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.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

BAbe - Cute food, wonderful tastes, amazing view!

January 14th 2016

Hmm…  Blogger playing up a bit. Not letting me drag photos to position. Complained twice but no response. So the layout is a bit basic and skanky to my eyes. Time to shift to Wordpress? Sell Google shares?

Have to say at the start, I enjoyed BAbe. It was nice. And fun. Pretty much all of the dishes worked and the food was far from insubstantial. No complaints. Happy to go back again. Did too.

Can't remember...
Which is why this note will be a combo of two visits to BAbe where we had pretty much the same menu (which is 12 dishes plus 3 desserts for RM200, whilst the RM300 adds soft shell crab and wagyu beef, if I heard correctly). We went for the RM300 for the December trip and the RM200 for January.

Sashimi starter
BAbe is located in the Clearwater Building off Jalan Semantan on the border of the real Damansara area in Kuala Lumpur. If you know where the old Shell office used to be, that's where it is. Seems that BAbe is an acronym for the Best of Asia at Be. The place is actually a Health Centre with Workout machinery and Spa services which gives rise to the name - it is a place you can just BE, which somehow feels a bit 1960s hippie. All those Be-ins to which the shiny happy people turned up and just…  be-ed? Or should it be "were"? Whatever, in its own way the idea is quite cool - I always get a good feeling when the hippies get justified and vindicated years down the line. They were really on to something, but got defeated by life and the needs of raising kids. Free love ain't never free.

Prior to our December visit, the organising Hustler had told us we didn't need to bring any wine as the list there was fairly okay and the corkage was fierce. Well, and maybe, but…   Hmmm. I figured better to play safe and bring a couple just in case - the worst that would happen is that we just take them back home unopened. On this occasion, my preparedness proved prescient as we got a phone call from Hustler whilst en route asking if we could return home and retrieve some extra booze. Seems the wine list had been declared grim and dire by the assembled. As luck would have it we were being diverted back home due to our usual road being blocked off for LRT construction (with no one knowing about it until it happened on the day, which is pretty much usual) and a massive traffic jam was ensuing. We got back, picked out some wines from the fridge, and in taking the top road to Damansara got to the Babe in ten minutes. On arriving and being happily able to park on the road outside, we found ourselves actually behind the Hustler who had gone on a swift drive to the Cold Storage to load up on some guzzle.

Curry Burger and Salmon Canneloni. Tubular.

Entering the Clearwater building, a guard gets the lift for you and you exit into a nicely lit area and (if your timing is good) an immediate dusk sunset view across the uptown skyline. This has to be one the best views in the city, and well worth the price of admission. Must have been a brahma here for New Years Eve with all the fireworks. Photo didn't do it justice, hence its omission from this post.

Whitefish sashimi and Air Blown Beef Crunchies. Wicked.

Everyone was already there and hungry to suck down the fizz which seemed to be taking an eternity to chill in the kitchen's ice fridges. I asked for some action and after five minutes with no response eventually grabbed two ice buckets and brought them to the table. The staff seemed a bit frazzled and clearly not used to a thirsty white boy taking charge of the booze arrangements. Well, we were all pretty parched and wanted to cheer the sunset…

The Pichon Longueville. Darling wine.
The decor was most pleasant, with a modern European ambience and feel about the place. Lots of soft furnishing and white bookcases. There were Christmas trees with cute reindeer decorations on our visit which lent a pleasant festive feel to the place. Music was a bit jazz ambient and fashion show, but it seemed to fit. Was a relief from the usual Christmas offerings at other establishments. Only downside was the flickering LED lights in the inside area which got annoying and would be a bugger for anyone borderline epileptic. Either cheap bulbs or cheap switches? Whatever, they gave me a headache.

The restaurant is split into the air-conditioned inside and the fan cooled outside. For our December visit we were inside whilst our January trip saw us venture outside. Think I prefer the inside. The outside got too noisy due to a combo of ceiling fans, a fair bit of outside ambient noise and high ceilings - the result was that I could not hear the descriptions of the dishes given by the pleasant waiter - - his words literally went straight out of the window. Also, his diction was a bit not good which suggests maybe a need for some training here by the restaurants - please make your staff louder and clearer to be heard by the borderline deaf like myself above the whirring of the ceiling fans and the drone of the traffic. Though being outside does give an unadulterated and magnificent view across Kuala Lumpur. The skyline from this side is very pretty and big city, all twinkling and neon. Nights like this make you feel quite blessed to be living here. 

