Palillos (Spanish Yakitori: best yakitori?)

Takeaway:

Let’s get it out of the way first: Palillos deserves to be in the conversation for top 3 yakitori joints in KL alongside Torii and Sumika. Sure, we’re only basing that off of two visits – one on the house (many thanks to the gracious hosts and the inexhaustible supply of skewers) and one on our overextended credit card – but we’ve never been shy of making bold, often premature, claims. And to qualify the proclamation, there are a number of other yakitori spots on our To-Eat list (Kushiyaki Kuni, Toritama, Toridoki etc). For now though, it’s on to Palillos!

palillos

And you’ll find Palillos at the top of a stairwell, wedged between Family Mart and Pinchos (owned by the same people behind Palillos). It’s in that nefarious realm of Changkat, just down the hill from Bijan, Nerovivo and Bottega (bless their cold cuts and cheeses and dried pastas).

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No night is complete without a drink, as we often slur to ourselves, and so we pre-emptively began the journey to completion with a few of them. There’s the highball (RM23), which is seeing a bit more airtime around the Klang Valley. Palillos’ version is alright. The whisky is fairly muted. There’s a mild, almost meek, lemon-ess enveloping the drink, a good contrast to the overly citrusy renditions of some spots. Highballs always make us long for an old fashioned though, which makes us long for a whisky on the rocks, which…anyway, moving on to the yuzu fizz (RM29).

And if you think the highball is getting its time in the limelight, what about yuzu? Good heavens. It’s everywhere! Dessert Bar by Stanley Choong has a number of yuzu pieces, there’s the yuzu ice cream at Oribe (our pal Jonathan reviews it on Youtube here), and you’re more likely to find yuzu than a rice bowl nowadays. Potent reminder of that here: the yuzu kicks through immediately. It’s nicer than the highball. I was still drinking when the food started arriving and the food kept coming in batches, wave after endless wave, until I staggered off in submission, texted the girl I was seeing up until that point, and stumbled back for more food.

Boquerones are, Google informs us, fresh anchovies that are typically marinated in vinegar and olive oil. We had them with roasted capsicum, some ginger and, uh, sushi-ish rice. Initial misgivings quickly dissipated, echoing the dish itself. The initial ginger note, see, is very strong. It sizzles and bites the tongue. But after that sharp initial whip, it quickly dissipates, giving way to the quiet richness of the anchovies on the bed of rice.

Then came another off-menu item: fuet, a Catalan cured meat. Oh boy. Oh boy oh boy. It’s a thick sausage dotted with pockets of pork fat that make for a very nice textural bite indeed. It’s more savoury and not as sweet as its Chinese counterpart lap cheong, and that’s a good thing in our books. Oh, and the fuet goes on top of some nice crusty bread with tomato rubbed on it. Excellent.

The Mizuna salad (RM24) is a bit of a misstep though. See those red bits on top? That’s serrano ham, toasted until crispy. Sounds good on blog-paper but we found them to be overly toasted in person, to the point where it’s hard to taste the actual flavour of the ham. All that’s left is the texture. And it sits on a bed of kaiwara sprouts, shocked in ice water, for a very crisp finish that echoes the texture of the ham rather than complements it. We quite like the sprouts and the ponzu dressing, but the serrano ham feels like a waste.

The ceviche (RM27) fares better. The yuzu returns as a marinade this time. The prawns are robust. The octopus has a nice bite to it but there’s not much flavour to it (although, keep an eye out for the reappearance of the octopus later in this post). It’s all about the fish here – lovely texture, lovely taste. And the ceviche as a whole was surprisingly satisfying, given that some places can go overboard with the acidity and sourness.

The grilled whole eggplant costs RM15 and is worth every single 5-sen. There’s pine nuts, olive oil, soy sauce, bonito flakes, all coming together for a deft offering that immediately brings to mind Sumika’s version. It’s soft inside with a nice rich umami depth, but it never dissolves into that sticky-mulchy territory that poorly cooked eggplants fall into.

Chicken liver pate (RM 19) is another standout item (and we haven’t even reached the skewers section yet). The smell is intoxicating. It’s rich without being as funky as other spots (cough cough Hello by Kitchen Mafia), and it blooms even more as it slowly warms. Such a lovely buttery richness throughout too. Could there perhaps be some fat inside? And good lord, that texture! It’s almost like a jelly in its smoothness, but it lacks the slimy gloopiness of actual jelly. Instead, it’s thick, savoury, and immensely satisfying. Smear it over the slices of toast and revel.

