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 16, 2016

"The Manga Degustation" Bistro A Table - cute and fun!

Course One with Manga Page 1
7th March 2016

Writing this eight days after the dinner, I have a fond fuzzy memory of the evening. It was fun, great wines from everyone, lots of stories and laughs and somehow managing to avoid getting roped in to a "retreat" at a Buddhist Forest Reserve in Bentong. Can't remember the food at the moment, though, other than the fact it was fresh and visually strong and French-ish. Just can't remember how it all tasted. The notes will reveal!

Food Bore alert - This is another long post, much of which sets the scene for the food. Skip to half way down if you prefer to avoid. Look for the big photos.

This one came about as a result of a conversation with BAT Maitre D' Carol after a dinner there last November with the Amante group (though why the Italian foodie group was doing French Bistro food I have yet to resolve - I think perhaps Chief Amante was in the mood for French and managed to strike a deal). Carol shared that Bistro A Table Degustations took place every first Monday of the month - a quick check of the assembled found that we would all be around in March so we promised to return to give it a try. 

I like degustations. It's the range of tastes they offer to showcase the kitchen's culinary and creative skills and leanings. Also, I do find with age that I prefer to taste rather than feast. Especially with a bottle of something nice to exceptional with some intellectually engaging company. Wonderful stuff.

Course Two with Manga Page 2
Established in 2011, the Bistro à Table website advises that BAT "has long been a forefront contender in Malaysia’s food scene, offering creative and daring dishes to its patrons" in what it calls “adaptive French” cuisine - adapting the best of Malaysia to the classical French staples and techniques. The multi award-winning establishment "strives to bring the world’s very best produce to its diners, from Japanese Kobe beef to New Zealand lamb, to French poulet de Bresse to goose foie gras, to local Malaysian tropical fruits."

Executive chef and owner/operator Isadora Chai seems to have become legend in a short time. Whenever her name comes up in conversation, everyone seems to have a personal story about her and it is usually a jaw dropper. I have never come across this about any other chef in my time in Malaysia. People will say, "oh yes, I know Chris and Eddie, their food is wonderful" or "Chef Marco is SUCH a nice man" but with Isadora it is more that she has somehow impacted their lives and they are so keen to share the tale. It begins, "You know, I went to Bistro and that Isadora…. " and gets followed by some fantastical tale designed to leave one incredulous at Chef's abilities and temperament. I had met her years ago at a wine dinner in Ribs and…  see what I mean? Everyone seems to have a story about Chef. She does have an aura about her, like Mourinho used to have at Chelsea. The Special One. I guess that makes her The Isadorable One? Whatever, Chef clearly has colour and passion and attitude. I liked her already.

Course Three with Manga Page 3
For some reason, I had been avoiding paying a visit to Bistro for years without really being sure why. There had never seemed to be an occasion to warrant going there, and the competition from other dinners seemed to continually get in the way. It also seemed a bit far to both get to and to drive home after (is located in Section 17, PJ), and reports of the food ranged from rave to rude. But mostly I think I let myself get put off by the one story continually offered by the Governor as to Chef's insistence that she could not comply with Mrs Governor's request for the steak to come well done. His position is that the customer is always right and has not been back since. And perhaps out of some subconscious submission to the Governor's occasionally intimidating "Brook no Contradiction" demeanour, a visit there had never happened. Any time the suggestion to dine at Bistro had arisen, this same story came out with his understated vehemence and continually became pretty much the last word on the matter. Which in retrospect is not fair and I should really grow a set when it comes to the Governor. 

Course Four with Manga Page 4
However, things started changing in the last couple of years or so. Occasional visits to Soleil (located at the opposite end of the shophouse block) kind of put the drive there and home argument to bed, coupled with recent suggestions by the Sweeper and the Sapper that Bistro really was well worth a visit. Also, a recent rainy dash on a September Friday evening for something to eat at the disappointing Verona brought next door neighbour Bistro right into the frame. And so it came to pass that I found myself eating there twice in the space of three weeks, once (as said) with the Amante in November and another with my Singapore foodie friend and blogger Julian in December (we did ask for Degustation day, but got advised of no degustation for December so we did a la carte for that one). 

I decided to hold off on writing about these visits, because the dishes at each felt a shade bipolar - some were stunning, others not so. My foodie friend Julian had a particularly underwhelming experience and has written of this elsewhere. A Degustation, though, should showcase what a Chef is capable of in artistic and technical senses and I feel is fair game for a report. So here we go. 

Course Five with Manga Page 5
We had been liaising with Carol as to numbers and corkage and got it down for a special two for one - worth it, given the quality of glassware and service I had experienced there on the previous visits. Carol is a veteran of the Malaysian Restaurant scene and an absolute asset and treasure, having cut her managerial teeth with the erstwhile Frangipani and honing her skills through a range of excellent though now sadly defunct establishments. Even tempered and soft spoken, Carol exudes this air of calm unflappability that would now considered massively old school yet is refreshingly welcome. It is well worth a visit to the Bistro just to get served by her. 

