Friday, September 12, 2014

RETURN OF CHEF DEBBIE TEOH

To know Malaysia is to dine in Malaysia...in line with Visit Malaysia Year 2014, this is your chance to romance the halcyon days of Straits Chinese cuisine through Chatz Brasserie's Best of Malaysia: Nyonya Cuisine by Chef Debbie Teoh promotion.
We were lucky to get a sneak preview of what Malaysia's Queen of Nyonya cuisine will be serving up at ParkRoyal KL. Featuring almost extinct recipes such as Kuih Bongkong and Pais Buah Keluak, diners can be sure they'd be in for some authentic treats for the promo which takes place every Friday & Saturday night for dinner and weekend high tea from now until 12 October.
Debbie herself would be holed up in the hotel to personally prepare the various dishes; a mean feat in itself as Nyonya specialities are notoriously time-consuming and labour-intensive to prepare and cook. True to her Straits Chinese background, the lady has even unearthed some long-lost and almost extinct recipes to showcase for this promotion.

I had a dose of nostalgia when I tasted her soul-warming Hu Pio Soup (pix above of fish stomach soup). Light and clear on the palate, the textural interest came from spongy pieces of deep-fried fish stomach and the unexpected inclusion of two fresh prawn dumplings. Flecks of deep-fried garlic added a sublime deep-bodied flavour which saw us slurping everything up to the last drop.

Debbie's next labour of love was Nasi Ulam - a rice salad of sorts that's heavy on turmeric and assorted local herbs: finely cut shallot, turmeric leaves, bird's eye chilli and lemongrass among others. A really painstaking dish to prep as I have attempted to make it in the past.
One rare dish we sampled was Pais Buah Keluak (RM30 for 2 pcs; served a la carte). This steamed fish meat in banana leaf parcel is similar to its spicier counterpart known as Otak-otak but instead of ground spices, the fish is mixed with that mysterious black nut from Indonesia, giving the ensemble a faint ashy-bitter chocolate nuances. Some diners may find this speciality an acquired taste but it's recommended you should sample it at least once.
Once you go black, you can't go back - Buah Keluak is addictive once you gain a penchant for it
Dark and mysterious with vein-like streaks, this tough nut (pix above) is really a seed from  or the Kepayang (Pangium edule), a mangrove swamp tree. According to Wikipedia, the raw seeds are as poisonous as cyanide. They have to be boiled and buried in ash, banana leaves and earth for forty days; turning the creamy white nuts to dark brown or black. The hard and bitter kernel inside is an essential ingredient in the preparation of Ayam Buah Keluak, another typical Nyonya dish.
Those of us who enjoyed buah keluak couldn't resist digging in and scooping up the dark, creamy paste within. The richly spicy chicken was tender and thoroughly suffused with its unique nuance which Debbie dubbed as Peranakan truffles.
 
Penang Perut Ikan (pix above) is yet another almost extinct delight that you'd be hard pressed to find in today's Nyonya restaurants. Debbie's sterling version had that vivid melding of savoury, sweet, sour, and spicy accents that completely erased the disappointing versions I have had in the past. One can eat loads of rice accompanied by this dish alone; in order to appreciate the melange of finely shredded herbs, vegetables and pickled fish stomach fully.
From her maternal Melakan side, Debbie proffered a rich, thick Ayam Pongteh, chicken stewed with taucheo (salty fermented soy beans) and gula melaka (dark palm sugar). Again it is a comforting offering that goes best with plain white rice.
A Nyonya feast cannot be relished without rice; not when there are irresistible, appetite-whetting servings of Gulai Kiam Hu Kut or Curried Salted Fish Bones. Unabashedly creamy with a muted brininess, the splendid curry drew rave reviews all around as we drenched our rice with the piquant gravy.

Complementing the heartier dishes is Kerabu Jantung Pisang with Prawns - a scrumptious creation that warms the cockles of our hearts with the use of the humble banana flower 'heart' (the equivalent of the Asian artichoke). Up until now, we have always encountered it in kerabu (local salad that consists of the finely chopped heart of the banana flower and tossed with chilli, toasted grated coconut and shallot). Needless to say, it was another huge hit as the zesty chilli and spice notes set our tastebuds tingling with pleasure.
Even the usual grilled fish was given a fresh twist. The celeb chef served the grilled fleshy stingray with an almost forgotten sauce concocted from kalamansi lime juice, pounded chilli and sliced onion, calling it Fish Panggang with Lum Chut Sauce.
For high tea, expect delectable nibbles and kuihs galore. Top pick includes the delicious Rempah Udang, an old-school treat comprising grilled tubular parcels of glutinous rice with a subtly spicy filling of pounded dried shrimp with grated coconut. The rice is stained a pretty blue using the juice of pea flowers.
Kuih Bongkong...a light teaser that's sweet and slightly custardy drenched with melted palm sugar
Kuih Bongkong and Sweet Potato Kasui are superb throwbacks to the era where familial matriarchs reigned supreme and would outdo each other with colourful and tempting array of kuih-muihs; sweet cakes made mostly from glutinous or rice flour, palm sugar, grated coconut or coconut milk and literally anything and everything that's locally grown and freshly available in abundance.Most are usually steamed although there are also selected grilled or fried kuihs.
Again Debbie has stayed true to her roots in making these traditional treats, with the only concession being the amount of sugar used is much less now. The two dessert we savoured were to-die-for with no seconds in sight.
To complement the meal, we were served two healthy refreshing drinks: Serai (lemongrass) and Kedondong (a tropical sour, fibrous plum-like fruit known as Spondalis dulcis).

