Get your fill of 2016’s dining buzz, including some old favourites that are worth revisiting such as Sri Lankan crab curry, ibérico pork ribs, grilled Wagyu, chee cheong fun and more. There are desserts too, which you can save for later. Or maybe not.
The thick, punchy broth for this restaurant-quality laksa is exceptional: it’s boiled down with sweet, smoky crustacean flavours and elevated with a spicy-peppery kick. It reminds us of a cross between a prawn mee and a Sarawak laksa, but with the consistency of assam laksa – the broth alone would make a beautiful bisque. The mix of bee hoon and laksa noodles is piled high with a crayfish, tiger prawns, quail eggs, chunks of chicken, julienned fish cake and crispy tau fu pok for extra crunch.
Bread and kaya. It’s a simple snack we know and love, but Li’s version comes with a modern twist. Forgoing the plain white bread, Li uses sourdough that’s baked in-house daily, served with homemade pandan kaya on the side. Here, the pandan custard is cooked in a sous-vide bath for a couple of hours to ensure that it’s not overcooked. It’s then blended, which creates an airiness that gives the kaya an almost cream-like texture. Order this when you dine in and you’ll get toasted sourdough slices served with a side of kaya and French butter seasoned with sea salt. It’s a harmonious mix of flavours; the butter adds another element of taste, while the sea salt brings out the sweetness of the kaya and the tanginess from the sourdough.
This is one of the best crabs we’ve had, and the secret lies in the curry’s delicate balance between spice and heat – you get just enough of a kick that’ll keep you reaching for more. The curry, made with ground spices on a base of chilli powder and fish curry powder, has a nutty consistency and it easily coats the perfectly cooked crab’s sweet and briny flesh. Also, don’t be shy when the meat’s juices inevitably drips down your fingers – just lap it all up, like what everyone else at your table is probably doing as well.
For most ceviches, the lime juice in the tiger’s milk marinade – while necessary to cure the raw seafood – often overpowers. But Fuego found a tasty solution to that by adding sweet, ripe papaya salsa to complement the dish. That’s not it though; to amp up the flavours, the chef also throws in ginger and pineapple ‘ice stones’ (essentially a juice mix frozen using liquid nitrogen). These bright and vibrant flavours are the perfect foil for the tiger prawn’s crunchy, creamy texture. This is a very pretty dish as well; it comes smoking as the ‘ice stones’ thaw.
For all the glitz and glamour of the topping – all bouffant, toasted meringue, which we’ll get to in a moment – the lemon tart at Rubberduck is built upon a buttery, crisp base, cradling a classic citrus curd. Lin Tan and Katrina Taib’s tart is a balancing act of textures and tanginess; there’s the marshmallow-like, voluptuous meringue, which is sweet against the sour flavours of the smooth lemon filling beneath. There are no soggy bottoms in sight too – the crumbly crust is baked to a golden brown, and counteracts the sweetness and the sourness of the star dessert.
At Stoked, the ibérico is respected. Not drowned in sticky sweet sauce, but instead beautifully grilled in the Bertha oven with a restrained use of rosemary marinade and served with a side of fresh greens. The flame-licked ribs are done to perfection – lovely char and smokiness, rich flavour (no doubt from the pig’s idyllic life of grazing on acorns and rooting for truffles), plenty of heft and chew. Ditch the cutlery and use your fingers. It’s so much more enjoyable.
Mrs Gan’s version isn’t for the hearty appetite. The smidgens of char siu and shrimp lurking within the rice noodles left us a little bereft as plump, juicy prawns were sorely missed, but the chee cheong fun is a main event in its own right. Chee cheong fun is a dish to be had when you crave noodles without the heftiness of soup or the frivolities of thick sauces and spices. Throw in a sense of familiarity – like their (almost) show-stealing belacan – and you’ll get a simple plate of comfort. For 27 years, the owners have cranked out the silkiest, thinner-thanpaper- thin noodles we’ve tasted in the city. Now imagine how this would taste on a rainy morning.
A good banana leaf rice meal comes with a side of mutton varuval, but a great one comes with mutton bone marrow curry. Made from Australian mutton, the leg bones are simmered for an hour, allowing the tendons and fat to melt and seep into the stock. The curry base consists of a blend of spices that’s been cooked for half an hour and mutton stock. Here’s how to eat it: Hold the aforementioned leg bone (hole-side down) and tap on it with a spoon. The fatty marrow will slip out of the bone. Or, you could ask for a straw to slurp it out. Mix the marrow with your banana leaf rice to fully enjoy this decadent dish.
