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COLONIAL HERITAGE:Started in 1921, the iconic Coliseum Cafe & Grill Room still attracts the old and young to dine at its restaurant
TIME may have changed outside the iconic Coliseum Cafe & Grill Room, but inside, past the rustic wooden doors of one of the oldest restaurants in Malaysia, it feels like it stood still.
It is almost a century since the restaurant began operations as Coliseum Cafe & Hotel in 1921.
A new management took over the reins of the colonial heritage in 2011 because the previous owners (who wish to remain anonymous) were getting old.
For a classy restaurant which has one leg planted in old Malaya and another firmly entrenched in the modern capital of Malaysia, it is no easy feat to find the right balance between the old and the new.
This is the place which British planters, civil servants, traders, military personnel, teachers and others considered their oasis, a welcome respite from the pressures of their jobs.
It was a double treat for them when they could throw in a good movie at the Coliseum cinema nearby.
Coliseum was a reliable place for them to count on getting a hearty pint of ale to wash down the restaurant's classic chicken chop, sizzling steaks, Hainanese noodle dishes, black pepper steaks, baked crab, mee hailam and others. Even today, it is well known for its delectable western and local dishes.
The new management is continuing to maintain its timeless magical aura while injecting more comfort and enhancing the ambience of the eatery through refurbishment.
The new operations director of Coliseum, who only wants to be known as Ong said, "We want to allow loyal customers of Coliseum including the new generation to continue enjoying the colonial dining experience."
The dark wooden saloon doors leading into the bar area, photos on the walls and the decor contribute to the dining experience here. Its dark and dingy kitchen has made way for a contemporary one that would even get the thumbs up from Jamie Oliver.
Wooden armchairs with leather upholstery which are over 70 years old still hold pride of place in the bar area. New chairs have been placed in the dining area while the old ones have been moved to the "Smoking Room", a dining area for smokers.
A wooden Meranti cupboard and an old sturdy coat-hanger inject more rustic appeal to the charming interior of the restaurant.
"When this restaurant opened, people used to dress formally and come in wearing coats and hats. People today are much more casually dressed and the coat-hanger is just a pleasant reminder of days gone by," said Ong.
Some wooden panelling on the walls sport an engraving of the unmistakable initials of the Coliseum brand as do the new signboards in the front and back of the restaurant.
The dining area still has mosaic tiles which date back to the 1940s.
"As you can see, there are small square-shaped light green mosaic tiles with dark green ones around the perimeter. These are rare nowadays.
"The flooring in the bar room can now be found only in heritage sites in places like Malacca. Only the affluent could afford terrazzo at one time. We polish the floor every year to maintain its lustre," said Ong.
"The restaurant still has a couple of ancient fans like the big ones over the bar table and near the entrance of the dining area," said Peter Heng, administrative manager of Coliseum.
The fans which have been keeping people cool ever since the restaurant opened are still going strong! When was the last time you have seen a fan with speed controls from 0 to 12?
"The restaurant has been used from time to time by movie and TV companies to shoot films, and one of the lights here was partially broken during one of the shoots.
"A shortage of good hotels was probably why Coliseum also operated as a hotel. There are 10 rooms upstairs but they are closed for renovation.
"We haven't decided whether we want to continue operating the hotel rooms or turn them into private dining rooms," said Ong.
Many may not know this, but Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's first prime minister was one of the most famous people to have stayed in the hotel.
"The double room was RM18.90 in the 70s (RM45 before it closed) but guests had to share a common bathroom. There were three toilets and three showers for 10 rooms.
"Backpackers stayed here as the hotel was even recommended by Lonely Planet," Heng added.
"One of our oldest drinks, Gunner, is a mixture of ginger beer, ginger ale and some 'bitters' (red colour liquid similar to grenadine syrup). Nobody remembers how the drink's unique name came about.
"The famous Baked Crab dish featured crab baked with gooey cheese on top. Along the way, improvisations were made and today, the crustacean is stuffed and deep fried minus the cheese," said Ong.