Can't remember...

Overall, the food was nicely interesting. They call it Japas, which is a contraction for Japanese Tapas. Lots of nice cross textures, with occasional umami and zip from a wide range of ingredients combined in a spanky steel kitchen. Every single dish sizzled with taste and texture and cute surprise. There were lots of explosions on the tongue and across the cheeks, lots of coatings and tongue zappers and also a late night cool snort through the nose. All taste bases were well covered, though perhaps on reflection a bit too well covered. Sometimes a bit of air and sensation between dishes is welcome. As memory serves, this was all out assault.

Soft Shell Crab

But O what an assault and it was a lot of fun getting battered into submission by all the little bites. Can't remember all of the dishes, and could not secure a menu for it, so will have to let the photos speak for themselves. There was a wicked Croquette Ball with an inside of Pumpkin Curry which was sublime, with solid carbo crisp contrasting with sweet mush and a brilliant zip through the whole thing. The Sashimi tomato with its dab of wasabi got a bit lost trying to follow the croquette, but you couldn't deny the texture on this one - imagine the freshest tomato skin and flesh on top of a light dollop of sushi rice. It actually did good service as a sorbet. The soft shell crab was a bit Crab McNuggets but the lime sorbet and turmeric mayo that came with it made perfect sense and worked extremely well. There's a cute sense of using one type of food to make it look like something else - the tomato sushi looked like tuna, and some mini burger looking things that tasted more like macaroons. 

I have no idea...

We were on to the beef which came with some sweet potato puree to which a dab of mustard was genius and some Fatt Choy gave a sour vegetal crunch and a slight bitter note. It also came with truffle infused tissue which we were told to smell whilst eating to give the sense of truffle in the dish. Presumably is just a dab of truffle oil on the tissue. Crazy? It worked brilliantly and was indeed enough to get the sense without the thing overpowering the dish as truffle can sometimes do. Have to try this at home.

Beef with Sweet Potato Puree

Sadly, our wagyu beef was a shade overcooked and came out cold with a slight tang suggesting some age. Its replacememnt was way better and belter with some teriyaki sauce which we were told helps cook the meat on the plate, taking it from medium rare to…  actually a bit strange. Think maybe the teriyaki did a little too much magic to the marble and the end result was… strange. Not quite sure about this and my later notes don't recall anything. Will have to go back and try again to figure out what I was thinking. Meantime, I was still in love with my truffle tissue. I stole another and had a total nosegasm. 

Wagyu Beef and Truffle tissue. Nothing like a good snort of truffle...

Dessert was Passion Fruit Meringue frozen dipped in Nitrogen which gets snorted out through the nose dragon fashion as you eat the crunched up delight. Very cute and nasal, though you need to carefully time the freezing so as not to burn the nose. Someone dumped the truffle tissue into the nitrogen which somehow preserved the smell and gave an earthy frozen truffle nose. Quite cute. I seem to remember someone wanting to eat the frozen tissue and getting sensibly restrained.

The liquid Nitrogen and Meringue

There were three milk ice cream desserts - one charcoal, one toffee and one something else (my writing gets illegible two bottles into a meal). The charcoal was weirdly wonderful and my favourite. The toffee had wonderful crunch and milky mouthfeel and the other one was all coconut feel and smell. All were lovely. Final dessert was one of those toffee sugar paper things that maybe had been nitro-frozen and to be eaten with dark rich chocolate style petit fours and gelatin bites. Extremely yum.

Nothing like a good snort of Nitrogen too...
This is truly a pleasant restaurant. Great ambience, mood, vibe - darn cool place to be seen to be hanging out. Not stuffy or formal, very easy place to relax. The kitchen clearly works hard to get the dishes out perfectly and the staff know how to explain what they are and how to consume them, so kudos to the Management for taking the time here. One downside was that the inside area got a bit warm due to the doors to the outside tables being constantly opened and closed by staff transporting the dishes to the punters. And this being compounded by the concept of twelve to fifteen courses - the result was that the inside got a bit sweaty and mildly uncomfortable on occasion. Clearly a need to figure some way to keep the precious aircon in the room. Also, the toilet is downstairs and was quite a trek to get there. A pleasant and pretty trek, though.

