Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New Chef at Marco Polo - Star in the Making!

September 4th 2014

Quick note about the new chef at the Marco Polo Restaurant Kuala Lumpur. Don't have a name for him, but the story is that he was previously with the Noble House group and he has clearly been putting a signature stamp on the output from the Marco kitchen.

Lenglui, Chris, Sanjeev and Dave
The Marco Polo is one of the more long term and well established Chinese Restaurants in Kuala Lumpur. Located on the First Floor of Wisma Lim Foo Yong on Jalan Raja Chulan and still going after decades in the business, it serves up consistently good and tasty Cantonese cuisine, including one of the best Suckling Pigs in the city. It remains one of our go-to restaurants when stuck for somewhere to go eat.

The Marco has also undergone renovation, with the result that the ambience in the main hall is warmer, with easy lighting and more western tones. There is a big time large TV screen at the back of the stage and the fish on view have spanking looking new tanks. The restaurant entrance is more modern with deep brown wood facades and beige marble floor and walls and TV screens showing the latest promotions. I thought the private rooms looked pretty much the same, though the big Venetian Room at the back has undergone extensive remodelling and is now able to convert into a number of smaller rooms each equippable with the requisite karaoke machine. Very necessary.

Steamed Garoupa
We have been there twice in the last week. First time was last Thursday for a gathering of the Pork Luck Club to taste some Burgundies with Dave Chan from Artisan Cellars. This one had come about as the result of an email invitation to taste the wines and me thinking it might be better to taste them with food. The PLC agreed. Normally our PLC Porkies each bring a bottle to the dinner and we then figure out the order once we see what is in or around the ice bucket. This time it would all be the Pinot grape so wine sequence got basically decided on calibre and we all split the wine bill. Equally, matching food was marginalised for the same reason - it was Pinot with everything so we could concentrate on enjoying the wines with some very good food. And enjoy them we certainly did. Most people seemed to say the Bizot was the star of the night, with the Champagne and the Marsannay following close. The fizz seemed to go exceptionally well with some smoky grilled bacon we had bought and brought from Petaling Street and the Prawn Crackers supplied by a good Doctor friend, which got demolished in short order. And though the Marco has fair glassware, we decided to bring our own globes so as to showcase the wine as far as possible to its best. Dave suggested we also drink the Champagne from the Burgundy globes rather than the flutes. This was totally off beam and totally worked - the bubbles didn't stuck to the glass bowl and the volume we could sip seemed to coat the mouth cheeks and roof with sparky delight. Revelatory - I have seen the light and this is how the stars should be drunk.

Iberico Ribs
Standout dish on the night was the Tea Smoked Chicken, all bitter smoky skin and firm tasty meat. We also had Steamed Garouper which had been, er, steamed perfectly with chili and ginger - excellent bite and bounce on the flesh with the chili and cilantro sparking off the tongue and mouth. Marco Chef is also doing Iberico Ribs grilled with black pepper and paired with a magnificent sweet and citrus lemon plum kind of sauce. The citrus was supplied by some Pomelo which took the cut off the sweet a treat and was brilliantly balanced, though perhaps the ribs could have done with a bit more meat on them. We also had Kai Lan and Mushroom which came across as sweet and bitter (and a perfect counterpoint on the palate to follow the pork), and ended with some magnificent noodles - all bounce on the bite and slurp on the finish. One of our Porkies has a particular taste for Dim Sum so the Marco went out of their way to prepare some Porky Dumplings and Siew Yoke with mustard starters for us as well. We get great service from our friends at the Marco Polo - they really look after us and we hope we look after them as best we can. Great service should always be rewarded.

The Burgundies
The wines were:
2010 CHARLES AUDOIN Marsannay CuvĂ©e Marie Ragonneau - easy and light, good fruit and body. Chewy tannins, meaty on the mouth.
2011 Domaine Bizot Vosne Romanee - delicate, light and breathy. Evaporated on the throat like an intake of violets and roses. Like breathing the air of French meadows of poppy and hay - total terroir. Good attack of acid and spice on the tongue. Also classy and brassy, like starting dinner with Christine Lagarde and finding it ending with Mae West. Va Va Voom!!
2011 Domaine Fourrier Gevrey Chambertin VV - have bought this previously from Vinum when they had a branch in Kuala Lumpur. Very firm and masculine belt on the throat. Hefty wine, potent, powerful. Big nose of cherries and berries. Went brilliantly with the Tea Smoked Chicken.
2011 Olivier Bernstein Chambolle Musigny "Les Lavrottes", 1er Cru - smelled like concrete and taste of charcoal at first. Later showed itself to be lean and clean, with cherryade grip and zip in the mouth. Bit sweetish, not so perfumed, with a masculine whack down the throat. Like Jean Reno or Gerard Depardieu coming up from behind and giving you a friendly whack on the back. And the chest.