Alright, folks, it’s skewer time! Eryngii mushroom is up first and lord does this set the tone. So juicy inside! And no trace of that slimy gunk you sometimes get with fungi. Fresh with a touch of funk, like RHCP right after Frusciante returned.

Palillos

Then there’s the good old staple, chicken skin (RM6). It’s a sort of litmus test for the amount of work that the kitchen is willing to put in, and Palillos easily passes. It’s crisp, fatty, almost like an essence of chicken concentrated into a crackling package.

Oh, and the sauce here is fantastic. Spicy, savoury, salty, perfect. Dip (and double dip) liberally. Get refills.

Also…I’ve never particularly liked rice balls to be honest but if you do, this one is pretty good I guess. There’s a crisp exterior with butter melting on top. It’s oozy inside. It’s RM9.

But what I do love is garlic. I really, really love garlic. And to this day my favourite way to cook them has to be slow-roasted in an oven, until it crisps and blackens on the outside and purees on the inside. Grilled garlic (RM4) is a close second though. Think of it as a milder version of the intense oven-roasted bulbs. It awakens the nose. It opens up the palate. It gets you ready for the next wave of skewers.

And on to the soft bones (RM6). There’s less of a char on these than at Sumika but yeah the flavour is there. Sumika is more focused on the crunchy texture but that’s not to say these are shrinking violets in the crunch department. Give them a shot, especially if you love soft bones like we do.

And we take a brief sojourn away from the skewers for this taco-thing: wasabi on grilled pork (lovely with the perfect ratio of rich, melting fat to succulent meat) on rice on leaf on seaweed. Bundle, pop in, knock back some sake, ruminate (should I get that suit on sale at COS? Or should I sell my wardrobe to fund a Dries Van Noten blazer?), mock Rupi Kaur on Facebook, look up to see more skewers. Skewers like the grilled scamorza:

Smoked cheese, says the menu. Smoked cheese with truffle oil for RM11. That’s one way of putting it. We’d probably go for something like “TRY THIS NOW” because this is a semi-soft smoked curd cheese (Scamorza!) with a fantastic springy bite, and a meaty, almost savoury finish. It’s decadent. It’s lovely. It’s finished way too quickly and we stare longingly at the bare skewers after we’ve slid their skewed-content into our eager mouths.

The chicken hearts (RM 4) arrive. We pop them in, write “lovely” on our Foodgazer notebook, and continue pining for the Scamorza.

And often we
consume
those we love
– not Rupi Kaur

Baby potatoes on skewers next, with bravas sauce (RM4). Fantastically crisp skin without being overly fried or burnt. Crispy like the best baked potatoes. Inside, to our surprise, it’s not starchy or thick and fluffy. Instead, it’s soft, tender, clean. The bravas sauce is nice too (not quite Marta’s Kitchen but it does the job).

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And another detour off menu – pork front hock, mirin, vinegar, salt and pepper. Fatty. Dripping with fat. The fat bursts in the mouth. Lovely taste but it verges on being too peppery as they went a bit overboard to compensate for the fattiness. Could legitimately see this going on the menu after a bit of fine-tuning though: would be a great way to end the week eh?

 

Palillos

I can see this being the main draw for some. It’s the iberico pork belly with wasabi (RM10). The meat is sublime when eaten right off the grill. It’s lustrous, luxurious, almost dangerously sensuous in the mouth. There’s a smokiness that lingers in the nose as you bite through the crisp browned exterior, down into the luscious, thick, coating fattiness. I mean that fat content is just insane. It’s borderline perverse. I let out an involuntary guttural groan then quickly peek around the table to see if anyone caught me in the throes of foodgasm. Safe this time. Everyone’s eyes are closed, heads thrown back. I go in for another bite. You see that wasabi on top, yes? It’s smeared and smattered and it cuts gently through the fat in throbbing layers.

And yes, I know that sounds bizarre and overblown but that’s the best way to describe the experience. It pulses in the mouth. You taste smoke, then fat, then the nasal heat of wasabi, then fat, then it repeats in gentle pulses.

But we’re not done yet.

In come the jamon-wrapped prawns (RM9), and what a delight they are. Plump, relatively huge, and juicy as anything. The smokiness and the ham give the body a perfect roundness, rather like how the sweetness of mantis prawns are juxtaposed by the charcoal smokiness of a CKT.

