At design-led stay Else Kuala Lumpur, you can indeed see and feel the difference – not least that when you cross the threshold from madcap Chinatown to meditative rooms, rooftop swims, chill-out lounges, and even flotation pods (for that really away from it all feeling). But, it’s not too quiet here, the owners showcase the coolest of KL’s designers and artists, have hoisted in collabs with local brands and harnessed the ’hood’s cross-cultural flavours to cook up two see-and-be-seen eateries. The creative energy is palpable, but – with stillness and serenity part of Else’s ethos – it’s ok to skip a beat here, too.
Noon. Earliest check-in, 3pm. Both are flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £66.60 (MYR400), including tax at 6 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional government tax of MYR10.00 per room per night on check-in.
Rates include a breakfast of global faves (French toast with banana, mint and maple syrup; smashed avo and chilli on coconut bread), and locally loved eats (kaya toast, soto ayam noodle soup).
One of the Mantra rooms is suitable for guests with reduced mobility; set close to the service lift, it has an adapted bathroom, grab bars and panic button.
At the hotel
Alfresco terrace, gym, lounges and living rooms, concierge, free WiFi. In rooms: smart TV, Bluetooth speaker, minibar with local treats, coffee- and tea-making kit, free newspaper, air-conditioning, slippers, and Omno bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Worked by design experts Studio Bikin, all rooms and suites feel as soothing as the sound of one hand clapping, with calming hues, natural materials, engaging artworks and some with chairs that look like haute bean-bags to flump into. There’s a storied feel to furnishings with sculptural light fittings by Takeo Sugamata, and rugs and textiles that at times look more like art installations by Omar Khan. The Else Suite on the top floor offers the skyline panorama Kuala Lumpur calls for, as well as more living space, so that would be our shout, but all rooms pull off the neat trick of feeling a world away from Chinatown’s bustle.
The city-view saltwater infinity pool (open 6am to 10pm) is set into a brick-lined terrace with chill-out zones for post-paddle drinks. The Pool House hosts live music and comedy acts from time to time, and from this level you can see aspects of old and new Kuala Lumpur in one panoramic shot.
There’s no spa on-site, but in the bijou gym you’ll find bookable flotation pods.
Have your personal mantra keyed up, and maybe bring your laptop – not that we’re encouraging you to work, but KL’s movers and shakers pass through here and there’s a dynamic feel that you can’t help but get caught up in. To get you settled, you'll also get a tote bag to use during your stay from local ethical fashion brand Muni.
Else’s artists in residence (Eduardo Enrique, Franco Fasoli…) fill vitrines with curious objects, and Malaysian talents such as Fauzul Yusri, Fendy Zakri, Fawwaz Sukri and Nathan Fikri punch up the walls with colourful pieces.
Kids can stay, but there are few distractions on-site and a more grown-up feel overall.
The hotel’s owners have lovingly restored this historic 1930s building, and worked hard making local connections to really instil a sense of place within.
Take drinks by the pool or in the cosy sunken lounge (nabbing a book to flip through off the shelves there). We also like the cosying up potential of Raw Kitchen Hall’s long winding banquettes.
Courting a global community of trend-setters, Else calls for coolly culture-clashing clothing too.
Else has two dining spaces, both with a ‘be seen’ attitude. On the ground floor, Raw Kitchen Hall has sinuous leather banquettes, mega-flora greenery and a bar backed by a crowd of Corinthian columns, but it is the more casual of the two. An extension of Chinatown’s street-food scene, the menu plays with local, Thai and Latin flavours: ginger-lime-dressed prawn toasts, sambal-spiked tiger prawns, chicken in fermented-pineapple sauce… Whereas fine-dining spot Yellow Fin Horse uses ‘primitive’ cooking prep (fermentations, curing, preserving, open-flame cooking) to make very elegant modern dishes (garum-glazed Miyazaki steak, chargrilled aubergine with coconut gremolata) in a space decked out in earthy hues, leather and wood.
The spirits experts at Proof and Co have helped to curate the drinks lists. Raw Kitchen Hall serves up imaginative cocktails (occasionally spirit brands will pop up for collabs) and natural wines, whereas Yello Fin Horse is more a place for wine pairings and elegant apéritifs – staff make their own infusions, so your cocktail might come swished with vodka and a Malay spice blend (clove, star anise, cinnamon and cardamom) or star miso-butter whiskey. And drinks can also be served poolside or to the lounges.
Breakfast at Raw Kitchen Hall is from 6.30am–10am weekdays, 10.30am on weekends; lunch from noon–3pm; and dinner from 5pm–midnight (last orders 9.30pm). Yellow Fin Horse serves dinner from 6pm–midnight, Wednesday to Sunday.
Else Kuala Lumpur has moved into the historic Lee Rubber Building in the city’s Chinatown neighbourhood, set at a busy central intersection close to all the action.
