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, July 13, 2017

Marco Polo Restaurant - Still the Business

The Marco Polo Promotion Menu - weekdays only
July 11th 2017

The Marco Polo does some brilliant promotions through the year. And one of these is for the restaurant to go back to when they first opened in 1980 (this year makes it thirty seven years ago) and do their menu at the prices that were being charged then. I was there the other night with the Rubber Baron and gang and the food was knockout and even more so at the prices. We had the Siew Yoke, some Breaded and Battered Mushroom, Roast Duck, Fried Fish, and other bits. The gang like their Shark Fin soup and tongues and jaws hit the table when all were advised of the price that would be charged - RM12 per bowl with seafood. Yes. Abalone with beancurd and broccoli at RM23. Stir fried sliced fish with scallion and ginger at RM10, Roast Duck for RM30, Sang Har Mee with a massive King Prawn at RM15. Madness prices. We also went for the Marco Polo Roast Suckling Pig on promotion at RM198 which is still one of the best in the city. Turned into a cracking good meal. 

The Roast Suckling Pig
By unanimous agreement, the Duck was exquisite - full bite and chew on the meat, light crisp on the slightly smoky skin and champion with the sweet honey lemon sauce. Sang Har Mee and the Roast Pig tied for second.

But the real winner was the Baron - he got the bill. I didn't actually see the bill, but the Baron's face was a picture of wondrous delighted amazement. Lucky, lucky boy. 

Winewise we had a full and slightly creamy 2012 Vasse Felix Cabernet to start, two decanted reds (one of which was a Spaniard we had recently bought and wanted to try - quite macho and spicily agreeable with the brilliant duck) and we finished off with this amazing dessert wine the Baron had brought back from a trip to the Greek island of Santorini. It was called VinSanto, the winery is Sigalas, and this was a 2004. The back of the bottle says it is the "descendant of the wine which the ancient Greeks used to name "passos" and made from sun dried grapes of the indigenous grape varieties assyrtico and aidani" and which have grown on Santorini "since antiquity."  The old method apparently was to lay the grapes in the sun for ten days and then move them to the shade for five. On the sixteenth the grapes could be put into the jars.  Which sounds like a Greek version of the Italian Amarone, though the Greek version comes in a slinky slender bottle, all dark and brooding. 

Amazing wine!!
I don't know how it tasted in antiquity, but this one was an absolute stormer. All peppery figs and drippy toffee and gooey spice dark honey and dear O Lord a finish like a double brandy fortified mince pie with a glass of vintage port after Christmas dinner. If mince pies could be liquified, this wine might be the result. Definitely got to find some of this on the travels - brilliant, brilliant wine. 

The Marco promotion ends just before the end of the month - the 22nd July as memory serves, and the promotion is available on weekdays only (ie not on weekends). Maybe better you call ahead to check - 03 21412233. There are two seatings - 6pm and 8.15pm. I will be back there twice next week and our IWFS is having an all Duck and Pinot Noir wine dinner there on 27th. If you can't do this promotion dinner, go there anyway. Dim Sum lunch or a la carte dinner is always good. Or consider the Marco Sunday buffet lunch at RM51++ with special prices for seniors (RM36++) and kids under 10 (RM28++) - great value and a huge selection of food. Hooooooooooooooo… seck hor! 

Marco Polo Restaurant
1st Floor Wisma Lim Foo Yong
86 Jalan Raja Chulan
50200 Kuala Lumpur

reservations: +603 2141 2233


Think I want to say a few words on the eating of Shark Fin. My position is that I will avoid taking it wherever possible since this apparent delicacy involves one of the most inhumane methods of harvesting that our species is capable of. I've seen the videos and they are heartbreaking - the boatmen just slash off the fins and dump the shark back in the sea where, unable to swim, it sinks to the bottom and drowns. And presumably gets eaten by other sharks. I recognise that many of our gastric pleasures are derived from some form of butchery of live animals. But this seems particularly brutal. So I take a stand against eating it and hope that somehow the demand for it will decrease to the ultimate point of forcing the Fin Slashers to find another earning occupation.

If it is ladled out into a bowl and put in front of me, I will normally put it back on the Lazy Susan and allow someone else on the table to take a second bowlful. If asked, I say "I don't know how to appreciate it." Which is actually true - I guess it is a texture thing and as a Westerner I derive little pleasure from its consumption. It is the same with Abalone - park it back with Susan and get stuck into some leftover duck or something. Far better for someone who does appreciate it to have the opportunity to do so. 

But if not to take it would be embarrassing or disrespectful to someone (either host or some other relationship sat around the table) then I will take it and quietly and quickly eat it. I have spent enough time around the Chinese community to understand the importance of maintaining (or not losing) Face, especially in the company of others. Every relationship is important, and nurturing and developing them all are critical. In this, maintaining harmony in the relationship is paramount, and public embarrassment becomes unforgivable. So I eat it, shut up, and move on. 

I get that it is a delicacy that has been highly treasured by the Chinese palate for centuries. And I get that the rest of the meat on a shark is not that good to eat (firm and dry and pretty tasteless have been the two tastings I have had). But to just remorselessly dump the animal back to the deep having hacked it with a knife just for its fin seems beyond barbaric. Yes, people need to earn a buck but there must be less soul destroying occupations than this. 