The pork neck (RM5) is next. It’s more chewy than the belly. It’s less fatty. There’s more meat to it. The onion adds a bit of light sweetness. It’s good, not great. It’s there for variation and choice.

Ah, onions (RM10). Bit of salt. Some sesame oil. And that grill brings it together into a delectable parcel – it’s soft and sweet while retaining a crunch you wouldn’t get with its caramelized counterpart. Pretty crazy how sweet this gets though.

Palillos

Nothing says Yakitori quite like chicken wings, which is a bit surprising when you consider how difficult it is to pull them off. The ones here (RM14) were perfect on the first visit. Soft, almost creamy inside, with gloriously crisped skin. On the second visit though, they were overseasoned. And come to think of it, we’ve had up and down experiences with the chicken wings at Torii (underseasoned during the latest visit and could be crispier), at Maruhi Sakaba (touch underseasoned) and even at Sumika (seasoning on point but the flesh isn’t as luxurious as Palillos’).

Palillos Palillos

You can get the skewer version of the Spanish octopus (RM19) or you can go all out with a whole leg/tentacle for RM75. Look at it. Just look at it.

It’s creamy, it’s rich, it’s soft on the inside. And on the outside there’s a fantastic, deep smokiness from the grill and from the pimenton paprika. It pairs amazingly well with the house red we had.

Now bear in mind that it has a bit more bite to it than the rendition at Marta’s Kitchen, which I wouldn’t say is a negative attribute in any way. If anything, it makes it fit better within the conceit of Spanish Yakitori.

Palillos

Dates, bacon, blue cheese. It assaults the nostrils as soon as it plops down on the table, with a thick, unyielding pungency. Inside: oozing hot, melty, gooey cheese bursting against ripe sweet dates.

Palillos

You’d think at this point there’s not much Palillos can pull out to further impress us. And that’s precisely when they whipped this beauty out: grilled iberico short loin (RM53) served with shishito. Salt is cracked on top. Thick, thick, thick fattiness reminiscent of an Old Engine Oil beer in terms of mouthfeel – it coats the mouth and rolls around the more you bite in and swallow. It’s incredibly juicy and oily and we don’t know where one ends and the other begins. Then there’s the peppers – the bitterness still tingles the tip of the tongue but the heat is very mild. It acts as a sort of astringent juxaposition that undercuts the fattiness of the pork.

The chorizo and deep-fried bread was – surprise – also great. Interestingly enough, the chorizo itself is alright. It’s, well, chorizo. Pardon the sacrilege but I’ve never had particularly noteworthy chorizo. The bread though…what is this sorcery? They tell us it’s just their usual bread drizzled with olive oil then grilled together with the chorizo. And so I repeat: what is this sorcery? The texture is amazing. It’s almost like a cookie dough in its chewiness and resistance, but the elasticity and bite remind us, for a brief moment, of the cheese curds in a poutine.

Oh and we had some Baines Pacharan (not pictured) Spanish liquer. Lots of berry sweetness on the notes, with some stinging anise notes at the end once the body dissipates. Very sweet. Pairs well with the fattier skewers.

Out come the desserts. This one is from Pinchos though, not Palillos – it’s a chocolate mousse (lovely texture and mouthfeel, almost gelato-like) on top of crispy biscuits. And of course, sea salt is always a great complement for good chocolate. Avid IG followers will know we aren’t the biggest dessert fans but we’ll make an exception for this beauty.

And we ended the night on another sweet note: RM6 grilled marshmallows with strawberries for the table. Yeah, I know, it looks too sweet. I expected an overwhelming cloying sweetness, but shame on me for doubting Palillos, I guess. It’s just the perfect level for a satisfying end to a satisfying night. It made us think of better things and better times, of fairytale endings from childhoods past, of school outings and holidays before we fell into the cycle of capitalistic wage-slavery. We melted marshmallows over open fires then, at Templar’s Park and camp sites, and waited to grow old. And maybe these little grilled pillows remind us of those fluffier times. Maybe.

And that’s all for now, folks. Go and try Palillos.


Palillos is open from 5.30pm to 1am on Mondays to Thursdays and 5.30pm to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. They’re closed on Sundays. Give them a call at +603-2110 5051 to make a reservation. 

Search for their location on Waze/Google Maps or head over to the small stairwell in between Pinchos and Family Mart.

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