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Food & Beverage
Jao Tim: An Elegant & Nostalgic Cafe Hidden in KL's Chinatown
by Melina M.

Jao Tim, as we Cantonese speakers know, means 'hotel'. The owners named the cafe Jao Tim because this premise was established as a hotel back in 1910. Yup, that was more than a hundred years ago, yet the building still retains much of its original elements - wooden flooring and panels, exposed brick walls, high ceilings, colonial-style arched windows and brass fixtures. There is also a reception area that is visible immediately when you arrive at the top of the stairs, with the signboard 'concierge' above it (this is a new addition by the way), all playing into the vintage hotel concept. Nice touch.

At the front of the cafe, next to the windows, a vinyl set plays old school jazz, big-band and swing music from the 1910s -1940s era. Think Al Hirt, Glen Miller et. al. This adds to the nostalgic pre-war charm of the place. We took our seats at one of the small round tables feeling like we had just stepped back in time; imagining ourselves in one of those old movie scenes where a handsome young off-duty soldier would enjoy a pint of beer in a pub and ask the pretty lady sitting across the room who caught his eye for a dance. How romantic is that? We totally felt that Jao Tim evokes a strong sense of nostalgia - a particular sense of time and place.

Believe it or not, long ago, this building overlooked the Kuala Lumpur train station. Now, it is filled with little treasures from a bygone era that one can only dream of having in their house such as gold-plated light switches, a vinyl player and a vintage camera from the early 20th century.

This cafe is perfect for chilling out on a hot afternoon day, away from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown. There is a lot of natural sunlight pouring in through the gap on the roof, making it a well-lit space to do your work quietly in a corner, or just sit back and listen to the music while sipping on your cup of coffee or tea. Time passes by quickly here while you are daydreaming or reflecting on yesteryears gone by.

According to Jian Tan (one of the cafe's friendly owners who chatted with us), there are plans to use the upper mezzanine floor of the cafe as an event space, art gallery and workspace for hobbies like yoga, art classes etc. They also intend to invite musicians to perform here since they have a pretty well-equipped sound system already in place, and patrons are encouraged to take the microphone and sing - impromptu - if they so feel like it. All of these activities will turn Jao Tim into a social gathering spot where creativity and artistry can flourish under one roof.

Right now, Jao Tim's food menu consists of "nibble food" as we call it - light snacks like their signature grilled cheese sandwich, pastries, pies and cakes. In the near future, heavier meals (e.g. pasta) will be added to the menu for patrons who crave for something more filling.

The drink menu offers a lot more choices. Besides coffee and tea, the cafe also serves a wide selection of imported craft beer - including craft beer from Penang (as Jian is a Penang homeboy), which is pretty cool.

We ordered the Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Extra Cheese (RM18), Smoked Duck Quiche (RM16) and Orange Poppy Seed Cake (RM14) to share. For our drinks, we picked the Mr. Flanders Cocoa (RM18) and a Hot Latte (RM11).

The grilled cheese sandwich was totally delightful. We asked for extra cheese, and we got exactly what we asked for - a perfectly grilled crispy sandwich filled with mouthwatering melted mozzarella and cheddar cheese, served with a side of fresh salad. Yummy!

The smoked duck quiche was also quite good, although we found it a bit overpriced for a rather thin slice of quiche. That said, the orange poppy seed cake was our favourite. It was moist and spongy; the sweetness of the cake was just right and it paired perfectly with our warm drinks.

And speaking of drinks, the hot latte was silky and smooth in texture, while Mr. Flanders Cocoa is a must-have for Instagrammers. It’s a gorgeous drink to enjoy on cool rainy days - a thick hot chocolate beverage topped with whipped cream, cocoa powder, lightly toasted marshmallows and crackers. Simply soul comforting!

Will we come back here if we visit Chinatown again? Oh, you bet! Jao Tim is more than a cafe; it serves as a reminder of our shared history, of how it was like back in the old days. More than the food, the inviting and lovely ambience is what we love best about this place.

Jao Tim

  • No. 61 Jalan Sultan, City Centre, Kuala Lumpur
  • Opening hours - Tuesday-Thursday: 11am-7pm; Friday-Sunday: 11am-9pm
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