Kuala Lumpur International is the closest hub, around an hour’s drive from the hotel. Staff can help to arrange transport on request.
The MRT and LRT stop Pasar Seni (on the Kelana Jaya and Kajang lines) is less than a five-minute walk away.
While driving in Kuala Lumpur is relatively stress-free, reliable public transport is the path of least resistance here. There’s nowhere to stash your car on-site, but there’s a charged public carpark close by.
Worth getting out of bed for
The difference between the hotel’s laidback spaces, built for self-reflection and some restful time-outs, and Chinatown’s chaos just outside is somewhat jarring, but this grittily engaging part of downtown is fast becoming one of Kuala Lumpur’s cooler hangouts. The locus of its vibrant artistic scene is Central Market – formerly a wet market, its 19th-century building is where to find unique handicrafts and statement paintings, have your fortune told, get furiously foot-massaged, or find free traditional performances. And there’s more culture to catch at Rex Cinema, a vintage hangout that’s survived two fires and a stint as a karaoke centre to become a venue for various art forms, pop-up bars and eateries, live music, and indie vendors. Further south, the once dishevelled Zhongshan Building has again come to life in the same style. Spiritual succour is very varied here, with the Hindu Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the Chan She Shu Yuen clan house, several Taoist places of worship, and the coolly contemporary National Mosque of Malaysia close by. Or the Perdana Botanical Gardens, with their butterfly and bird parks, lake and exotic flowers are a leafier way to escape. As day segues into night, head up to the observation decks atop the famous Petronas Towers to see the city sparkle from above, then swoop down to the Taman Connaught night market with more than 700 stalls and authentic street food.
Chocha Foodstore has quite a humble name considering it’s a restaurant, wine lounge, co-working space, newsagent, bike-rental shop, and – in a former life – brothel. But focus hasn’t fallen from the ‘food’ of it all, with menu offerings such as palm dumplings and smoked prawn in a fruity broth; lemongrass chicken; jackfruit and pandan in rice custard. In a place as culinarily diverse as Kuala Lumpur it seems contrary to hone in on one plate, but Nam Heong Chicken Rice’s Hainanese signature dish deserves the spotlight (but they also do a satisfyingly crispy roast pork). Old China Café was once the HQ for the Selangor & Federal Territory Laundry Association, and its vintage decor is still giving good feng shui, making it a convivial place for Peranakan eats.
With splashes of bright colour, ample greenery and rattan seating, Merchants’ Lane is an inviting spot for light eats – say a crab-stuffed omelette or coconut pancakes loaded with chicken rendang. Tommy Le Baker makes hefty sandwiches using its own sourdough loaves; and Vintage 1888 has a fine line in both savouries (salted-egg drizzled pasta, Korean pancakes stuffed with seafood), and sweets, with slabs of cake (yam and mochi, strawberry-matcha, orange-chocolate…). And if you've a yen for locally loved, coconutty spread kaya, Hungry Tapir puts it in sandwiches and cakes, and swirls it into yoghurt with fruit among other iterations.
Set in a pre-war shop lot on Petaling Street, PS150 puts its history front and centre, with cocktails covering eras from the 1850s onwards and three distinct areas in the original layout: a courtyard, sultry main bar and the ‘opium den’ with intimate booths. And in yet another vintage Chinatown shophouse that’s made the most of its industrial looks, Small Shifting Space’s bar serves up global wines and invites DJs to its decks. You could take a table at Rimbar KL, but as this unique drinkery is camping themed, with tents and lots of greenery, under canvas feels far more fun; and Concubine nods flirtily to Chinatown's more scandalous past.
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this detail-oriented hotel in Chinatown and unpacked their market-found carvings and spice blends, a full account of their cultural connection will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside Else Kuala Lumpur…
Else Kuala Lumpur definitely feels like a force for change, pulling focus to the capital’s creative vibrancy through conscientious collabs (say with Malay designers Studio Bikin or Faizah Architect), lively communal spaces for work and play, and Chinatown’s flavourful melting-pot poured into its two restaurants. The art nouveau Lee Rubber Building it inhabits has certainly seen some big differences in its time as a former holiday home for Kapitan Yap Kwan Seng, HQ for the Japanese secret police, and formerly the tallest building in the city. It may be dwarfed now, but it’s still significant, drawing in the city’s cool kids and digital movers and shakers. When you’re not immersed in its creative energy (there are frequent artists in residence and the hotel runs a zine, too), you’ll be embracing a stillness that feels all the more miraculous for its downtown location. Rooms are whisper quiet, the on-high pool is very relaxed, there’s a plant nursery tucked into the top floor, and flotation tanks for the full ‘I want to be alone’ treatment. An emblem of the city’s energy, yet also a respite from it, this is indeed something else.