Upperstar, the successful bar slash restaurant opposite Shenanigans, has opened a second branch in Damai and it was instantly popular.
You may or may not, but probably do, know Upperstar in the centre of Kota Kinabalu across the road from the Hyatt Regency. You then also know that this is probably one of the most popular bar slash restaurants in Kota Kinabalu.
Their secret to success is in fact, no secret: popular, consistent food, great variety of drinks and all this at an affordable place. I remember when the Upperstar in town was just one, ground floor unit. Soon they had purchased the shop above them and not too long after that, they took over the shop lot next to the one on top.
They’ve never had problems filling any of these new spaces and, I’m sure, did they have space around there, they would have expanded yet again, but clearly they didn’t, which is why they’re now in Damai.
Occupying the slot where previously Atlantis Bistro was struggling to survive, Upperstar is almost gloating, what with not being open for a month yet and already they’re virtually packed every night.
Together with the Coffee Bean next door, Upperstar is responsible for filling up the measly parking lot of the Damai area and on the night 3of4 went for grub, we had to park some distance away and walk it in.
The décor of the Upperstar in Damai is along the lines of the original one, except they’ve managed to do it a little more stylish and complete. The seating consists of the popular square tables with rattan chairs, but better still, features booth seating which makes for a comfortable meal, drink or chat.
The menu is a carbon copy of the big brother in Kota Kinabalu and I think this was they key to their success, as everybody who previously had to go out all the way to town for they Upperstar fix, now can stay in the neighborhood and enjoy the same food and drinks they previously had to drive so far for.
I opted for something had previously on purpose, to see whether or not the quality was consistent. You can find a Taco Foldover in a few places around Kota Kinabalu, but they’re all pretty mediocre. The Upperstar Taco Foldover is half decent and thus, my choice for this here consistency test.
Julia chased after the waiter to change her order to Chicken Salad and John went for the Lamb Chop. Although Upperstar isn’t, and doesn’t pretend, to be gourmet food, the food beats the crap out of any fast food joint and is in fact quite delicious. My Taco Foldover was, as expected, Taco Foldover’ish and I wasn’t disappointed. Julia’s Chicken Salad was loaded and filling, and John’s Lamb Chop came with an African Sauce, the name of which we couldn’t explain, but which was well edible nevertheless.
Thinking I needed a Vitamin B kick, I ordered a Nutri Malt, supposedly in the line of a non-alcoholic Guiness. What a disaster! I’m sure I still got some Vitamin B out of it, but it really left an aftertaste on my palette the likes of which I really don’t want to finish dinner with. Julia and John both played it safe with a mango shake, which they said was not fresh mango but syrup. Still, I thought, it must surely be oodles better than the Nutri Malt. Yuck!
Apart from the Nutri Malt, which comes in a can and really has nothing to do with Upperstar, it was a thumb-up experience. The food was good and in-line with what we expected, the drinks were ok (except, of course, the Nutri Malt) and the people watching was excellent, because it was busy from the time we got there until goodness knows what time after.
The service was efficient, although the waiters look like they were plucked off the street. I’m not sure whether the baggy pants, sloppy t-shirts and even sloppier hats is their idea of casual uniform, but that’s the one thing I would comment about: improve the service staff’s appearance.
Although we went for a late dinner-and-chat, I think Upperstar is a venue that really begs to be a hang-out place. And next time we need just such a venue, when an alcoholic drink or two would be in order, we’ll head on over to Upperstar Damai.