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.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

108 X Dewakan = Foragers Paradise. But Where's The Beef?

Chef Kristian Baumann
November 11, 2017

My original title for this post was "WTF???" but on reflection that was a gut (?) reaction rather than a reflection on what was in fact a solid challenge to expectations of both eyes, belly and camera. The eleven courses went by quite quickly and seemed to travel through the alimentaries like a breath of air. If we are what we eat, then at least for one night in this lifecycle I feel I have been cleansed. Purified, even. Not fully sure if it was enjoyable, but it is done. Yes. Thank you and Amen. What?

Dewakan chef Darren was collaborating with chef and co-owner of Restaurant 108 in Copenhagen Kristian Baumann for two nights at the Dewakan. The email blurb said that Kristian shared the same appreciation for and emphasis on ingredients and produce, as well as holding to similar philosophies of hard work and hospitality. Kristian, a Korean-born Dane, is now the head chef and co-owner of Restaurant 108 in Copenhagen’s Christianshavn district. He spent his early career at restaurant noma, after which he helped to set up Restaurant Relæ, before becoming head chef of Restaurant 1.th. In July 2016 he opened Restaurant 108 with noma’s René Redzepi. The restaurant was awarded 1 Michelin star in February 2017. So pretty much Foodie Rock Star coming to perform in Kualal Lumpur, and snap up your seats fast! 

Butterfly Pea with Okra and Rose. Maybe
The blurb also shared some of the dishes from the menu at Restaurant 108: 

  • Cured mackerel washed in celery vinegar with last year's gooseberries and spruce wood oil.
  • Raspberries filled with caramel made from rose hip, served with rose hip granita and oat raspberry cracker.
  • Braised lamb shoulder glazed in its juices, and fermented honey with grilled onions, elderberry capers and greens from Krogerup.

Tables would be for 4 to 6 pax, with limited tables for 2 pax, and that dietary restrictions could not be catered to for this event. RM450 for eleven courses with wine pairing sounded like a deal, so in we went. 

Mango in Ginger
The communication between Dewakan and me was a bit lax on this occasion. Having dutifully sent off my request for Lenglui and I to dine, I got no response from anyone, not even an acknowledgement of receipt. It was only when I got a email from The Governor saying Dewakan had asked him to ask me if it would be all right to sit with his party of six that I got any inkling we were on board for the beano. Whisper came back that the Maitre D' had moved on from Dewakan so perhaps that would explain. Even so, hearing nothing from anyone felt a bit…  not right. 
The aforesaid email blurb also said we should expect creative dishes that would in turn challenge and comfort. This creativity did not apparently seem to carry through to the wines chosen for pairing - one of the group checked with Sommelier on arrival for the dinner and reported to our party that the wines were two fizz (one a Cava) and a Pinot Gris (I did not see the wines, so strictly this is hearsay - they might have been magnificent, though I do defer to the friend's judgement in wine). The same one had previously suggested the eight of us on the table bring our own wines to sup, since apparently the IWFS members get a waive on corkage. So the decision was made to indeed sup our own and forego the suggested pairing wines. 

Pisang Raja/ Coconut Bananas. Two of them. Yes
And we had brought some beauties - there was a vintage Dom Perignon in there somewhere (2002, I think) along with my 2009 Pascal Bouchard Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos and 1er Cru 2009 Joseph Drouhin Puligny-Montrachet Folatieres and finishing off with the Governor's Chateau Leoville Poyferre 1996. 

Charred Eggplant with Keluak
Lenglui and I arrived and immediately got greeted by old friend and fellow thespian turned chef Chris Bauer and partner Eddie. Chris now operates the Cantaloupe and has a business card saying Troika Sky Dining which seems to cover Claret, Strato, Fuego and Coppersmith in addition to Cantaloupe. He also thrust two glasses of very tasty Rose Fizz into my hands, saying that they were overpoured and thus in need of immediate drinking to avoid unnecessary warming. Seemed perfectly logical, so naturally I acceded to his demand. I also promised to visit his place, having so promised on each occasion over the last six plus years we have ran into each other and never yet made it there. There is now a deadline of the end of this year - it is about time to try his cooking again. Last time was when he had opened Frangipani which is now almost two decades ago just after we shared the stage in a production of The Fantasticks. Try To Remember…  the time has indeed flown. 

Our party wandered in over the next twenty minutes and naturally I had to explain where the booze we were drinking had come from. One perhaps feels one is missing out otherwise, or that I was hoarding the fizz. A champagne brought by one of the party got opened in an effort to catch us up and the evening was underway. The whites were parked in an ice bucket by our Sommelier whilst the reds were cooled in the fridge. Having been requested to take our seats, Chef Kristian came out quickly with the first course and explained what it was all about. This someone coming to explain the dishes would become a theme of the evening, though it would be different kitchen members doing so. Perhaps this is all part of the training. Became quite entertaining - or should that be that enter-training? 

Banana Blossom with Butter Sauce. Maybe...
I wish I could say that I pay attention to such descriptions at the dinners I attend, but much of the time it just does not stick in the brain. Too busy farting with the camera to take a shot before the thing gets devoured. Also being partially deaf in a room full of echoes with diction deficient friends and restaurant staff means that little effective conversation enters the head. Memo to self - pay more attention to chef and ask him or her to speak up and clearly. Maybe I should offer to teach diction to chefs in exchange for food?

