafel, served with spicy tahini and pickles - I used to think that the best falafel I’d ever had (in my limited exposure to falafels) was by Israeli-Indian celebrity-chef, Reena Pushkarna, but the ones here trumped Reena’s!

  4. Kebab Khashkhash - lamb kebab, khashkhash sauce, pine nuts, mixed salad - this is one of those dishes that elicited “oohs” and “aahs” from diners: delicious wands of lamb kebab, floating in a savoury, subtly-spiced sauce, tightly sealed in a bowl with a bread lid and baked.
    The aromatic, sesame-studded bread lid was cut open table-side and, upon lifting it, released an aromatic cloud which wafted up our nostrils, and awakened our salivary glands.

  1. Crispy Syrian Rice - with chicken thigh, tzatziki sauce, harissa sauce, peanuts & pickles - another Chef Ameer invention, where he worked peanuts and pickles into rice, undoubtedly inspired by his decade-long exposure to Malay nasi lemak, the de facto Malaysian national dish where peanuts added crunch to the rice dish, pepped up with crunchy achar pickles.

Back in Syria, no one adds pickles to a rice dish! So this is a wholly new genre in itself.

  1. Karkade Lemonade - fizzy lemonade, hibiscus syrup - Muslims abstain from alcohol so, in its place, they concocted deliciously refreshing drinks, like this chilled drink here. Perfect.

Super-impressed by this humble-looking place which served up surprises on every platter.

Leen’s Middle East Kitchen
136, Jalan Burhanuddin Helmi, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 90000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +6011 7020 7551
Opening hours: 6pm-12pm (Mon-Fri), 12 noon -3pm, 6pm-11pm (Sat & Sun)


Kebab sounds and looks wonderful. But then I’m male and from northwest England, so any kebab works for me. That looks almost like a pie (another food that is hardwired into my DNA). Now, of someone can work out a “proper” kebab pie, I will invest in their about-to-be very successful business,

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Wow - I want everything there!!!

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Thanks for the link – she has an interesting story!