We also had a crisp and clean 2007 Benoit Lahaye Grand Cru Champagne which was grapefruit and apples in the mouth and a lovely acid rasp on the throat. Low dosage meant it was far from sweet and as said drinking it from a Burgundy bowl glass was totally delightful in an opulent kind of way. A night of "swirly happiness" as someone put it. Perfect description.

Kai Lan and Mushroom
We were at Marco Polo again on September 8th to celebrate the Mid Autumn Festival with the adopted family. Also known as the Mooncake Festival, it is when friends and family give and eat Mooncakes, which are baked pastry pie style sweets made and traditionally only eaten between August and September. This is the eighth lunar month and on the 15th day is the Mid Autumn, also known as the Night of the Moon.  A typical mooncake consists of a thin, tender pastry crust enveloping a sweet, thick filling usually either Red Bean Paste or Lotus Seed Paste , and may contain one or more whole salted duck egg yolks in their center as the symbol of the full moon. The crust can have imprints of Chinese characters (often "harmony" and / or "longevity") along with flowers and other forms of decoration. They are given between family and friends during the festival. Legend has it they were also used to conceal letters sent between rebels looking to co-ordinate a revolt against the Mongolian rulers during the Yuan dynasty. 

Our meal started with a very tasty plateful of pig (Siew Yoke, Char Siew and Suckling Pig) which paved the way for a magnificent soup - apparently shark fin stuffed in a chicken stuffed in pig belly and presumably boiled. Which I guess seems to make it a kind of Chinese Haggis. I normally avoid Shark Fin for environmental reasons; also it has no detectable taste to me whatsoever so my stated reason becomes that my Western palate is unable to appreciate it. However, the adopted family remains very traditional in this regard and it is difficult to resist the peer pressure not to conform. So an exception gets made in this context so as not to offend the hospitality. Standing on principle occasionally can get short shrift and no point to cause offense.

Tea Smoked Chicken
Which proved to be the right decision since the soup turned out to be little short of amazing - an oily, soupy broth full of taste and texture. The chicken gave the fin a sense of fowl which somehow worked whilst the pig belly just melted. It was beyond words, but totally off the map in both taste and textural senses. And the idea of combining all of these in one dish - as said, amazing. The management seem to be giving chef some leash to create. And he is clearly creating. This was stunning. 

We had chef's Iberico Ribs without the sauce this time, and this presentation had slightly more meat. Noble House influence here is clear, though the absence of that signature sweet caramel sauce which somehow seems to find itself on  all of the Noble meat dishes was most welcome. Nice that chef allows the meat to speak for itself, though tonight's was more of a whispered "Ole!" rather than a shout from this particular Spanish Porker. Will be good to see what Chef can do with home grown ribs.  

Lenglui x 3
Next out was the Abalone and Broccoli in gunk sauce which everyone (bar one) on the table praised (I just don't get Abalone in Gunk) and we finished off with some strange black bat-like looking things which turned out to be a variant of water chestnut. They tasted like a chalky fibrous tapioca, with a crumbly cardboard texture which was strangely calming on the stomach. Different. And then there were the mooncakes, the main reason we had gathered in the first place. One green skinned thing with green lotus paste and nut chips was equally calming on the stomach. We snaffled one from the management to take home and save for weekend dessert with coffee.

I brought two bottles of The Lackey 2008, a good value Australian Shiraz which everyone seemed to enjoy. Full firm body with good balance across fruit and alcohol. Six years in the bottle, it is drinking nicely and went with pretty much all of the food. Some other bottles were brought, but only one Bordeaux Style got opened and a late evening glass proved inconclusive though certainly not bad. 

Chef has an element of both the traditional and the modern deconstruction about him. Clearly able to meet existing expectations with his Abalone dishes, he seems also to be looking to tickle younger palates - omitting Sweet and Sour sauce from his peppered Pork Ribs is way not traditional Chinese. He learns quickly too, adapting ideas of others to create the new - on a previous visit, we once brought some duck from a favourite place on Ipoh Road where they smoke it first and then cook. His Tea Smoked Chicken (which apparently is a new addition to the menu) looks clearly to be influenced by this. This chap seems to have a future - hope the Marco can hang on to him!!

Marco Polo Restaurant
1st Floor, Wisma Lim Foo Yong, Jalan Raja Chulan
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
03-2141 2233

Artisan Cellars (M) Sdn Bhd
Suite 8-12B-1, Level 12B, 
Menara Olympia,
8 Jalan Raja Chulan
43200, Kuala Lumpur

Dave Chan 
012 698 9322
+6 03 2022 2789

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