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.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

IWFS at Fresca - Hey Rosita! Muy Bien!!

January 22, 2015
I was initially well apprehensive of this one. Previous experience with so called Mexican cuisine was limited to manky tortillas from some forgettable fast food place filled with gritty beef and chopped raw onion and peppers (and you all know how I feel about peppers) and doused in Tabasco. Ptooey. The only thing able to save this pretty tasteless concoction was the copious amount of beer that accompanied it. Kept me up all night, as I recall, and much of the following day was so windy that it was still typhoons in the bathtub at the end of the day soak. Not pleasant. 

But Lenglui decided that it was way beyond time that we try the place, and there was some kind of family connection whereby non attendance would have been quite bad form, so I gritted my teeth and sent off the acceptance slip. 

It would turn out surprisingly good.

Fresca entrance
Located in the Gardens in the Mid Valley district of Kuala Lumpur, The Fresca Mexican Kitchen and Bar "brings classic Mexican cuisine to Kuala Lumpur. The idea for Fresca (which means "fresh" or "cool") came about by two adventure-seeking siblings who fell in love with Mexican food and the country's passion for La Vida. Fresca specialises in "botanas", which are small plates that make it easy for sharing, something that KL folk do like to do. Fresca prides itself on using only the freshest ingredients, stating that  their pico de gallo and guacamole are prepared daily and corn tortillas are home-made and hand-pressed the traditional way.

The Cava Boys
Arriving after an appetite whetting walk around the delightful Gardens Mall (with detours into the Bottles Wine Store and Cold Storage to check out wine prices) there was a nice buzz about the place. The outside gave off a kind of wooden coffee shop feel with tables and chairs outside and people sat there eating. Inside saw more of the same, and the place was humming with people - for a Thursday, this was a good sign that the place is doing well. Dimly lit to lend a shady atmosphere, we were led through the cafe and bar to a back room where four tables had been laid out to accommodate the 36 of us who had signed up for the dinner. It was perhaps a little bit cramped for space as the welcome bubbles had been placed just inside the entrance and everyone naturally stands near the booze to make refills easier. But people get naturally "urged" inside by weight of numbers coming through the door, and the space at the back of the room got quickly filled up with conviviality. Natural physics in the social world is a wonderful thing to behold. 

May Peng, Dr Su Kim and Lenglui
The IWFS Notice talked about the Fresca interior combining "rustic charm, from textured wooden panels to elaborate brickwork arches, with contemporary industrial elements, of exposed ceiling and tall metal doors. Mexico's rich cultural heritage and vibrancy are captured by the striking coloured talavera tiles as well as hand-crafted ceramics and paintings displayed around the restaurant." Well, and yes. There were certainly lots of red earth adobe tones about the place which had me humming the old Commodores "Brick House" tune - "She's a Brick - dum dum duuuuum dum-dum - House". Go find it on Youtube. There was one wall of turquoise diamonds that lent a contrast - these must have been the talavera tiles - and a huge mirror on the back wall gave tremendous space. There was some charming artwork adorning the adobe walls and these definitely broke up the brickhouse feel. 

The Tortilla Chip man
The first fizz was apparently an upgrade if I heard correctly. It was crisp and chewy, giving a good rasp and sandpaper down the semi parched throat. A look at the label showed it to be the Freixinet Cordon Negro, a workmanlike Cava available on the supermarket shelves for a not unreasonable price. Previous chuggings of this fizz found it to have been a bit wanting, but tonight it was on song. Perhaps it just needed some zappy Latin style food to let its Spanish roots resonate. Good enjoyable fizz, which went excellently well with the very tasty Canapes -  the Guacamole on the Tortilla chips were well textured and full of fresh creamy taste whilst the batter on the  Beer Battered Fish was airily light and feathery and with a pleasant wasabi kick on the lips that got neatly soothed by the fizz. 