Deep-fried vegetables are the best vegetables, as the deep-fried bitter gourd – or karela – at Pandian’s stall in PJ proves. At about 11am, the kitchen begins to churn out ‘lunch’ dishes, replacing the chapattis, thosais and puris of breakfast. Amid trays of tofu stir fried with tomatoes and vegetarian biryani with kurma curry, the deep-fried bitter gourd is the most consistent treat to come out of the kitchen – and the fastest to go, as furtive fans scoop spoonfuls straight onto their plates, without leaving so much as kerak bits behind to share. The crisp, evenly sliced chips aren’t coated with curry powder, and thus retain a golden brown colour instead of the norm of darkened red. The beauty of the bitter gourd is in, well, its bitterness. Here, it’s also tempered by a pleasant, slightly nutty flavour, which makes it as addictive as chips.
At Foo Foo, their ice creams barely begin with vanilla, strawberry or the customary chocolate. The sighting of a balsamic vinegar ice cream in a restaurant is rare, and even rarer when it appears next to a strawberry tart on the menu. The strawberry-balsamic vinegar combo isn’t a novelty, of course; but this classic Italian pairing is perked up with strawberry compote and crème pâtissière – all encased within a buttery short crust. The sliced strawberries, arranged like flower petals to the balsamic vinegar ice cream centre, are sweet, tart and definitively strawberry-tasting – you could’ve eaten them naked. But the formidable Foo Foo likes their dessert fancy – you should’ve known from the sprinkle of chopped dehydrated strawberries in the plating.
The humble crème caramel makes for the perfect dessert after a bowl of pho. Everything, from the custard to the caramel at Ara Vietnamese Noodles, is made from scratch. Texture-wise, it’s firmer than other puddings due to a blend of three different kinds of milk. You can have it two ways here: On its own, or for an extra edge, with a dash of Vietnamese black coffee. Not only will you get to enjoy the richness of the coffee, it helps to balance the sweetness of the caramel. Note that only 30 to 40 portions are made daily, so come early.
Lunch degustation menu from RM118++
Looks like a crème caramel but definitely not. Rather, it’s a clever take on chicken liver pâté. Here, the chicken liver is used more for its fat than flavour, and is blended with chocolate to emulate the dessert’s signature silky smooth texture. That richness is then balanced out with a lightly burnt curry leaf and torch ginger caramel. We know these ingredients sound bizarre together, but they work, in the most surprising sweet-savoury way. This entrée (in the lunch degustation menu) is a good example of Chef James Won’s fun take on modern cuisine.
The quest to seeking a perfectly executed octopus dish has been tough (and at times, rubbery), but Coquo’s Mediterranean Octopus has managed to occupy a niche between straightforward and extremely exciting. Some vaguely recall octopus as being flavourful, but a quick hot bath in the sous vide machine and some grilling action in the charcoal oven yields a tender meat – one that, after a sensible seasoning of sea salt and spicy Pimentón de la Vera smoked paprika, can hold our attention the way a really good steak does. Chef Toni Valero ups it with a smattering of roast potatoes and saffroninfused foam, bringing forth a much-needed richness and depth of flavour.
Handpicked by executive chef Satoshi Uehara, the grilled beef – Grade A5 Miyazaki beef air-flown from Miyazaki in Kyushu – at Ginza Tenkuni is a thing of beauty: exquisitely marbled, deep rose pink, lightly browned on the edges from the teppan, and served with a pinch of broccoli purée salt, plum salt and mustard seed sauce. Pick up a slice, dip it in any of the condiments (or have it on its own), and savour the moment. Eye-closing is entirely optional. The rich and buttery beef melts on the tongue, leaving behind the sweetness of the meat. Served in tiny slices, it’s enough to inspire daydreams for the rest of the year.
Served with a side of pale pink plum salt, the guava kakigōri by gourmet shaved ice bar KAKIGŌRI is a contemporary take on our local guava with plum powder. It’s a mound of bright green fluffy shaved ice (they use ice with a higher density for finer shavings), layered with guava purée, and topped with a plum-infused jelly and a sprinkling of fine fuchsia pink powder. This isn’t your usual ais kacang. Likened to freshly fallen snow, the kakigōri is incredibly soft, melting upon contact with the tongue, leaving a faint trace of sweet guava and tangy plum salt.