(no pork served)
Sue Lim is one of the co-owners of Hakka Republic. An amazing, energetic woman, she packs one megaton of energy in her petite figure. She used to be a wine supplier fo a long, long time and along the way she has developed her own idea of what a good wine should taste like (mainly old world wines) and she hopes that she would be able to cater to the slightly more niche market of discerning wine lovers who are tired of all the new worlds and their clones at the supermarkets.
I was invited by Sue to have lunch at their establishment recently and was surprised to discover that the birth of Hakka Republic was a mixture of chance, opportunity and luck. Apparently Sue had toyed with the idea of opening a small wine bistro in Central KL for quite some time. And you can't have good wine without good food and vice versa. Before long, one thing led to another and a chance discovery of a chef waiting to come back home to Malaysia after spending a lot of time in Tokyo lad to the birth of the now larger setup at it's present location. I could hardly believe that what she had in mind originally was a 1000+ square feet set up.
The concept of Hakka Republic is to provide an extensive range of good wines personally vetted by Sue herself to be served with simple, good food in a friendly and casual environment. Believe me, the wine list is extensive. From Aszus to Zinfandels and everything in between, varietal or blended, New World boutique wines to Stately Chateau Wines. All budgets and all tastes. The Italians are particularly prominent here, reflecting Sue's personal preference. Most of the wines here are imported by Sue herself, and there is an allocation per vintage which makes some of her wines rarer still. Fortunately the prices of the wines here are pretty reasonable and the enomatic machines makes it easy for you to taste all the wines without burning a hole in your pocket.
During lunch, Chef Adi dropped by for a chat. With over 10 years experience cooking in Tokyo which is renowned for it's high density of Michelin Star restaurants and the fussiness of it's residents about food, it's a high pressure job being a chef in Tokyo. Married to a Japanese, his reason for coming back to KL is to familiarize his son to the Malay Language and Culture. Hailing from Johor Baru, this Cherubic and friendly Chef is the creator of the wonderful menu that graces the Haaka Republic.
Sue's concept was deviously simple. Match good wine with good simple food. One thing that's noticeably missing here is a dress code. This is because Sue wants to make this place fuss free. Anybody who is dressed decently although casually are allowed into the dining area. What's more important is that the customers come with an open mind in order to fully appreciate good wine and good food.
Although the emphasis is not on Fine Dining, but rather good, simple food that will go well with the wine, Chef Adi has done an admirable job. But both Adi and Sue would be surprised to know that Angus Beef Burger (which is offered in the Hakka Republi Menu) is actually offered at RH at Andaz (old Hollywood Hyatt) LA too. With Michelin Chef Archambault heading the kitchen, they had introduced Angus Burger as part of it's fine dining menu. And RH opened almost simultaneously with Hakka.
Although back home for only 8 months, Chef Adi has already shown flashes of brilliance, with the steamed Wagyu Beef with Ponzu Sauce gaining an almost legendary status among the foodie circle in KL who were and are still waxing lyrical about it. Undeniably, there are traces of Japanese influence in his cooking, due to his long working experience in Tokyo. And his approach to the menu is creating tasty, fuss free food with emphasis on natural tastes and then let food copulate with the wine and work it's magic. I am sure in time to come, he too will mature to be a potent chef to be reckoned with in KL.
If this post seems like an advertorial, rest assured that I paid for my lunch there. It is so rare to meet somebody so unwavering in her quest and the concept of enjoying fine wine together with dining is so under-exploited in Malaysia that makes me so impressed with Hakka Republic. Even though this establishment is only 8 months old and Sue has no previous experience running a restaurant or bistro, she actually takes the trouble to seek out comments from her customers and the menu is always being improved and revised. And of course Chef Adi and his talent in the kitchen is complimentary to the wine bistro concept and together, they make a formidable and welcome team to the dining scene in KL.
Amuse boouche is a fairly new introducion at Hakka. An oyster shooter together with a tomato and avocado salad topped with caviar in petit sizes to whet up my appetite for lunch. Light and lovely.
The Shrimp Bisque Shooter was marvelously creamy and was very balanced and aromatic. It was rich enough to leave a cloying after taste, but not too rich to the point of being overpowering. The mirepoix blend was smooth and the resulting soup was suave and concentrated.
The foie gras with miso was also an unsual twist. Pan fried and lightly drizzled with Miso sauce, the sauce did not overwhelm the taste of the liver, but lent it a slightly more savoury taste which made the liver taste sublime.
Comfort food for the tired soul. Beef Wellington with Yorkshire pudding. Simple and classical, but extremely well presented. Taste this dish with the Chianti that was paired with it, and you immediately understand what Sue was talking about when she mentioned simple but great tasting food matching the wines and bring out the best of both. Like a good marriage. (More about the wines below).
Slow-Baked Meringue with Crème Anglaise And Bittersweet Chocolate was the dessert i had for lunch. Light and fluffy Meringue with a filling of bitter chocolates and slightly sourish strawberries was a lovely way to end a wonderful meal.
Now, the wines. Old world wines seem to have more life compared to the new world fruit bombs. The taste changes with every sip and to me, that is almost like an organic life form itself. It can even sense your moods!
The Kelleske Clarry's Semillon Chenin Blanc 2007 (top left) was paired with the Prawn Bisque. Kelleske is a small and organically farmed grapes Barrosa Valley winery and this version is a blended wine. Light and medium bodied, it was crisp and acidic with notes of summer melons. Very easy to drink but slightly overwhelmed by the rich Bisque. I would have preferred a Pouilly Fumé instead which is slightly musky and smokey.
The wine on the top right corner was the Disznókő Late Harvest Tokaji 2003. Tokaji Aszu is Hungarian sweet wine which had been left to desiccate with Botrytis or noble rot to enhance the sweetness of the grapes. Left to abandon during the communist control of Hungary which meant that impeccable fermentation could not take place as it should, it enjoyed a revival recently due to investments from the big French houses. The one i had that that was the least concentrated Tokaji, which is the Late Harvest. With Tokajis puttony numbers indicate the strngth, the sugar and sugar free residue in the wine. The higher, the more concentrated (and more expensive). The late harvest was already lovely, with a nose of honey and apricots and exhibiting a lovely golden hue. Although it is a sweet wine, there is a balanced acidity which meant that the after taste is slightly sourish. This wine has a happy mood. I suddenly felt the sunshine and wind and the beautiful summer and Liszt's Ungarische Rhapsodien was playing in my brain. I wanted to do the jig on the table! This was a wonderful match for the foie, it was a match made in heaven.
Bottom left was the 2006 Zind Humbrecht Gerwutz which had been tasted here.
And the Red at the bottom right was a Chianti. I have to admit I am not very exposed to Chiantis. I love the Bordeauxs and Paulliacs and the Rhones. But the one Sue paired was so different from the Chiantis I've had before and I was floored. This palish Sangiovese based Isole e Olena Chianti Classico 2005 was just opening up by the time i took a first sip and with another swirl, evolved again. On it's own, the nose is smokey with plums and in the mouth it was full bodied and chewy with some leathers. Very parchy and tannic at first, but when paired with the Beef Wellington, it was amazingly fresh. I guess this was what Sue was getting at. Good food, good wines and a wonderful experience.
Lovely pairings and an eye opening experience. Thanks for the lesson on the Italian reds and lovely company, Sue and I wish you every success.
N.B. FBB, LL and Frat... This was what you guys missed. :p
Hakka Republic is having lunch with wine pairings every Friday and the cost is RM 120++, which is a pretty good deal by any standards
Lot 2.05, Level 2
Menara Hap Seng