JOM MAKAN! Life's A Feast

Saturday, May 23, 2015


A bazaar of 'streetside' eateries serving up hearty kampung delicacies, multi-racial Malaysian fare and popular specialities from all 14 states will take centrestage for this year's 'buka puasa' dinner at Laguna, an outdoor lakeside dining venue in Pullman Putrajaya.
Dinner preview was held at B's Cafe but the set-up will be replicated at Laguna for the fasting month

Serenaded by a live ghazal band, diners can revel in the festive atmosphere; a timely precursor to the impending Hari Raya celebrations in mid-July. After fasting from dawn to dusk, the recent preview gave us some inkling of what the hotel chefs have in store for the fasting month.
While most folks can't fill up much for dinner, the trick with buffets is to be selective and keep your eyes for the great choices; dishes each hotel is known for. For Pullman Putrajaya, we recommend the curries. Ranging from fiery red to sunny yellow, our personal faves include the aromatic spice-laden Fish Head Curry (pix above), turmeric-scented Prawn Curry, fiery Rendang Minang and Kari Kambing (goatmeat curry, depicted below). It goes without saying they are best enjoyed with servings of fluffy plain rice.
One of the best-selling items in many Ramadan bazaars is murtabak. When the supple yet crisp doughy skin has the right thickness and comes packed with spiced beef or chicken filling, it's scrumptious. Pullman Putrajaya's was top notch as the perfectly cooked Murtabak yielded a flavourful filling which left me returning for repeat helpings.
Other tempting choices that caught my eye were assorted local kerabu salads with traditional condiments & dips, hot-off-the-grill satay and some crispy, cereal-flecked deep-fried garoupa pieces generously garnished with curry leaves. It was picture-perfect but I can testify it was one of the best specialities we tried.
No buka puasa buffet is complete without Bubur Lambuk - that customary porridge enhanced with local spices, cubed beef & potato. I like the heady aromas evoked by the savoury, easily digestible gruel which is gentle on the tummy while invigorating the palate.
Meaty offerings to feast on would be Roast Lamb and Roast Leg of Beef; both rich-tasting and guaranteed to satisfy voracious eaters. Chefs are at hand to carve and slice the portions requested for so take your time to enjoy thoroughly.
Spicy Squid, Stir-fried Bamboo Clams with Chilli and Lala as well as Grilled or Fried Fish should reel in seafood lovers in droves. You'd have to survey the line-up as the different seafood dishes are spread out according to the various cooking styles.
The assorted fried items section enticed us with Fried Chicken, Cucur Bawang, Fried Fish & Squid Balls, and Whiting. Diners with a yearning for Western fare will be delighted to know a pasta cooking station and some Tex-Mex specialities form part of the lavish menu.
Remember to save ample tummy space for dessert. I was impressed by the date selection and vast array of seasonal local fruits laid out. Local and Continental sweet treats were aplenty too, leaving us spoiled for choice.
The Jom Balik Kampung Buffet Dinner will be served from 7pm-10.30pm from 18 June to 14 July at RM128+ per adult. If you book before 31 May, enjoy a special Early Bird rate of RM113+ per person.
For reservations, please call Pullman Putrajaya, tel: 03-8890 0000 x 6802/6804/6850 or email: Address: No.2 Jalan P5/5 Presint 5, Putrajaya.