The evening had been billed as "The Manga Degustation" to debut Chef's own "dark and blasphemous Manga Comic strip", said the promotional email I had received. It promised "an amalgamation of Japanese and French flavours [where] the dishes served will be subliminally based on the chapters presented throughout the dinner." In this, diners would get a page of the story prior to each course and the dish that would come out would somehow encapsulate the drama on the page. Chef channeling her dishes from her Manga story. I think.

People had been invited to come dressed in Cosplay outfits to get into the mood of the dinner, which I understand to mean in the costumes of favourite Manga characters. And they did! Lots of day-glo coloured wigs and gaudy clashing mish-matches of fashions and colours that somehow work in this fantasy imagination context. No one seemed to be taking it all too seriously and were clearly enjoying both the company, the vibe and the food so what the heck? 

Course Six with Manga Page 6
I don't know too much about Manga. It is not an art form that quickly resonated. Things like Gigantor and Marine Boy were around when I was a kid, but I was always more of a Thunderbirds and Stingray fan. But I do know that Japanese Anime and Manga is huge. Models, comics, books and trading cards, the industry is massive. Fans seem to resonate with particular characters and presumably look to emulate them in costume and lifestyle. Escapist? Maybe, but I don't feel qualified to judge. Some people resonate with Star Wars or Star Trek, others with Gundam and the WWE. Whatever buzzes your bolts. I resonate with booze and food. And the WWE.

Spoiler alert - don't read the next paragraph if you plan to attend a future BAT Manga Degustation. 

The story seems to be about a stormy romance between a demonic angel-winged daughter of Lucifer named Raxicon and a somewhat raffish human "ethereal" son of God named Liam. Kind of Underworld versus Overworld with the Earth caught in between. Both being from different sides of the fence, their love is naturally forbidden. Naturally they fall in love, fight, break up, she brings catastrophe to the earth, and their love ends up symbolised as the Blood Moon and as a memory at the bottom of the sea.

Our party had all arrived pretty much at the same time and the place was about half full. Some had already started their dinners, others were waiting for the fizz to chill. Carol seemed a shade stressed as she juggled ordering staff to get ice and glasses whilst welcoming people to their seats. 

"Bleeding" Egg Mollet with Beetroot Foam and Lobster Aioli
We were told of what to expect for the evening and got presented with the first page of the story. The pages would prove to be laminated and black and white with the occasional art piece in colour and whilst I did try to read and get a sense of the story, others seemed content to just keep chatting and not get too involved. 

In this, the visual dizziness of the pages was a bit offputting. It looked (and indeed was) hard work to read the thing quickly. Lots of words and artwork. I couldn't entirely follow the story because it would have taken too long (which felt a bit rude in company), so I had to make do with a brief scan of the words and pictures. The first seemed to be about a fallen angel who wanted to be like everyone else and kept cutting off her wings only for them to grow back bigger. Lots of bloodsplash on the page. Which mirrored Course One's Bleeding Egg - lots of seeming bloodsplash on the white plate which was in fact beetroot juice. Visually very effective and arresting on the eye, though at the risk of seeming indelicate it did look a shade….   menstrual. Sorry, but it did. Yuck. Dear Lord that I am able to think these things…

I have no notes on the taste of the dish. Probably still stunned by the visceral image of seeing a period on a plate…   Oh good grief, let's get out of here…

We were supping a Pol Roger NV which was wonderful crisp bubbles and kind of chewy fruit. This is a full bodied fizz, lots of whack in the mouth and nose and brilliantly sleek on the downside. Got a bottle or two in the fridge at home from a wine dinner at the erstwhile Ribs - need to drag them out at some time.

Parsnip Puree with Black Truffle, Pumpkin and Red Wine Bread
The Course Two Parsnip Puree was wonderful, but then I am a total sucker for Parsnip. This one had been pureed and a slice of truffle thrown on top and was well excellent. There was also some slices of what tasted like bitter gourd and aubergine parked on top which gave a pleasant tang in the cheeks to electrify the wonderfully smooth gunk and sweetness of the parsnip. Not entirely sure about the red wine bread, but presumably the colour retained the idea of blood and death. The story had moved to a church and a blossoming romance between the fallen angel (actually a demon) and a raffish looking… unfallen angel. Parsnip and truffle as a symbol of love - okay. We sniffed the red wine bread and figured the wine therein was French, though the vintage was beyond us. 