Dinner got called to order and President Dr Rajan introduced the night's organiser Wong Yin-How to share some details and descriptions of the wines. In a light and breezy talk which held the crowd well, WYH said that given the context of Mexican cuisine, the better vinous matches would naturally be from Spain and Latin America. As a result, we would be having Cava from Spain, Chardonnay from Argentina, two Spanish Riojas and a Cab/Malbec blend again from Argentina. I have a note about WYH saying that the white was a "meditative" wine. Yes. Not sure if there are too many meditators in the IWFS. And didn't have much of a chance to meditate on it that evening. I shall buy a bottle next time I am at WYH's Ribs or Vintry and try to meditate on it. Yes. Om.

Fresca interior
The Ceviche came to the table and proved to be another zap on the mouth and lips. Crisp onion bite and what felt like a hint of chili oil popped on the lime cured raw fish to create a trippy mouthful of textures and tastes which fired up the mouth and seared the throat a treat on the way down. Here, the fizz proved its magnificence to douse the fires raging around the tonsils and throat into a blissful singe. Total belter. Wonder if they have fizz in Mexico? Nah - too hot, can't grow grapes. Marketing opportunity for California? 

Ceviche - well tasty and well piquant
The Chardonnay came across as fairly full bodied with good butter though not so much that it overpowered everything - something thankfully that the world seems to be getting away from. Getting tropical fruit on this one - papaya, banana. Little bit oaky on its own, but brought into very pleasant balance by the food.  Certainly a good match with the Ceviche, though it didn't quite douse some salsa/chili fire that was lingering in the throat. Fizz was the better match here, more for soothing qualities than any taste sense.

Dr Rajan calling to order
We were sat with YC and Marathon Man Dr Jag and all getting in a good mood, talking about an upcoming IWFS Trip to Austria. Good company, lots of verbal humour. Happy crowd. 

The 2001 Faustino came out and the first reaction was "wow". Plum and black cherry nose with a hint of pepper and herbs. Bit of garnacha on the nose, that Spanish bricky baked berry sniff. Bit of age in the first sip. Medium body, with a big mouth of rich dark fruit leading to a long lush finish. Not normally a fan of the Faustino, but on this showing I could be converted.

The soup was brought to the table, and my worst fears appeared realised - it was fiery blood red in colour and full of floating bits that saw it looking like a vampire's breakfast. However, a little sip found it to be quite agreeable with avocado textures and bits of tortilla soaking up the chili broth juice. Like a really spicy tomato soup with tortilla toast croutons that lingered in the mouth and coated the teeth with a grainy film of taste. Very interesting - lots of flavours and fires going on, but not so that it burned the tastebuds.

Ended up totally loving the soup - it came across like a Tom Yam with pan bread strips but without that big fire that whacks everything. You could really feel the spice on this soup - and there was a little voice somewhere inside that was saying I was going to pay some bigtime penance for it tomorrow. Told it to shut up - would be worth it.

Sopa de Tortilla - the Vampire Soup
The Fresco Service is very pleasant and friendly. Mostly Filipino by the sound of the accents. One rarely see Malaysians in the mid to high end service industry these days. Lots in the fast food joints, but fewer and fewer in the restaurants. Perhaps they have all gone to Singapore?

"My Papaya tree is THIS big..."
The Faustino didn't do much for the soup. But in fairness, there's not much out there that would. This potent red blooded beast would need a massive wine to battle with the spice. But then one should perhaps question whether it would really be worth it? Spice is a natural wine killer, so maybe sometimes better to leave it at that and not stand on the ceremony of having a wine with every dish. Definitely a good attempt at a match, but ultimately perhaps a waste of a belting wine that could have better been reserved for the later dishes. Indeed, after the Vampire soup the Faustino got whacked - it still had fair fruit and acidity, but the balance got a bit lost and ended up showing a thinnish body and medium finish and not much bite in the mouth. So it goes.

The wines were very prompt in coming to the table, though there was a bit of a slowdown before the main courses came out. Guess the kitchen needed to catch its breath a bit. It was also catering to regular punters as well as us IWFS which must create potential for things to get a bit frantic backstage.

The Gaudi Rioja out next got life. Full dark ripe fruit, bit of pepper on the nose and a hint of Garnacha cherry in the mouth, paving the way for a medium yet firm finish with fair length. The lively fruit and the crisp chewy tannins dancing in the mouth made this one a real temptress. You could imagine running after this one through the streets of Pamplona, and her teasing and tempting you with her lustrous rewards if you managed to beat the bulls. A young Sophia Loren ready to be ravaged and singing "Catch Me If You Can" - totally lovely. 

