Tavern Kitchen & Bar in Kota Kinabalu’s Imago Mall is only a few months old. They talk the talk with frequent advertising and are building up quite a name for themselves. SabahBah dropped by to see if they also walk the walk.
But for reviews, SabahBah criticises, if required, service, quality and value. So you, our readers, know what to expect. Plus, we feel honest feedback helps restaurants improve, but not many restaurant operators feel the same.
We also go as mystery visitors, so we don’t say we will go, or when, allowing us to have a standard customer experience.
Tavern Kitchen & Bar Stands Out
But Tavern Kitchen & Bar isn’t just any restaurant. “Come”, they said after we stated our terms, “you’re welcome any time.”
And so 2 of us went, at 6pm on a Thursday evening, a public holiday, the 2nd day of Hari Raya.
Upon our arrival it was already filling up, but Tavern Kitchen & Bar is generously sized and had tables spare. A host greeted us at the door and showed us to an inside table, laying glossy menus in front of us.
Up front we were informed about a slight delay before the kitchen could prepare any orders. He suggested ordering a drink first and relaxing, then placing the food order, so the delay wouldn’t feel so long. It wasn’t a big issue, but we appreciated hearing it before we ordered, and not as an unexpected surprise later.
Our drinks order included a glass of Bellagio Rosso and a Peanut Butter Cup, which was served mere minutes later.
Unbeknown to us, the Bellagio Rosso is a sweet, sparkling red wine. The Peanut Butter Cup went down a treat. Much like having dessert before the meal, it’s a nutty, sweet and savoury milkshake, a real treat. It’s hard to stop after the first sip, so it vanished quickly.
After our drinks arrived we placed our food order. For starters we chose the Crispy Cheese Sticks and Mini Little Italy Pizza. We asked our host if he wanted our mains order at the same time. He confirmed, so we ordered Sticky Beef Rib and the Hearty Beef Pie, leaving the timing of delivering the starters and mains up to him.
The Crispy Cheese Sticks arrived after a shorter than expected wait, followed a few minutes later by the Mini Little Italy Pizza.
The Crispy Cheese Sticks is a large portion of cheese beams, crumbed and fried, with a slightly spicy tomato salsa dip. The salsa helps cut through the creamy cheese, of which there is a lot. The Mini Little Italy Pizza consists of two slices of pizza, various toppings covered with yet more cheese. The generosity of all the cheese was rather overwhelming.
Half-way through our starters, which we enjoyed at a leisurely pace, soaking up the colourful vibe at Tavern Kitchen & Bar, one of our main dishes arrived.
Not wanting the main dish to get cold, we turned our attention away from our half-finished starters to focus on the Hearty Beef Pie, and 6 or so minutes later, the Sticky Beef Rib.
“Australian pie like no other. ’nuff said.” is how the pie is described on the Tavern Kitchen & Bar menu. The Hearty Beef Pie is like a Shepard’s Pie. A tasty layer of baked, mashed potato on top of a bed of deliciously fragrant, beef mince. It’s served with a side of tangy salad, complementing the heartiness of the Hearty Beef Pie. It went down a treat, highly recommended.
As for the Sticky Beef Rib, don’t be fooled by the picture on the menu that makes the rib look bite-sized; it’s not. The Sticky Beef Rib dish is a large, saucy beef rib that dominates the plate, surrounded by a tasty salad, itself a medley of flavours and textures. The meat is perfection, juicy, soft and comes off the bone without hesitation. As it claims on the menu, it really does seem to melt in your mouth.
Room for Dessert?
It is well-known that humans have a pudding-stomach. That other part that always has room for something sweet, regardless of how much you put into your normal stomach. To be honest, after the surprisingly large starters and generous main courses, we could hardly imagine dessert.
Thanks to pudding-stomachs, and the fact that we’ve heard much about Tavern’s Boom Boom Sizzling Brownie and had to try it, we soldiered on. We suspected the brownie would be heavy and rich in flavour, so we ordered the Lemon Tart as well, for balance, you see?
If you have experience with sizzling dishes, you know to listen to the host’s warning: don’t touch it! Tavern’s Boom Boom Sizzling Brownie arrives alone on a hot plate, the chocolate sauce added at the table. Then the sizzling show begins. It hisses, it bubbles, and it steams up a chocolatey storm, but eventually settles down and allows a careful approach for a taste. It is in deed rich, gooey and tasty as a brownie should be. The chocolate sauce eventually caramelises on the hot plate, sacrificing some, if you’re a slow eater. Torture for the chocolate sauce lover.
The Zesty Lemon Tart is truly the perfect accompaniment to the rich chocolate dessert. It appeared on our table unnoticed while distracted by the grand entrance of the Boom Boom Sizzling Browny. But once it takes centre stage, the Zesty Lemon Tart is the star of the show. Sweet, yes, but lemony and fresh all the same, and almost makes your full belly feel lighter, like you could order more. Almost.
On a whole, the Tavern Kitchen & Bar experience was above expectations, and SabahBah looks forward to the next visit.
Service: Tavern’s level of service is of a high standard. You’ll notice the front-of-house staff all have ear-pieces. It facilitates communication between different sections of the restaurant, which is why things move so swiftly. Food & drink orders were recorded accurately and delivered swiftly, all without having to repeat, reorder or remind. Perfection would be serving dishes at the same time (so nobody has to watch somebody else eat), and each course should be finished and cleared before the next is served (unless requested otherwise).
Quality: Tavern obviously paid attention to appearances, from decorations to staff uniforms, cutlery and furniture. Their service staff are well-trained and knowledgeable about the not just the restaurant and the menu, but also serving etiquette and customer service. The appearances combined with Tavern’s generous portions and quality ingredients, delivers a dining experience that makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Value: The question ‘was it value for money?’ is subjective – it depends on a person, and the same experience could be value for one, but not for another. It depends largely on service and quality. Tavern scored high on both, so SabahBah confidently answers that yes, it was excellent value. And we’re not even referring to the prices, but even the prices are pleasing.
Starters are RM12 – RM18, mains RM19 – RM52, desserts RM12 – RM19 and drinks vary from RM6 for soft drinks, RM8 – RM17 for coffees, milkshakes and juices to RM19 – RM35 for standard cocktails and RM50 plus for more potent drinks and bottles.
Tavern Loves Feedback
After our meal, when we called for the bill and revealed who we are, we met Dr. Chen and Herman, the co-owners of the bar. The first thing they asked was for feedback, and we told them honestly – although, to be fair, our niggles were just the timing of the dishes, a small matter. They listened patiently, and absorbed our comments, affirming how they value feedback, because it helps them improve.
As they are still a new restaurant, they explained, feedback from their customers are welcome and help them provide an ever improving experience that customers want to repeat again and again. Their rising rank and good reviews on TripAdvisor can attest to that.
We think they’re on the right track, and if Tavern Kitchen & Bar can keep up the pace, they will stay one of Kota Kinabalu’s goto restaurant and bars.