We were on to a Cloudy Bay 2015 SB which was pleasant enough though lacking the zing of previous vintages. But then I remember drinking it at a wine dinner in Cilantro many moons ago when Kevin Judd would still have been in charge and before the days of conglomerate takeover. Still remember that one, total stunner, no idea what year it was. CB is sadly now not a patch on what it once was. And now under RM100 in the stores from RM170 in recent years. Presumably the market has caught up with the brand and it is now facing serious competition from the world. Good.

Scallop with Shaved Smoked Japanese Mahi Mahi Roe and Wakame
Course Three was the scallop whilst the story was…  I am not entirely sure. There was a tsunami and a battle so I guess this was the swoosh and tempest and the turmoil of discovery that deceit and deception indeed exists on heavenly levels. Never trust a raffish looking angel, eh? The dish itself was delightful. The scallop had been sliced incredibly thin and "ceviched" into a milky mush and came across like a kind of oyster / sea urchin puree that slipped along and evaporated with a strange brine like breeze through the mouth. The Wakame had (I guess) been freeze-crisped up into a crunchy Fatt Choy style to give a bitterish salt vegetal hit to the creamy scallop. Along with little sprigs of cilantro and basil (I think) the whole became a beautiful range of crunchy herbal tastes as counterpoint to the slimy-ish wonderful gunk of the scallop. This one rocked. Very good with the Cloudy Bay, whose lack of strong acidity actually did it a favour here and let some good steely minerality cleanse the palate. 

Octopus with Tahini Quinoa and Anago Jus
Course Four was the Octopus on a bed of quinoa with some radish slices, some bitterish rocket and a long squeeze of tahini with some salt for taste. The combo felt a bit….  odd in the mouth. Not bad odd, just… odd. There was the squish and rubber crunch of the octopus going up against the soft neutral gluten-free chew of the quinoa and undercut by the zappy radish and bitter green rocket. Lots of cross textures going on. It was probably me - octopus is not my everyday choice of mollusc at the hawker stall, and anytime the tastebuds and mouth get challenged by something a bit left field I kind of go default and neutral on the thing. Though I did feel that the whole was missing something to bring it all together. Perhaps a dab of balsamic to give a bit of acetic to the thing? (NB I have a friend who continually wordmangles/mangalizes Balsamic to Islamic Vinegar - I don't know how to explain the difference).

The Manga comic had a big Octopus bearing down on our heroes who had got locked into a serious undersea snogging session so I guess that was the connection. 

The Cloudy Bay was doing surprisingly sterling service to the food. Its apparent blandness gave way to some excellent fruit and lemon sweet mouthfeel when paired with the food. It is in very good balance. Perhaps I have been a bit harsh with it - will have to try another bottle in a different context. 

It was at this point that someone asked whether anyone was following the story. I said yes, but most said no which engendered some comments to the effect that it all somehow felt like bullshit and one didn't need the story to eat the food. Well, and yes, it was true one didn't need the story. But whether that made it bullshit I am not sure necessarily follows. The Philistines also thought that everything arty was bollocks, but have generally been judged by history not to have been the best judges of anything. Dopey idiots blowing up historical artefacts because they do not fit an "enlightened" understanding of God seem to be in the same frame. Surely better to keep an open mind lest it close you to new truth? There is no greater tyranny than that of the closed mind. Freedom is just a new thought away. Yes. 

The assembled group all know their good food, but perhaps felt a bit confused as to why have the Manga story and theme in the first place? What was the point, what was the rationale, how did it fit with the food? I think sometimes there isn't one, and maybe that was the situation tonight - it was what it was. Creatives often have a story they want to bring into the world just to have it be told and hopefully heard. Whilst most of the world probably won't listen, some will. It's the need to touch, the need to reach someone that drives us all. Same reason I do this blog and my songwriting and recording - it's a very human need to connect. Perhaps there is an ego tripping somewhere in all of this, but I'm just happy to throw my output out there. If it gets picked up and applauded, great. If not, so it goes. The result can certainly be judged, but unless there is an underlying agenda I'm not sure the motive needs to be. That can hurt.

We had opened the Burgundy I had brought and it was widely praised as a belter - classic Chambertin, bright, light cherries and cheery finish. Carol took a taste and approved - enjoyed the classic style. I initially thought it was one I had picked up from SW Wines but later found this was mistaken - it was in fact a 2009 Lucien Le Moine 1er Cru "Les Cazetiers" which came from Dave Chan during his Artisan Wines time. As memory now serves, he had brought this one to a wine dinner at the Marco Polo and we bought a few bottles. Drinking very nicely. Got a memory of paying under RM300 for it. Sometimes the wine gods smile. 