Beef Tenderloin Fajitas waiting for Guacamole and Tortilla
In complete contrast, the Beef came out all masculine and testosterone with a swathe of protein smells radiating off - almost as if the cow had somehow overdosed on hormones. Perhaps it had been a bull? These Fajitas were Muy Macho, all hot and sizzling, and somehow almost sensual. You just wanted to attack them with some primal abandon and chew them into total submission. Only problem with doing that would have been the seeming kilogram of pepper cooked into the meat that would have you screaming for mercy and running for the cold tap and ice cubes to extinguish the raging fires in the mouth. This is where the genius of Mexican cuisine comes to the fore - it knows that the antidote to all of this is warm tortilla and guacamole, totally fresh and made from best wheat flour and avocados. And here it was that Fresca really scored - both the Guacamole and Tortilla were perfect. Smooth, creamy and soothing Guacamole and a light, firm Tortilla slap of low salted dough with a bouncy bite and light mush on the chew. Throw the Macho Beef and onion into the Tortilla, slather on the Guacamole, add a little salsa, roll the whole so it will fit into the mouth and….  phwooooooooargh. That creamy Avocado balm just sucked out the fire of the peppers to leave total taste. Same with the textures, with the dough leaching out the proteins of the beef and onion adding a slight crunch with salsa zip and Guacamole balm. Aiyo. Soul food in its purest form and an absolute beauty. Taste of the year so far. 

Cordero Estofado (Lamb Shank) - didn't taste
The Catena Zapata was an Argentinian Cabernet and Malbec blend clearly made to drink with meat, but with enough balance and body to pique and intrigue. Lot of complex things going on as well. A Gaucho with a rose between his teeth and ready to dance the tango with the bull and bring that bad boy to heel with his Bolas. Lovely mouth and finish, with chocolate and rich coffee coming through. It was good to contrast the Rioja with the Zapata, and the five years in the bottle for the latter let this 2009 show off a great balance though with still enough heft to stand up to the beef. Still a bit of time left in this one, but it was showing nicely on the night. Match-wise, the Zapata probably edged it - the firmer tannins and darker fruit cut well through the meat. The temptress gave a sweet edge to the meat but ultimately she got swept aside by the rampaging Pamplona bull. Thankfully I was there to rescue her, and she swirled in my glass long into the night….

Flan de la Casa dessert
The dessert got wolfed down mostly because it was cooling, though the Creme Caramel in a combo of mango, grape and a swipe of sweet something across the plate worked well. It screamed for coffee. We made do with more pours of both the Rioja and Zapata. 

IWFS member Ajeet (right) with a look that says "My wife is going to kill me when she sees this..."
I wandered off to say hello to the next table and got suckered in to giving a half remembered rendition of "Speedy Gonzales" it being the only Mexican style song anyone could think of. Hadn't sung it for years so most of the lyrics were only half correct. Maybe. Pat Boone would not have been proud, though the boozy raucous joining in of everyone in the "Laaaa….  lala la lala lala laaaaa" chorus was actually quite awesome. I skewered the words to call for more wine in the "Hey Rosita" bit, but it went unanswered. Probably all gone by that time. The song seemed to put a natural end to the night - I guess I have some skill in clearing a room.

Marathon Man Dr Jag and Moon Ravelli
In sum, an excellent expression of Mexican cuisine well matched by some lovely Latin wines. My expectations were totally overwhelmed - I was expecting something reasonably good but not stunning and instead I got something that felt hugely authentic and was darned tasty. It didn't feel as contrived as I thought it might. Very homely feel about the rustic interior and the warm staff made it almost family. Would happily return to park with a beer and some Tostadas in front of a TV showing some sporting event. And definitely when the urge comes for Fajitas, Fresca is a no brainer.   

Vamonos y Fresca!! Muy Bien Gustario Mexicana!!