The Best of Malaysia: Nyonya Cuisine by Chef Debbie Teoh is available for Friday & Saturday dinner buffet at RM125 nett per person and Sat & Sun high tea buffet at RM78 nett per person. Cooking enthusiasts can pick up tips and tricks on Nyonya cooking from the celebrity chef herself during High Tea on Sun (prior seat reservation required).

For reservations, call Chatz Brasserie, tel: 03 - 2147 0088.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

TIME TO INDULGE


You probably have seen the "mysterious" promotional trailer prior to the start of the movies you're watching...a lady dressed to the nines sauntering to some jazzy tempo while stealing glances at a glass of bubbly and a slab of choice steak. The last thing I recall was the throaty voice-over exhorting a cinematic experience at Indulge...
Hence I was curious to find out what the fuss was all about when I received an invitation to experience Indulge...we were pleasantly surprised to find it was a cosy, opulent lounge cum restaurant tucked away in a discreet corner of the dark cavernous space of TGV Cinemas in 1Utama.
Not quite fifty shades of grey, silver and purple dominate the interior, interspersed with futuristic back-lit columns, bass relief wall panels and circular drum pendant lights.
Smoked Duck Salad with mesclun greens, capsicum with kiwi&balsamic dressing
Honey Roasted Pumpkin Salad with rocket, cherry tomatoes & capsicum with balsamic dressing

The restaurant menu is skewed towards fine-dining fare mixed with some crowd-pleasing options. From our preview, the Smoked Duck Salad (RM15++) with its sweet-tangy kiwi and balsamic dressing hit all the right buttons, flavour-wise. Healthier diners may prefer the vegan  version which pairs Honey Roasted Pumpkin (RM15++) with citrusy rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes, sunflower seeds, capsicum and a drizzle of balsamic dressing.
Our entree of choice is Stuffed Potato Skins (RM12++, above) with turkey bacon and mozzarella for its delectable, hearty filling. Another easy to like item is the moreish Lamb Koftas (RM14++), spiced lamb patties with green salad.
Terrific trio (top to bottom): Grilled Salmon, Grilled Lamb Rack & Cajun Chicken
Should you wish to have a quick bite before your movie starts, main courses available to tempt you will include Grilled Salmon (RM28++) with seasonal vegetables and lemon butter sauce (moist and pink, we found the fish up to scratch), Grilled Lamb Rack (RM28++) with rosemary sauce (medium doneness with a herbal overtone from the sauce) and Cajun Chicken (RM20++, succulent boneless chicken thigh perfumed with heady Cajun-style seasoning). Indulge patrons can savour these dishes inside the cinema hall too if they wish as they'd be waited on hand and foot with on-call butler service available.
Breaded Chicken Cordon Bleu is moist and juicy thanks to its cheese & ham filling
Cajun chicken with wedges and salad
Meatier choices that carnivores would relish are Grilled Ribeye Steak (RM30++), Chicken Cordon Bleu (RM22++) and Hungarian Beef Goulash (RM26++). The menu will undergo constant changes and new dishes will be offered to keep things fresh for patrons.
Grilled lamb rack (top ) & ribeye (bottom)

Dessert choices range from Signature Panna Cotta (Italian cooked cream topped with raspberry, RM12++) to Nutty Tortilla Banana (tortilla filled with peanut butter, cornflakes and sliced banana, RM12++). 
 Sweet temptations in the form of nutty tortilla banana (top) & panna cotta (bottom) Pics courtesy of PureGlutton
The Indulge cinema halls are fitted with ultra-comfy reclining chairs, cushy blankets and on-call waiter service; luxe perks that discerning movie buffs can enjoy at RM45 per ticket (excluding food & drinks). Private and corporate functions with or without movie screenings can also be accommodated at Indulge.