Saddle of NZ Lamb, Wild Rice and Kobe Tendon and Sweetbreads
Course Five was the Lamb and Kobe tendon on a bed of wild rice, with sweetbread which had been bedded on a smear of (what tasted like) green pea puree. Very French Bistro, very rich style and massive reduction to the consistency of goo on the meaty jus which got soaked up by the rice and made for good chewy slurping. The dish was excellent, though the pea puree gave a bit too much green sweet for the wine which was otherwise an immensely brilliant match with the meat. Texture wise I preferred the lamb, which had a bit more resistance to the chew than the tendon, but this is more a personal preference - both were cooked very nicely. 

Peach and Champagne Granita
We also poured the Bordeaux that the Rubber Baron had brought which was also classic and delightful - a 2000 Chateau Leoville-Las Cases Grand Vin de Leoville du Marquis de Las Cases. Full, meaty, potent and from a startlingly good vintage. It hit every button you can think of. One of those you sip and just go "ahhhhhhhh….." The Rubber Baron is hugely generous with his wines. Every one he brings to dinner is always a real treat of some kind. Also a natural pair with the lamb and beef. Perfect wine for the food. 

There seemed to be lots of death and destruction in the comic, though I was not sure why - I had pretty much lost the plot by this time.

Quite why the sorbet came after the Main was not clear, but it worked. Sucked out all the gunk of the wild rice gravy from the throat which had the added effect of giving the wine a cooled supercharge on the finish. Don't try these things, never know eh?

Dessert was the Blood Moon which was the final love symbol for the Manga story. Very pleasant combo of sour oranges and zippy Yuzu contrasting with the sticky sweet toffee cage surrounding the Blood Moon. Sugaringly refreshing. 

Blood Orange and Belgian White Chocolate Marquise and Yuzu Jelly
At the end of the dinner, Chef came out armed with printed copies of the entire Manga story to give to everyone. Seems the whole Manga Degustation Concept had been a three year project from inception to execution and she seemed well happy to have finally got it out of the system. Chef also came out armed with a great smile and a pen for autographs. And why not? A legion of fans were on hand to worship and adore their Isadorable One. Chef inspires a loyalty in her patrons who happily sustain BAT both through and beyond its flights of degustational fancy. Any love is good love and got to get it where and when you can. And the floor staff seemed quite happy as well. In the cut and thrust loyalty-at-a-price environment that is the KL Food Scene, have to respect that.

2009 Lucien Le Moine 1er Cru "Les Cazetiers"
Overall, it was a good and fun evening. The food pretty much rocked in visual and taste terms and our wines and service thereof was excellent. There was good consistency in quality and taste and there was good sense of movement and development through the menu. As far as the theme went, some people clearly had fun with the story whilst others didn't need it. I think perhaps it worked better where there were less people on a table. The twos and threes seemed to be having a good time of it all, so perhaps eight on a table needed a bit more managing as far as the story was concerned. Most of the time, when the pages got handed out they got parked under the plate just to get them out of the way. Seemed I was the only one trying to follow the story. As said it was not easy - it felt a bit long reading at the table and felt a bit rude when company was looking to engage.  Couple this with me making all my notes and taking photos of the food… I was more anti-social than normal and it all didn't quite work. A bit too much to read and look at to take in. I also couldn't quite get the connections between story and dish at the time of consumption. Perhaps BAT could consider a prologue with an Amuse Bouche?

2000 Chateau Leoville-Las Cases Grand Vin
de Leoville du Marquis de Las Cases
As said, Bistro has good solid support from die hard supporters who apparently attend the monthly degustations with defiant regularity. They love her. And she loves them. A lot of mutual warmth and goodwill clearly evident. Chef does have this aura of seeming impervious invincibility about her which seems to inspire love and loathe in various degrees across the foodie universe. Chef also has charm and charisma, though she doesn't let the guard down easily. Paul Bocuse has a similar air - steel eyes with nuclear reactions lying just behind them. As a creative, I know a bit about setting up the inner defence shields. People tend to just react with a loud gut rather than respond from a position of considered knowledgeable reflection yet still declaim Delphic judgements (mea culpa). Which can lead to serious depression - been there, thank you, and I know I need to keep a lid on it. For me, recognising that people react rather than reflect lets me temper my own reactions. Couple this with an awareness that I might also not really know what I am talking about, then possibly we're on the road to wisdom. Kind of knowing what I don't know and recognising the fact. Well, I hope it's a step on the road. Otherwise, it's all nonsense, n'est-ce pas? It may all be nonsense anyway... anyone up for a re-reading of Albert Camus?

I'd go back to BAT with these people and these wines and the vibe on the place. And I would easily go back to BAT over Lafite notwithstanding previous mixed experiences with the BAT a la carte. And I am guessing that next time we will get into another of these "but is it FINE dining at Bistro a Table?" and the context will again come into play here. From a European perspective, no it is not Fine Dining because NOwhere in Malaysia is Fine Dining against that Euro standard. But just because it is not Fine does not mean it is implicitly bad. Everything is a matter of degree and how much we are prepared to pay for it, no? On this showing, I found BAT on this showing to be very good to fine enough dining, though perhaps maybe with a small "f" rather than a capital one. Price perhaps felt a bit stiff, but the countermanding of the generous corkage brought a better balance. 