Fresca Restaurant 
Lot G-242A, Ground Floor
(beside the main entrance),
The Gardens City Mall,
Midvalley City 59200
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 

The Menu

Canapés to Start
Tortilla Chip “topped with Guacamole & Pico de Gallo”
Pescado a la Ensenada
“Ensenada-style beer-battered fish in shooter glass”
Papaya verde tostadas “green papaya tostadas”
Faustino Cava NV

“Red snapper raw fish cured in lime juice
A refreshing appetiser commonly found across the coastlines of Mexico”
Catena Alta Chardonnay 2010

Sopa de Tortilla
“This traditional recipe captures the essence of Mexican cooking – Guajilo Chile flavoured broth, garnished with fresh avocado, Ancho Chile and golden tortilla strips
Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001

Cordero Estofado
“Braised lamb shank in a famous red Oaxacan ‘mole’ sauce served with Mexican rice that is the specialty of Chihuahua”
Beef Tenderloin Fajitas
“Beef tenderloin in a sizzling plate on a bed of onion, mushroom & peppers.  
Served with warm tortillas and condiments of guacamole, pico de gallo & chipotle chile salsa”
Lealtanza Gaudi Collection Reserva Rioja 2005
Catena Zapata Nicolas Catena Zapata 2009

Flan de la Casa
Mexican Creme Caramel

The Wines

Faustino Cava NV
A sparkling wine made from a blend of Macabeo and Chardonnay. A pale, bright, straw-yellow colour with small enduring bubbles which form a crown. On the nose this cava is elegant with a wonderful yeast complexity. Hints of vanilla and lime and on the palate is lightly acidic and elegant, revealing fruit in the finish.

Catena Alta Chardonnay 2010
The 2010 Alta Catena Chardonnay includes just a touch of botrytis that Alejandro Vigil believes adds a little complexity. That is evident on the bouquet, which offers wild honey, jasmine, nectarine and crushed stone aromas that are well-defined. The palate has good weight on the entry, with subtle notes of orange zest, dried apricot, quince and shaved ginger. It builds in the mouth, delivering a very focused, intense finish that you could say, sits comfortably between Old World and New. (Wine Advocate 93/100)

Faustino I Gran Reserva 2001
Faustino I Gran Reserva, 2001 has been chosen as Decanter’s Number One Wine of the Year.From more than 3,200 wines recommended in Decanter over the past year, their tastings team has picked out not only the highest-scoring but also the best-value wines.
Restrained, mineral style with elegant tannins, youthful and fresh, feminine and complex. Deliciously decadent with extraordinary vitality in the palate and a long unique finish. A jewel at this price point!”(19.25 points)

Lealtanza Gaudi Artist Collection Reserva 2005
The 2005 Lealtanza Reserva Spanish Artist Collection (Gaudi in this vintage) is 100% Tempranillo sourced from 75+-year-old vines and aged for 18 months in new French oak. Purple/black in color, it proffers a complex perfume of lavender, incense, Asian spices, leather, black cherry, and blackberry. Full-bodied, dense, and mouth-filling, it is loaded with ripe fruit, notes of terroir and spice, and enough tannin to blossom for another 3-4 years. This lengthy effort will offer a drinking window extending from 2013 to 2025. (Wine Advocate 93+/100)

Catena Zapata Nicolas Catena Zapata 2009
It is pieced together from a mind-boggling 210 separate row micro-vinifications of multifarious lots and harvest times and is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Malbec. It has a spellbinding bouquet that exudes minerality, as if crushed stones had been sprinkled into the black fruit. With continued aeration, there are scents of oyster shell and black olive. The palate is full-bodied, with immense structure and backbone. The acidity is beautifully judged with filigree tannins that render the finish so elegant and refined, with notes of blackberry, soy, black plum and that stony aftertaste. Magnificent. (Wine Advocate 95/100).


  1. Das Dessert wurde verschlang vor allem, weil es Kühl wurde, wenn die Creme Caramel in einer Combo von Mango, Trauben und einem Streichen von süßen etwas über die Platte hat gut funktioniert. Er schrie nach Kaffee. Wir haben mit mehr gießt sowohl der Rioja und Zapata zu tun.

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