On our first visit in December, the service was occasionally a bit slow and the wine service was pretty much non-existent - as said, I ended up taking command due to the staff being too busy getting food out from the kitchen to pay too much attention to the state of our glasses. I guess that is what happens with sixteen course dinners - it has to get out of the kitchen quickly so there is space for all the other dishes waiting to follow. Must be like a factory production line in there, all the chefs adding their individual bits to the dish on its way to us punters. I suppose we could self-serve ourselves, but it kind of defeats the point of going to a restaurant. Maybe need one of those Japanese conveyor belt systems with the dishes being taxi-ed around the tables. Maybe not - all it would take would be some oik snaffling our en route crab for there to be murder. Wines people brought were varied - some supermarket standard, others off the map delights. Have a memory of someone cracking a Bolly and the St Clair Pioneer Block SB 2014 we brought was delightful. Meaty body, crisp lemon zing, slight butter in the mouth and big finish. Chris and Sanjeev brought some superb Austrian wines, some of which were old friends from our IWFS visit there earlier in the year (still trying to write this one up - was a lot of food and party. Watch this space). 

Dessert. Yes.
On the second visit, staff were also a bit slow getting the ice bucket to the table, but at least this time it did get there. We cracked a 2011 Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Le Clavaillon and our friend brought a 1990 Chateau Pichon Longueville which was darling - sleek steely, taut and full with good lean fruit and a grip like a scotsman on his wallet. The Leflaive was equally darling, though naturally in a whiter Burgundian kind of way.

Staff were a bit more observant as to whether refills were necessary this time around, and were quite attentive through the night. Notwithstanding, I still feel there is a clear need for a dedicated sommelier and a team of wine waiters to relieve the endless running in and out of the kitchen by the staff. Either that or train them up to be more alert as to the states of the wine glasses on the tables. A dedicated sommelier / decent maitre d' would be better - he or she can keep a sole eye on the tables and glasses and hustle staff as and when necessary or step in and do the dirty when they are being stressed by the kitchen. As said, the outside area is a hugely pleasant place to have the dinner, with one of the best views of the KL city skyline in the entire metropolis. Some more, it was not too hot with the ceiling fans whirling away and cooling the evening and night air. BAbe must really suffer when the haze comes… 

BAbe is not for everyone, but it is a cute food experience which, like Mugaritz in San Sebastian, should be done at least once in a lifetime. It gives a different sense of food and the experience of eating it, and occasionally challenges our preconceptions of how food should be consumed - 12-plus single bite courses rather than full plate starter, entree, main, dessert style. Never a bad thing to get preconceptions challenged. 

Lovely sipper of a Bordeaux...
On which point, conversation turned to one foodie friend who had sworn against coming to BAbe again, apparently after having had a full blown rant with staff against the fact that the place was not offering FINE dining. To which our communal response was: well, we know this. On both my visits, staff took pains to emphasise that BAbe offers FUN dining rather than fine dining, so I am not sure that my ranting friend has a fair leg to stand on. I heard that they said they won't be back. Their loss. I for sure will. 

Which led to a discussion as to whether there was indeed any fine dining left in KL. The standard seemed to revolve around whether there were tablecloths on the tables, which marginalised most of the eateries. Those that remained got ticked off quite quickly. Cilantro came near the top, but we haven't been there for a while. Same with DC. The only other one seemed to be left standing was Lafite, which left us all immensely sad since none of us had had a good food experience there in the last three years. Our last outing with the IWFS where the fish came out fully boned was the final nail for many. Few people saw how VIP prices for this kind of presentation could be justified. RIP Lafite. Sage is still the default. Anyone got any thoughts on this?

1 comment:

  1. Dear Mr Mack,

    It is a most interesting question that your friend raises.

    What is fine dining? Is it in the food, the service, the decor, the ambience? If the food is aspirational and luxurious but tastes like it came from a longkang, is that fine dining? And what if the waiters are all dressed in fine livery but can't tell their petits fours from their mignardises, or have too much personality (admittedly an unlikely situation in KL)? Is fine dining an aspiration or an after-the-fact achievement?

    I fully sympathise with your friend because it is very easy for a restaurant charging RM300 for a tasting menu to simply say "we don't do fine, we do fun", then proceed to completely shit the bed while citing the disclaimer.

    For me, Enfin by James Won seems to fit the bill OK, as does DC. Like you, I haven't done Cilantro for a long time, although it is looking like great value now compared to some of the newer arrivals in town. And surely a certain Japanese restaurant that charges RM950 and above for an omakase qualifies for membership in this dubious club based on the price tag alone?