The standards and service at places like BAT, DC, Soleil, Sage and Cilantro may be the "Finest" we are going to get simply because this is Malaysia. And in my 25 years here Malaysia continuously has shown itself as a place where relentless pursuit of sustained excellence is something to be hugely desired but which appears to consistently be in short supply in the national character. Something seems to just sap the staying power over the long term. It is just not that competitive when compared to some of the neighbours and we who choose to stay will have to chew on it. So it goes. There has been improvement in the upscale dining scene over the past ten or so years in terms of standards of food and service, but it must be hugely tough to keep it going. And trying to keep good staff who can job hop for an extra couple of hundred a month must be soul destroying. And for ANYone to attain Michelin levels, well…  Maybe it is time for a new standard. Lim Tayar, anyone?

Seems the Manga Degustation will be re-happening over the next couple of First Monday degustations at the BAT. Having done it, I don't feel the need to rush back and reprise the experience. It's a bit like seeing your favourite musical a second time - some of the magic disappears. But I would recommend it as both a food and a theatrical entertainment experience. It made for a fun memory. Though bringing our own booze was a large part of this for me. And maybe Carol needs a bit more help with overseeing the booze - she was well stressed on this evening. 

Of course I got Chef's autograph. I subscribe to the legend of The Isadorable One. Food is Theatre and Art and Entertainment (and business) and we are all luvvies giving each other meaning and validation in this same wonderful world. Because no one else will. N'est-ce pas? 

Bistro a Table
6 Jalan 17/54
46400 Petaling Jaya
Ph: +6 03 7931 2831
email: info@bistroatable.com

GPS Coordinates:
N 03˚ 7’33.3264”
E 101˚ 38’13.5420”

The Manga Degustation 
"Bleeding" Egg Mollet with Beetroot Foam and Lobster Aioli
Parsnip Puree with Black Truffle, Pumpkin and Red Wine Bread
Scallop with Shaved Smoked Japanese Mahi Mahi Roe and Wakame
Octopus with Tahini Quinoa and Anago Jus
Saddle of NZ Lamb, Wild Rice and Kobe Tendon and Sweetbreads
Peach and Champagne Granita
Blood Orange and Belgian White Chocolate Marquise and Yuzu Jelly

RM300 nett

The Wines
Champagne Pol Roger NV
2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc
2009 Lucien Le Moine 1er Cru "Les Cazetiers"
2000 Chateau Leoville-Las Cases Grand Vin de Leoville du Marquis de Las Cases

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?

Monday, March 7, 2016

IWFS Chambers Grill - dam solid!

February 24th 2016
IWFS KL President David Teh

Thoroughly enjoyed this one. Wonderful food, wonderful wines, great atmosphere, superbly professional service. And the KL Hilton has got its Car Parking act together with a flat rate for diners! The Gods seem to be smiling.

David had been on a Carnivore's dinner quest for some months leading up to this one. There were three in the running for the business, but all seemed to be sticking on severe corkage charges. Chambers were the more friendly in this regard and equally friendly in discussion and menu content. They got the gig.

"Skewered to Perfection" is the tagline of Chambers Bar & Grill which opened its doors in September 2013. The Press Release at the time shared that the restaurant "introduces an innovative new grill room concept where gourmands can sink their teeth into prime cuts of meat beautifully aged up to 36 days and grilled on skewers “ala minute”. Prepared over hot charcoal, lava stone or upright in a sandpit around a charcoal pyre in traditional “robatayaki” style, this innovative “grill on a skewer” concept is sure to attract serious carnivores looking for a new way to enjoy the perfect cut of meat."

New IFWS KL Member Kit Ong with Toru Kurokawa
Equally unique to Chambers is the custom designed and climate controlled Himalayan Salt Tile Dry Aging Cabinet where the meat gets hung and dried hung and dry aged from 14 to 36 days to extract excess moisture and give the meat an intense depth of flavour. "This unique aging process coupled with the different grilling techniques creates an alchemy of flavour and smoky infusion that is guaranteed to delight meat aficionados." Carnivores like me were salivating like Pavlov's proverbial dog at the thought.

There was a little bit of concern with only 28 having signed up with one day to deadline, but following a gentle reminder from the Secretary numbers swelled overnight and we got 47 in the end. Following on from the previous All White Affair at the Food Studio, Committee thought it would be a cute idea to have everyone dressed in at least a "splash" of red as a sartorial contrast. The idea was to match the fashion colour with the red food and red wine, and it had the additional benefit of being in keeping with Chinese New Year festivities - red being the most auspicious colour in the CNY palette.

