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What’s new in Johor? Where to sip, sup and sleep in style on your trip over the Causeway

With border restrictions to Johor easing up, here are the restaurants, cafes and hotels to visit that have sprung up just before or since the borders shut.

What’s new in Johor? Where to sip, sup and sleep in style on your trip over the Causeway

The Causeway at dusk. (Photo: iStock)

Popping over to Johor used to be commonplace but this has completely changed since the pandemic. However, with the reopening of the land border between Singapore and Malaysia from Apr 1, there seems to finally be a light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re thinking of living it up in Johor, here are some must-try new spots.

BINCHOTAN

From the same team that gifted Johor Bahru with Sushi Shin (which opened just a hair before the border shut in February 2020), Binchotan is well and truly a pandemic baby that opened in February 2021. It’s telling that despite the challenges, Sushi Shin managed to glide through the pandemic with flying colours and build enough of a reputation with Johor gourmands to set the stage for Binchotan.

Named after the Japanese charcoal used in grilling, Binchotan specialises in modern omakase with a focus on cooked dishes whether aburi (flame-seared) or agemono (deep-fried) to name a few. The discreet yet sleek restaurant’s heart is the central grill where chef John Chang and his team flame-cook the finest ingredients the world has to offer, which you can watch from its 12-seater counter. Expect inspired combinations and picture-perfect plating at this restaurant that takes the Johor fine dining scene to the next level.

Binchotan, 15, Jalan Kuning 2, Taman Pelangi, 80400 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

KIOKU

In a previous life, KIOKU was named Void, and while Void shuttered before the pandemic, its chef-owner, Shawn Shum, made the brave decision to open in September 2020 with a new name, menu and look. Located in Sunway Citrine, Iskandar Puteri, KIOKU is a warm, welcoming space with a counter for diners who wish to watch Shum and his young team put together the various degustation menus.

Expect nouvelle cuisine where classical French ingredients like foie gras meet premium Japanese produce like uni, and realised with precise, modern techniques. Wine pairings are also a delight here with unexpected choices at almost criminally low prices.

KIOKU, 1-20 ,First Floor, Hab Citrine, Sunway Citrine, Sunway Iskandar, Persiaran Medini, Bandar Medini Iskandar, 79250 Nusajaya, Johor, Malaysia

KAMII SUSHI

While Japanese food lovers may already be familiar with Kamii Sushi (the late Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was a patron), the beloved restaurant upped its game and since July 2020, has been offering only omakase-style menus in a sleek new environment.

Choose from a traditional raw or cooked menu consisting of the finest and freshest ingredients flown in from Japan, not to mention indulgent premium ingredients whenever they’re in season like truffles, caviar and foie gras. Look out also for their much anticipated Omakase Sake pairing dinners crafted by owner and head chef Alan and a dedicated sake sommelier.

Kamii Sushi, 7, Jalan Sutera Tanjung 8/2, Taman Sutera Utama, 81300 Skudai, Johor, Malaysia

QUIVO

A popular restaurant and bar among the chic set in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, QUIVO, the Valiram Group’s first homegrown food and beverage concept, made its way to Johor Bahru’s Mid Valley South Key just before the borders shut down in 2020. Now perfect for post-pandemic dining, QUIVO is largely an alfresco restaurant and bar.

Here you’ll find fusion twists of Mediterranean favourites and QUIVO’s famous paddleboard pizzas although the Johor iteration also includes specials like Truffle and Cheese Naan cooked in a Tandoor oven, plus craft cocktails. Friday night spells jam nights with live music adding a buzz.

QUIVO, Southkey, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

THE FOUNDERS CAFE

One of Johor Bahru’s original hipster cafes – People & Places, whose claim to fame was having Jay Chou visit – shuttered during the pandemic, but its ebullient owner, Soon, opened another joint named The FOUNDERS Cafe. Set in a former industrial space, FOUNDERS ticks off all the Instagram boxes with quirky murals, raw surfaces and eclectic furnishings.

The food is just as Instagram-worthy. The cafe is famous for its Australian-style brunch specials such as English Big Breakfast, Avocado Smash and vegan-friendly options. Instead of sourdough, FOUNDERS offers freshly baked bagels which run out quickly, especially on weekends.

The FOUNDERS Cafe, Tiong Nam Tebrau, 45, Jln Tiong Emas, Kawasan Perindustrian Tebrau, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia

ANANTARA DESARU COAST RESORT & VILLAS

Anantara Desaru Coast's Sea Fire Salt restaurant. (Photo: Anantara Desaru Coast)

Meanwhile on the Desaru Coast, the Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas officially opened Sea Fire Salt right before the borders shut, but this did not deter Wine Spectator from conferring an Award of Excellence on the resort’s signature fine dining outlet for the exceptional care that went into curating its wine list.

The beachside venue retained the accolade in 2021 for having big names and ambitious new vintners on its menu with consideration to the restaurant’s theme in both price and style, along with the quality of producers represented. Fine wining aside, Sea Fire Salt acquits itself with aplomb in the dining arena with perfectly grilled meats and local and imported seafood. Champagne brunches are also offered here on weekends.

The resort also offers a Dining by Design programme where guests may work with the F&B team to create a romantic dinner for two or a family dinner on the beach. A personal butler and sommelier services are also included.

Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villas, Persiaran Pantai, Desaru Coast, 81930 Bandar Penawar, Johor, Malaysia

ONE & ONLY DESARU COAST

The eagerly anticipated and first One & Only resort in Malaysia officially opened on the Desaru Coast in September 2020. An intimate tropical retreat located between lush rainforests and the South China Sea, the resort was designed by no less than Kerry Hill (1943 – 2018), the late Australian architect renowned for his brand of site-specific, ultra-lux resort chic.

The One & Only boasts 2km of private beachfront, although one could not be blamed for not wanting to leave the comfort of its tastefully appointed suites (42 junior and two grand), all with private plunge pools.

When one does emerge, a stunning 50m infinity pool awaits, not to mention the country’s first padel court and Asia’s first Chenot Spa. Meals are always an event and the resort offers a Malaysian-Mediterranean dining room, Ambara, beachside fare and drinks at Ember Beach Club, and exquisite Japanese fine dining at Hoshi.

One & Only Desaru Coast, Darul Ta’zim, Persiaran Damai, Desaru Coast Bandar Penawar, 90, 81930, Johor, Malaysia

Source: CNA/st/ds
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