Petai and Mushroom with Water Chestnut
The upshot of this excuse means that much of the tasting notes (or lack of them on this occasion) increasingly have gotten marginalised in the surrender to the pleasures of the evening. Which happened here - the individual food dishes and their tastes got forgotten in the wine and company and ambience of the restaurant. The service of both food dishes and wines were extremely good, the attention to the visuals and the presentations of the dishes was excellent, the wines were delightful and all well received by everyone - but it was one of those where the taste of the food became somehow secondary and subsequently not really memorable. Some textures come back - the pomelo, and there was a mango dish slightly cooked in (I think) ginger that was a replacement for ( I think) the quinine and daikon. The rice and condiments made for good combos of crunch and zippy vegetable style bites whilst the coconut shaved ice was a fantastic finisher with the mint tea to close. Lots of smells and sights and a wonderful experience - but a bit like DC in that I can't remember much about the tastes. Perhaps it is me - the tastes somehow don't register at these grand and exquisite meal affairs. But then how is it I can still remember the Baked Fish at Paul Bocuse, the Sicilian pizzas, the T Bone Steak and Bone Marrow at Chez Paul, and the Bresse Chicken in Beaune Hotel de Ville even now when it is years later? Maybe I am just too peasant for these artsy style food affairs. There you go. The 108 x Dewakan will be remembered for the wines, service, ambience and company - but somehow not for the tastes of the dishes. Visually stunning, and excellent creativity and finesse in the elements. Just can't remember what it all tasted like. All the dishes seemed to float past the tongue and cheeks and drifted into the belly with barely a wisp of a memory of their brief existence. 

Rice Two Ways with Condiments
Equally, I don't remember anyone on the table raising a "phwooarrrrr" at the tasting of any of the dishes. I know I didn't. Sorry… 

As said, the presentations were all quite visually creative and cute, and made for conversation around the table. Most of mine was spent chatting to the Governor about travel, writing, and his upcoming memoirs. Very engaging, and all his stories about life on the Plantations are amazing. The Governor can tell a good story.  

Rice Two Ways with Condiments
He was also insisting on opening his second Leoville in the face of protests from the rest of the group given that dessert was in the process of being cleared. My laying of a corkscrew on the table brought discussion to a swift close and the cork was duly popped. And O what a delicious wine - sleek, rich chewy fruit that totally popped on the cheeks, with full cassis nose, excellent balance, and drinking delightfully. The Governor keeps a good cellar.

Fried Mantou with Jackfruit
As noted at the start of this write, there seemed to be something purifying in all of this vegetarian fare. One sensed some strange yet meaningful communing with the Earth and perhaps the Gaia spirit that some say permeates and connects all that lives. Well, and maybe, but the entire table was absolutely gagging for something to land in the belly with some semblance of a thud. Lots of cute and delicate, but not much in the way of whack or substance, or "beef". Remember the old Burger King advert of old where the tagline was "where's the beef?" Very. Apt. Indeed.

Rambutan. Two. Yes.
Chef Darren's Signature Duck sprang quickly to mind as a solution to all this internal growling, but no one dared ask for a serving amid all the Vegan vibe going on in the place. Our table were jokingly talking of going for a Char Kwey Teow supper or breakfast or something to fill the gnawing chasm of something missing from the evening. As it was, we all went meekly home after paying the bill and taking a gentle Waze guided slow and steady drive back. I felt the need for some decent carbo to settle the stomach ahead of the bed and raided the fridge for some crackers and a glass of water. And half a Welsh Cake - a taste of the homeland currently being brought into Malaysia by Marks and Spencers in KLCC. Little round cakelets made from a dough of flour, raisins, egg and sugar and baked on a hot plate with a scrape of oil. Fills a belly hole in a way like no other. Veggie friendly, too. Fell asleep watching the football. 

So…  the surprise of the menu proved to be a challenge to our expectations of Dewakan given the absence of any form of meat from the evening. Kind of like an omakase vegetarian evening dependant on what could presumably be foraged from field and market. Had we known in advance it would be non carnivore, we might have not signed up; certainly given the dishes described from 108 in the blurb, perhaps an expectation of some animal protein was not unreasonable. Still, the prospect of an ex noma chef teaming up with chef Darren should have pre-warned us to expect the unexpected and best we just turn up for the gastronomic ride and take what comes. Given the fare and ingredients, though, I would definitely have balked at paying the RM450 for it, world class chef or not. Banana with salt and coconut? Two Rambutans?  Difficult to see where the added value was. Certainly didn't feel like it appeared to be on the plate this time around.

Preparing Dessert at the table
As in all things, there is a need for balance and the Yin of this vegetarian cleansing was met the following night with the Yang of a large home griddle cooked steak with milk and butter mashed potatoes, steamed buttered sweetcorn and fried onions. With loads of salt and pepper and a glass of Markovitch 2011 Pinot Noir. Absolute and total bliss. Thus was internal gastronomic equilibrium restored and the expectations of the belly totally met.  Fine dining vegetarian experiences have their place, but sometimes a bloody good steak is necessary to satisfy and stick in the craw. Some of us need our beef. 

Coconut Shaved Ice with Roselle and Pandan

The Lovelies

Butterfly Pea and Okra with Peanut and Wild Rose

Belimbing with Pomelos and Blackcurrants

Quinine with Daikon

Pisang Raja with Fresh Almond Oil

Charred Eggplant with Keluak and Hazelnut

Banana Blossom wth Butter Sauce

Petai and Mushroom with Water Chestnut

Rice Two Ways with Condiments


Fried mantou with Jackfruit

Coconut Shaved Ice with Roselle and Pandan

Herbal Tea

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