The Ladies in Red. And Gent.
And it worked nicely - everyone was most supportive of the red idea and it did make for a colourful conversation starter for everyone ahead of the dinner. Some of the ladies were stunning in their combinations. some of the gents were quite natty and dapper too, even down to the red socks. Whether there was any "hidden" red on the attendees was not pursued - we are a society of taste and decorum. Aren't we?

We were all gathered in the open lounge reception area at the door to the Chambers happily sipping on a lovely little Prosecco which was light and fruity yet with enough silky zing to keep everyone asking for refills between all the compliments for the ensembles the assembled had put together. Supposedly a rose, the colour seemed a shade anaemic though none the worse for it. It didn't have that sense of the insipid that other Spumantes occasionally display. "Il Fresco" by name and the nature reflected it. Great easy way to start the evening and a good foil for the pimento infused bruschetta that was doing the rounds.

We got seated and David called dinner to order, introducing Chef Marc to talk about the food and subsqeuently myself to talk about the wines. Chef Marc Fery is a well-travelled chef with a world of influences whose motto remains: "Love goes through the stomach, and healthy food is what makes you happy.” He has more than 17 years of extensive experience working with various luxury and flagship hotels and award winning establishments including Michelin-starred restaurants. His French roots nurtured him with exquisite taste buds and his passion for gastronomy, while his German upbringing instilled a strict discipline which he brings to the kitchen.

Chef Marc was quite fast in his talk, presumably keen to get back into the kitchen. I was equally quick. I said that presumably those who were keen to know about the wines had already read about them in the dinner notice that got sent to all members, whilst those who did not were hungry and thirsty. I do try to be considerate.

Prawn Cocktail
First dish was the Chambers Prawn Cocktail. Whenever I see the title, I automatically think back forty years to my introduction to it at the Butlin's Holiday Camp at the Pig and Whistle in Minehead. They were small chintzy bowls of prawns around a cup of cocktail sauce with some chopped lettuce and I loved them. That sweetly sour orange and red peppered salad cream dip which slipped like the nectar of the Aegean coast across the tongue and cheeks - wonderful stuff which we never got at home and which made the holidays that much more special.

This one at Chambers was way more elaborate, though the sald creamy paprika cocktail sauce did rekindle some of that taste memory from the way back when. The rest was a melange of textures, some good though some not so appealing.  The single prawn was a bit chewy and somewhat stringy in texture and with that kind of post frozen bite on it. Good chili fire on the chopped vegetables, which felt like a combo of potato and prawn but which the menu says was French Endive. It was a nice blend of textures - got raw potato crunch, prawn chew, a good meaty mouthfeel supplemented by the paprika infused cocktail sauce. The whole was…. okay. Good to okay. Presentation was pretty, though tastewise a bit Cruise Ship and missing something that would have taken it to another level.

The second fizz (Champagne Bara) had made its way to the table and was proving well tasty. Crisp and sleek, with a lot more body than the Prosecco, quite crunchy and with a nice chewy bite on the full fruit. Good acidity and fruit and zipping the lips to simultaneously accentuate and soothe the paprika burn of the Cocktail sauce. It would prove a nice balm on the downward journey too, though with a zappy raspberry crack as it hit the back of the throat. But somehow, it left one feeling still thirsty. There seemed to be something in it that made one want to keep drinking, almost a salty undercurrent that never quite slaked the thirst. Dangerous fizz, this one. But nice.

We had some toasted white bread brought out which went wonderfully with some brilliantly tasty and amazingly smooth Olive oil which had been infused with a chunk of green chili to give a spice hit. The bread had been baked with a sprinkle of sweetcorn which lent a welcome vegetal crunch. The light toasting was genius - lovely crunch which underlined the softness of the bread. 

The amazing Tomato Soup
Which made it a shame that it didn't quite last until the soup, which was magnificent and well applauded by most members I later spoke with. Sweet, not salty, fresh and full in the mouth, totally uncomplicated and allowing the freshest of ingredients to speak for themselves. One of the best Tomato soups I have had for a long while. Didn't get much of a crab feel about the thing except as a texture contrast, but no matter - the soup taste was more than enough.

It was being paired with a Premiere Cru Burg from the Les Lavieres patch in Savigny-les-Beaune by Bouchard Pere et Fils. I had said in my earlier talk on the wines that it is not generally possible to match wine with soup. There is just so little in the way of compatibility in either whereby looking to pair soup with anything is an exercise in futility. Better to just enjoy them separately. Which proved the case tonight. You can't match sweetly acidic Tomato and herb soup with a lightly fragrant Burgundy. It would be a total wine killer. And the wine was beautiful. Full cherry nose with an initial hit of farmyard (which disappeared, so assume bottle stink), wonderfully fragrant and in lovely balance. Light and bright and as clean as spring water. A total delight.