Risotto is a tricky dish to get right. But the chef's special we sampled at The Gallery in Taman Tun Dr Ismail hit the mark...crowned with plump Seared Scallops (RM48) and crispy leek, the risotto accentuated with parmesan fondue, brown butter and gremolata (classical condiment of lemon zest with finely chopped garlic and parsley) seduced our palate with its soulful creaminess; the grains retaining minute nuttiness at the core.
Don't let its posh looking signboard deter you from entering as The Gallery is at heart a family-run concern headed by the hospitable Latifah Abdul Latiff and her daughters, Natasha and Nabila. We love the many artworks mounted on the restaurant walls; the colourful canvases serving up a feast for your eyes while you wait in anticipation for the resident chefs - Nabila and hubby to work their culinary tricks in the kitchen. According to Latifah, The Gallery support local artists so there's always different pieces on display and for sale.
Slurping on cooling thirst-quenchers such as Peach Twist (RM13), TG Sunrise (RM16) and Raspberry Mint Tea (RM15), we had a hard time deciding what to eat as everything in the menu sounded irresistible.
The evening's curtain-raisers of TG Crostini (RM15) whetted our appetite nicely. Topped with sweet pumpkin mash, roasted cherry tomatoes and bell pepper & tuna, the toasted baguette slices were an instant hit with us.
Delicious deep-fried risotto balls with mushroom, mozzarella and parmesan known as Arancine (RM18) proved to just as addictive. Personally, I can gobble down the entire lot on my own but that would be overdoing it.
Forget about those sorry excuse of a burger from fast food joints. Yes, the prices are different but if you love burgers, save up and pay for a top notch one like TG Lord Burger (RM32). Our jaw dropped at the sight of the slab of sirloin layered on soft, fluffy sesame buns. Bulked up with fresh mixed greens, juicy tomato slices, onion marmalade and triple cheese: mozzarella, parmesan and cheddar together with a dousing of wild mushroom sauce, this masterpiece floored us with its scrumptiously rich, smoky and meaty taste.
Diners with petite palate may prefer digging into the Classic Caesar Salad (RM25) - a delicate mix of baby romaine, soft-boiled egg, croutons, beef bacon and shaved parmesan. You can request for smoked salmon (additional charge of RM10) or roast chicken (RM8) to be included for a more substantial salad.
Prefer something light with greens thrown in? Then the yummy Grilled Prawn & Scallop Skewer (RM18) should be your choice pick. Complemented by mixed salad with corn puree and lemon chilli vinaigrette, our dining party demolished this instantly, raving over the seafood; wishing there was more to spare.
On second thoughts, that was probably a good thing since we also ordered Prawn Bisque (RM22). Redolent with deep-seated crustacean accent, the broth's creaminess was tempered by the zingy touches of salsa verde (blended parsley, basil, garlic and capers), garlic and shallot whilst several poached prawns lent textural interest.
Reclining on a bed of basil potato mash, we took turns to admire the sexy angle proffered by the Roasted Spring Chicken (RM38). Accompanied by sauteed greens and orange thyme sauce, the chook was one of the more notable ones we had encountered.
Propped atop a mound of peperonata (stewed mixed bell peppers) and a side serving of rosemary sauce, we picked the bones clean off the Grilled Rack of Lamb (RM55). The chef deserved applause for rendering the juicy meat to medium doneness, retaining the full flavour.
Just in case you think it was a fluke, our medium rare Black Angus Ribeye (RM95 for 250g) cemented our belief in the kitchen team's capable skills. Paired with rustic sweet potato mash, sauteed mixed mushroom and fresh arugula, the trump card in this dish was the sublime vin cotto sauce - essentially reduced fig vinegar to viscous caramelised thickness.
An avid duck meat lover in our midst was full of praises for the Seared Duck Breast (RM42). Sliced and placed on crisp yet soft potato pancake, the cranberry sauce that came with it evoked an unexpectedly Christmassy feel to our dining experience. Crunchy garlic flakes and mixed greens provided the finishing touches which we took to like...well, duck to water.
Carbo lovers won't be left wanting either as The Gallery has five pasta options available. Pick of the pasta heap was Farfalle alla Ragu di Manzo (RM28) made swoonworthy with a superbly rich tomato-beefy sauce that brooked no resistance. Forkfuls of chunky and meltingly tender beef ragu ramped up the dish's flavourful appeal further.
Those robustly stewed bell peppers re-emerged in Linguine de Pepperonata (RM25); their companionable presence seamlessly in sync with a multi-flavoured quartet of tomato, garlic, black olives and onion, suffusing the thick pasta threads with bright, sensuous nuances.
I would equate Petite Orange Madeleines (RM15) with our local kuih bahulu. Although the latter is drier and lighter in texture, both has an enticingly eggy richness. Most bakeries either make them too greasy or hard but the dainty cakes we scoffed down at The Gallery were tres magnifique...slightly buttery and spongy with a subtle whiff of orangey note.
Chocoholics will readily succumb to Chocolate Vault (RM26), a decadent dome of choc fudge brownie and milk chocolate mousse enrobed in a silky covering of rich dark chocolate. The supporting cast to liven up the luscious creations included crushed nuts with raspberry and orange coulis to offset the indulgent dessert.
Lately, Baked Alaska (RM26) is increasingly making a comeback. Each version we had tasted was as different as chalk and cheese, and The Gallery naturally added its distinct interpretation as well. While we relished the cottony-soft coconut cake and mango sorbet pairing inside the scorched layer of Italian meringue, the neon green pandan paste threw us a little. Scattered with toasted coconut crumbs, and slivers of strawberries, it was underwhelming for me in the taste department after those excellent madeleines.

The Gallery is worth visiting if you like modern European fare without having to dig too deep into your wallet.

For reservations, call tel: 03-7732 2005. THE GALLERY, 165, Jalan Aminuddin Baki, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL.

Sunday, May 17, 2015


Whether it was by luck or coincidence, The Deck Gastropub won me over the minute I sampled the Seared King Scallops & Tiger Prawn Croquette with Caramelised Cauliflower Puree, Chorizo Sweetcorn & Roasted Garlic Mayo (RM38). Pretty as a picture, the semi-circle of plump scallops and springy tiger prawn was chockful of irresistible flavours and varied textures that captivated our tastebuds.
That exquisite appetiser coupled with the clean, fruity Placido Pinot Grigio selected by The Deck Manager John Ong set more than an amiable tone for our maiden visit to WEIL Hotel's rooftop gastrobar, possibly Ipoh's most sophisticated yet fun dining & drinking venue.