For more information, log on to: www.tgv.com.my

Monday, September 01, 2014

SWEET, SWEET MID-AUTUMN FEST

CONCORDE KL LIGHTS UP THE SWEET LIFE
This year's 'it' item for Mid-Autumn Festival which falls on 8 September...Concorde Hotel KL's ingenious mooncake box which can be upcycled into a table lantern lamp! Available in a range of pretty eye-catching colours and a choice of tall vertical or square box-style, the ornate table lights are definitely going like hot cakes!
Pretty lanterns cum mooncake boxes all in a row...photo courtesy of Concorde Hotel KL
This pix of Concorde's durian mooncakes don't do the taste justice...eating is believing. Photo courtesy of Concorde KL
The hotel's scrumptious Musang King snowskin durian is another winner in the mooncake stakes. Packed with rich, creamy Musang King durian pulp and its unmistakably pungent aroma, no die-hard durian fans can resist this heavenly treat. If you want to a sample, you'd better hurry before stock runs out...
Of course, there's different mooncake varieties available to please the palate. My choice is the classic lotus paste with single yolk and pandan lotus paste with single yolk - both decent varieties that aren't too sweet. Priced from RM108 onwards per box, the selection can be viewed at this link:
http://goo.gl/j9sVd8
Sneak peek of the lotus paste with single yolk mooncake from Concorde KL
Pandan lotus paste with single yolk
Mooncake with Japanese red bean filling
Concorde KL's mooncakes are sold at the hotel lobby from 11am-8pm until 8 September (while stocks last). Call tel: 2144 8750 for information and placement of orders.

 * * * * * * * * * * * 

HILTON KL'S CLASSY CARRIER
Creative carriers...Hilton KL's mooncake boxes can be turned into a wine carrier

Upping the ante on their luxe boxes of past Mid-Autumn Fests, Hilton KL has also drawn much interest with their classy mooncake boxes that look like tiffin carriers. Once the mooncake box insert is removed, it turns into a nifty wine carrier! You can tell a lot of thought has gone into the design thanks to the flow of creative juices from the in-house graphics team.
The hotel also shows its Midas touch with opulent boxes to present its famed snowskin durian mooncakes. Taste-wise, the exquisitely indulgent snowskin with pure premium Musang King durian  creation is neck-to-neck with Concorde's. Billed as Heavenly Gold, it is available in a box of 4 or 6 at RM198 and RM276 respectively.
Close-up of the exquisite snowskin durian mooncake


The other popular variant that piques our interest is Blue Moon, a bright blue snowskin mooncake with amaretto lotus paste and blueberry cheese feuillantine filling. There's something about that sweet-salty balance that tickles the tastebuds, leaving behind an urge to eat more of it.
 
This traditionalist is equally besotted by this year's signature offering of Autumn Jade - a snowskin pandan mooncake with parmesan cheese and a praline-like mandarin orange-infused chocolate centre. Incorporating the citrusy accent was a brilliant move as the refreshing aroma and nuance help to balance the sweet and rich profile of the mooncake.
 
Another new variant to sample is Flower Drum - a snowskin lotus paste mooncake with soft custard egg yolk. After savouring the more distinctive flavours, the subtle delicacy of this creation is somewhat eclipsed by its counterparts but it should appeal to those who are partial to subtler tastes.
 
Purists need not worry as the hotel's baked selection is guaranteed to delight. Our top pick has to be the white lotus paste with single yolk which comes in an impossibly thin baked skin. If you prefer nuttier and crunchier overtones, the baked mooncake with five nuts would be ideal.
Luscious lotus paste with single yolk from Chynna, Hilton KL
 
Go nuts with this traditional offering from Chynna


The Hilton KL's mooncake selection is available at RM88 per box of 4. For enquiries, call 03-2264 2405.
* * * * * * * * *
CLASSIC WESTIN
The Westin KL also has its own range of mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Among the baked variants available are pure lotus paste with single yolk, healthy black sesame with lotus paste filling and golden emerald (pandan) paste with single yolk. 
The health-conscious choice...healthy black sesame paired with lotus paste for that subtly rich accent


Most of the mooncakes we sampled from The Westin KL are mildly sweet with a smooth, slightly nutty texture from the inclusion of sunflower seeds in them.
The emerald paste with single yolk mooncake



One advantage of buying mooncakes from The Westin KL is these are produced in-house by the Five Sen5es team so the treats are preservative-free. The crumbly Shanghainese mooncake is one that's rarely seen nowadays but if you like cookie-like skin for your mooncakes, this would go down well.
Crumbly coating for the Shanghai mooncake
Packed in a cheery purple and silver box with blind embossed pattern, the mooncakes are sold at The Westin KL from now until 8 September.

Call Five Sen5es, The Westin KL for more information. Tel: 03-2773 8338.