We were quickly on to the main reds with both the Chateau La Prade and Senejac being poured (the former I think from bottle, the latter from decanter). The Senejac came to me first for some reason. Although a 2005, there is way more time left in the bottle for this one. Massive nose of standard Bordeaux sniffs - bramble, blackcurrant though with a hit of some menthol - and a finish that was just wow, all silk and velvet and a scratch of mint on the back throat. Delightful.

The Cotes de Francs was a more easy drinker (not unexpected, given the 80% Merlot) and nicely balanced across fruit and alcohol with easy tannins. Cassis and forest berries on the nose, though a smack of farmyard on the second sniff which quickly disappeared so bottle stink the presumable culprit here. How it went with the Salmon I did not get a chance to try. Went nicely with the beef, though it would have stunned with lamb. 

Got beef!
The Angus Beef was excellent. Full, beautiful chunk of low fat beef, excellently seared, with good salt and low seasoning and perhaps a hint of olive oil? Italian style? Perfectly medium rare, hugely tasty, and hot - it came to the table still hot. I haven't had meat this hot for years. Freaking outstanding. The accompanying spinach gave a bitter note that contrasted well with the jus and the mash was firm and not over creamy. A magnificent combo of carbs, veg and protein, and a nice sweet touch provided by a tiny tomato and sprig of thyme. The food gods definitely smiled on this one.

The Senejac was an excellent companion to the beef, cutting the low fat and both gaining and lending suppleness as a result. Cracking pairing.

The serving staff were very professional in their service and wonderfully generous in their pourings. Which makes it surprising that I have a note on the dessert. Regular readers will know that normally my imbibing renders the making of notes after the main a rarity. I must have been sober. Whatever, the fruit was brilliantly fresh, the mousse even, and the strawberry coulis acidically sweet. Didn't finish it - the booze was still going around, and I got a decent second pour of the Senejac which the Panna Cotta would have killed. 

Jag and Jill, er, Su Gill
Did a bit of saying hello before people left for the doors, which had made me hungry for a third to nightcap. The decanters had stopped their rounds so I did a Mossie and scouted the bottles for some leftovers. The professionals don't usually decant the whole bottle for fear of sediment entering the magic bowl. In this, experience holds that their judgements as to when to stop the pour vary, and on this occasion the variance was somewhat over-generous. Got a decent glass from one bottle and admonished others to do the same. I don't recall them doing so.

Dr Jagjit and Andrew Diamond
What a cracking dinner, all the more so because it was so unexpectedly good. Hotels tend to play it safe food wise, but Chambers has a chef who clearly puts a premium on ingredients and taste. The wines paired well, and the red theme brought a mood for a good time wanting to be had by all. I will definitely be back and hopefully soon. Have to find out more about how the aging process impacts the meat and why the Himalaya Salt thingy they have does this. The Science of Beef - we foodies need to know these things. Cheers!

David and Chef
Chambers Bar and Grill
Hilton Kuala Lumpur      
3, Jalan Stesen Sentral,
Kuala Lumpur Sentral,
50470 Kuala Lumpur
Phone:+60 3-2264 2264

Villa Sandi Rosato Spumante "Il Fresco" NV

Chambers Prawn Cocktail
French Endives, Cocktail Sauce, Cherry Tomatoes
Champagne Bara, Grand Rosé de Bouzy 2005

Roast Roma Tomato Soup
Pacific Blue Swimmer Crab Meat with Basil Essence
2005 Bouchard Père et Fils Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Les Lavières

Grilled Scottish Loch Fyne Salmon Cutlet
Green asparagus, crushed potatoes
Charcoal grilled Black Angus eye fillet
Sauté spinach, creamy Yukon Gold mash
2005 Nicolas Thienpont Chateau La Prade, Cotes de Francs, France
2005 Chateau Senejac, Haut-Medoc, France

Strawberry Pana Cotta
Cointreau Marinated Forest Berries with Red Currant Coulis

David and Chambers Team

Villa Sandi Rosato Spumante "Il Fresco" NV
Dating back to 1622, and now owned by the Moretti Polegato family, the exquisite and characteristic Palladian-style Villa Sandi is located in the heart of the Prosecco area at the foot of the Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG hills.

Villa Sandi uses a unique "on-demand" production technique which refridgerates the Prosecco must upon crushing, keeping it at 32° F until it is needed. Upon request, the must is brought to 59-61° F and this "on-demand" process guarantees that every bottle of Villa Sandi Prosecco is always fresh and lively and maintains the features of freshness, floral and fruity notes, typical of Prosecco.