The Deck's red brick and wood clad mod-vintage interior evokes a comfy, laidback atmosphere; a cool hangout spot where picture windows look out to the hotel's rooftop garden, pool deck and panoramic vistas of its surrounds.

Should you need companionable advice on suitable nibbles to complement your fave tipples, seek John Ong out - he'd be delighted to share his treasure trove of fine wine and food knowledge after chalking up years of F&B experience in Hong Kong. Born and bred in Ipoh, the eligible bachelor has now returned home to roost and striving to raise the city's fine dining bar. 
At his insistence, we shared the starter of Seared Beef Carpaccio & Parmesan Tuile (RM26) and we had no regrets. Enlivened by candied walnuts, fresh arugula and a splash of aged balsamic vinegar, the delicately gamey slices tasted out of this world.
Aged balsamic dressing brought out the full rusticity of another sublime appetiser - plump slices of Grilled Portobello Mushroom (RM21). Adorned with wild rocket salad, candied walnuts and shards of parmesan tuile, it was an uncomplicated but soul-satisfying starter to nibble on in between sips of wine.

Another notable fungi option to tickle the palate in the snack/small plate section is Creamy Mushroom Ragout (RM21). Touched with sun-dried tomato, herb, garlic and truffle oil, its rich accent is ample enough for sharing; perfect if you decide to stretch Happy Hours till late.
You can tell The Deck team put in TLC into the food judging by the nicely assembled Tempura Blackened Yellow Fin Tuna (RM25). Raw tuna rolled in nori and lightly coated in tempura batter came crowned with Japanese pickles whilst a cone of pickled daikon (radish) bore a dollop of ebikko. Frilly dill, swirly fennel strands, wasabi jelly and sesame dressing completed the composition; each element bestowing palate-pleasing textural and flavour interest.
We were fortunate to cover almost all the house specialities that evening. Although soup doesn't rank highly on my 'must have' list, the trio served up for our sampling was top notch. My personal fave (a rare first) was Roasted Pumpkin (RM19); the wickedly delish soup embellished with smoked duck, sourdough croutons and chilli oil.
The other two worthy contenders were Roasted Tomato & Basil (RM16) served with crusty baguette topped with basil mayo, tomato and olive, and Creamy Mushroom Soup (RM22) primped up with shimeji mushroom, crispy bacon and white truffle oil.
Out of the different mains we savoured, my personal pick has to be the moist, ultra delectable Chicken Ballotine (RM35). Black truffle-scented mash, tender mushroom, sweetish onion chutney and shallot thyme sauce formed a scrumptious bedrock for this yummy dish.
Coming in a close second was the Seared Black Cod (RM68) with herb nut butter, confit lemon, fennel and roasted cauliflower. A surefire winner for those who are partial to deftly prepared fish as the cod's inherent flavour shines through with the attendant ingredients playing their supporting roles.
Carnivores aren't neglected here as prime cuts of beef and beef ribs are on the menu as is a well-acquitted Roast Rack of Lamb (RM69). Carrot puree, potato confit, minted peas and lamb jus ensure this meaty choice is worth sinking your teeth into.
Carb lovers can also get their fill from the Alaskan White Crab Meat Linguine (RM38). Crispy crumbs, capers, parsley, spring onion, garlic and chilli converge to heighten the taste dimension of this pasta alongside sweet chunks of Alaskan white crab meat.
 Ever mindful he's the ambassador of sorts for his hometown, John got The Deck culinary team to incorporate Ipoh's famous white coffee into one of the signature desserts. You mustn't leave The Deck without succumbing to the luscious Ipoh White Coffee Pudding (RM24).
The white coffee aroma was unmistakable in this superb dessert which has candied walnuts, raisins, mascarpone, berries and salted caramel sauce boosting its sweet allure.
Brimming with inventive ideas and boundless enthusiasm, John also spurred The Deck's mixologist to create a special cocktail using Pagoda groundnuts. 
Known as Pagoda Xtreme, the concoction shaken with frangelico (Italian hazelnut and herb-flavored liqueur), kahlua, Bailey's and blended groundnuts was the perfect after-dinner aperitif. Think liquid Reese's peanut butter candy with a naughty alcoholic twist.

We had such a terrific time over dinner that it was close to midnight before we finally took our leave. The Deck was still abuzz with patrons on that weekday night; some were trailing in whilst others remained cosily ensconced in their respective seats, nursing drinks.


 For reservations at The Deck Gastropub, call tel: 05-208 2228.