Might sound like a double standard, but I don't think so. Yes, there are some matters of principle on which to stand - but I am not sure that the occasional eating of shark fin soup to maintain good relations qualifies. Perhaps others might feel different. For me I don't feel I should judge what others find delightful - my job is to judge the chef and the restaurant and not the clientele. 

Should the occasion arise, I will advance my arguments for not eating the Shark fin. But it remains the embarrassment aspect that has to be worked out and this might take another generation or two more. It is passing - Wikipedia notes a report saying that demand in China had declined by 50 to 70% from 2011 to 2013. Also, many now take imitation or substitute shark fin in soup, so as to presumably perpetuate the prestige but salve the conscience and reduce demand for the actual fin.  

In my time, I have on occasion had to sit with (let us call him) The Chinaman. This person is the archetypal "salty" Ham Sap glutton who appears to have little concern for anyone's well being and opinion except his own. He is the one who argues that the consumption of the shark fin will imbue the eater with the qualities inherent in the beast - presumably in the case of a shark this means rapacious hunger, aggression, being the apex predator, and ultimately success in business. Similarly, eating bits of the tiger is supposedly good for virility. In contrast, we eat the pig because it tastes so good. How Turtle Feet fit into this is beyond me, but The Chinaman will salivate over it. 

The Chinaman also likes to Lord it over his business partners and show them how wealthy he is by lavishing them with the best of everything: whiskey, brandy - and shark fin. It becomes a projection of apparent wealth and power, presumably aimed at securing an impression that The Chinaman has little regard for wealth - he is powerful enough to make more money somewhere. As a result, The Chinaman gets big Face. Or so he thinks. Most people see straight through it. 

I have seen The Chinaman happily and greedily suck down bowl after bowl of the Shark Fin, usually on someone else's tab - secure in the knowledge that it will turn him into "Shark Man". He will advance theory after theory as to why the Stock Market is not making money for you and that only by following his Shark Man lead will you come through into the Nirvana that is Making Money. 

Maybe it is a self belief thing - you get the confidence to take that risk because you believe you are Shark Man and are therefore invincible. But I do find it somewhat delusional - the idea that consuming an animal will give you the qualities of that beast. Dead meat is dead meat, and the fact that it came from a shark or a chicken becomes immaterial. Anyhow, this is not intended to be judgmental as to why people eat what they eat. Some eat Shark Fin, I eat stinky cheese and crackers. Not eating the Shark becomes a personal preference which I will honour when I am able. 

I must say that, like the demand for Shark Fin, the Mr Chinamen of the world also seem to be in decline. The Chinese can be a complicated grouping. And pretty alien to most Western perceptions and comprehensions. Keenly shrewd in business dealings, huge risk takers, a love of gambling - yet generous, warm hearted and taking a great joy in life's pleasures. They build lifetime relationships with friends and family and take pains to maintain and nurture them. I feel strangely blessed to have been able to have spent so much time and enjoyed so much wine around restaurant tables in their company. 

Underpinning all of the foregoing is an ecological argument that we should really weigh in our appetites. Overfishing of the sea's bounty is producing observable developments in the sizes of both the catches and the sizes of the fish. Overfishing is a natural economic consequence of demand. And demand is driven by our disposable wealth and our appetites. And it is thanks to these that both the size of the populations and the size of the fish are shrinking. We see it in tuna, whose numbers are also decreasing at an alarming rate and where those being caught are getting smaller and smaller. We also see it in Sharks - they are not being given enough time to grow to maturity before the fin gets cut. It seems also to be happening with oysters - recent suggestions are that globally they are shrinking in size. They cannot cope with the demands of the human belly.

It is true that shark fin has little audience outside Chinese communities compared to the global domination of the belly of the Tuna. Nevertheless, shark numbers are decreasing and this has to impact the Marine ecosystem, which will in time impact the land ecosystem and eventually impact mammals that walk the land. There appears to be compelling evidence that our planet has entered an Extinctive Event phase (which according to the wonks is quickly becoming irreversible) which has already killed off substantial numbers and species. Whether they are man made or not, action needs taking and we each can still do something to defer and look to ultimately arrest the extinction that is happening. Get people to use less water when washing their dishes. Use the car a bit less. Recycle your paper. And don't be a market for rare animal products that claim to increase virility. Tell Mr Chinaman he is full of shit. The environment does matter. There's only one Earth for all humanity and it's getting increasingly smaller and less able to support us. 

How do you stop people eating shark fin? One at at time. So please - Don't. Eat. Shark. Fin.       No.

The Sang Har Mee

Total and absolute yum


  1. Hello Brian, and welcome back!

    What are the normal prices at Marco Polo? Still good value in your opinion, or...?

    On the shark fin issue, let's talk about it over a good bottle! ;)

    1. Hi Julian, yes, Marco is still the business, though some say seems to be better when Lenglui is in the dinner group :X which naturally has to include the Lengjai ;D

      Hope to see you soon, B