Blending Pinot Bianco and Pinot Nero grapes, the Il Fresco Rosé shows a light and bright rose color. Aromas of raspberry fragrance with slightly spicy undertones lead to a playful palate of crisp acidity with spicy sweetness and a creamy mouthfeel. This delightful sparkler is dry, fresh and zesty.
85 Points Wine Spectator

Champagne Bara, Grand Rosé de Bouzy 2005
Established in 1833, La Maison Bara has built a reputation as the great ambassador for the champagne village of Bouzy, including its famous red wines. All of its 11 hectares are situated within this famous Grand Cru commune. Chantale Bara has now taken over from the legendary Paul, her father, to ease the Champagne House of Bara in to its seventh generation.

The house style is accordingly generous and rich, the tirage taking place over a minimum of four years in the 100 year-old cellars, dug 36 feet under the property. The champagnes are colourful and rich, voluptuous and honied, yet always finely balanced and pleasingly textured.

Bara’s Rosé is "a cornucopia of delight, its redcurrant and rosehip core energised by the addition of 12% of Pinot Noir from Bouzy, its balletic mid-palate bursting with joie de vivre and exhorting the drinker to the highest possible spirits.  With 2008 as its base year and plenty of Reserve Wine adding complexity, this is a broad-shouldered, vinous Champagne with a lively mousse and no lack of focus on the finish."   Simon Field MW, Wine Buyer BBR

2005 Bouchard Père et Fils Savigny-lès-Beaune 1er Cru Les Lavières
Les Lavieres is a Premier Cru climat of the Savigny-les-Beaune appellation in the Cote de Beaune sub-region of Burgundy.
Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru wines are those produced under the strictest conditions of the Savigny-les-Beaune appellation, from grapes grown within officially classified Premier Cru vineyards. Les Lavieres is located east of Savigny-les-Beaune village, where the Rhoin Valley widens out onto the plains between Beaune and Corton.

Deep ruby, darker in hue than many burgundies of this age, nose is smoky, earthy, with a hint of new oak, and pine/cedar notes, but little in the way of fruit. The palate however shows true pinot red fruit, with a hint of tannic dryness, but not intrusive, and lovely balance. Medium-length finish which is elegant, rounded, if not exactly silky. Good effort and drinking well.   Tanzer 87 - 89,  Jancis Robinson 17/20, Wine Enthusiast 92/100

2005 Nicolas Thienpont Chateau La Prade, Cotes de Francs, France
Cotes de Bordeaux Francs is the appellation title for Cotes de Bordeaux wines made specifically from three parishes of Saint-Cibard, Tayac and Francs at the very eastern edge of the Bordeaux wine region. They lie roughly eight miles (13km) north of the Dordogne river and are actually much closer to Bergerac than Bordeaux city itself. Nevertheless, the wines made here (both red and white, dry and sweet) are in the classic Bordeaux style and are produced from the classic grape varieties.

From a blend 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, the aroma of this delicious wine is shows licorice, earth, jammy blackberries, dark cherry and a hint of vanilla. Moderate and somewhat astringent and persistent tannins which lead to a good finish.  Tanzer 87 - 90  Cellar Tracker 89 (from 34 notes).

"The finest La Prade I have ever tasted from proprietors Nicolas Thienpont and Thierry Valette, this 1,000-case blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc easily competes wit the “big boys” of nearby St-Emilion. Dense purple-hued with a sweet perfume of black currants, cranberries, cherries, licorice, earth and subtle wood, it is an opulent, full-bodied, velvety- textured seriously concentrated effort with no hard edges." Robert Parker, The Wine Advocate (April 08)  91/100

"This classic, powerful, age-worthy claret should last for 10-15 years or more."    Robert Parker, Wine Advocate (May 06)

2005 Chateau Senejac, Haut-Medoc, France
Ch. Sénéjac is one of the better known Crus Bourgeois of the Haut-Médoc, located near to the vineyards of Margaux, just outside Parempuyre in the far south of the Haut-Médoc region. It is a historic estate of 150 hectares, of which only 38 are under vine, and the wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (60%), Merlot (25%) and Cabernet Franc (15%). It is matured in oak barriques (25% new) for 18 months. Recently the estate has changed hands and is now owned by Monsieur Rutsman.

This Cru Bourgeous is characterized by an almost black color deep in his younger years. A very expressive nose exhales the scents of black fruits and spices. In the mouth presents many Senejac scale and intensity whilst remaining smooth and civilized by the finesse of its tannins. This is a charming and distinguished wine to drink young for its fullness and fruit or even better let it age slowly to find the race of its terroir.  WS 90  "There's lots of grapey character, with blackberry and hints of smoky oak. Full-bodied, with lovely soft tannins and a long, caressing finish."  

Blackberry, tobacco and forest floor on the nose. Dry with dark fruit, earth and cedar on the palate. Strong tannic structure, acid a little high, tannins integrating which soften down the bottle. Toasty oak notes, anise and chocolate. Overall a good value and nice drinking wine with limited complexity and upside. Decanting helps.