Sunday, December 13, 2009

Cheong Liew at Senses 5th Anniversary, KL Hilton. Something Old, Something New. Something Borrowed, Nothing Blue.

(no pork served)

It is not easy
, the adaptation of Asian Tastes and Sensibilities and combining it with Western Cooking Technique and presentation. A lot of people have attempted it, many have failed. You cannot hide bad cooking with heavy sauces and beautifully presented dishes, more so with Asian styled cooking, where the emphasis is on the natural taste and freshness on the ingredients and the masterful blending of ingredients.

Cheong Liew is the face behind the Grange and had been recently been honoured with a lifetime achievement award by Restaurant an Catering, SA in view of his contribution to the food and beverage industry in Southern Australia. Quite and achievement for a Kuala Lumpur boy. It would not be difficult to see why Australians love Asian inspired fusion cuisine, being a virtual cultural melting pot for so many different ethnic groups from all over the world. Accolades include one of the 10 hottest chefs alive from the American Food And Wine Magazine and Medal of the Order of Australia.

Clockwise from top left: 1. The amazingly energetic Cheong Liew explaining the dishes he created 2. Dominic Versace 3. Michael Elfwing 4. Cheong Liew

Cheong Liew was back in Malaysia recently for the Fifth Anniversary celebration of Senses Restaurant. He was both modest and affable and I had the pleasure to chat with him before and after dinner where he filled me with little anecdotes on his travels, the changes in KL and the Australian food scene plus about his childhood in Malaysia.

"For example, a mother’s job was traditionally not only to cook but to think about the family’s health – ‘my son has a cough, my husband is working hard, the sun is hot’. So she will come up with dishes that will fit each person’s needs. Whether Indian or Chinese, it’s part of the culture of Asia." - Chef Cheng Liew, interview with Sumptious.

It was a wine pairing dinner with Dominic Versace, but I would not be mentioning the wines much, as they failed to impress me. Typical South Australian Fruit bombs which can be very attractive and seductive if you are into that sort of wine. Unfortunately it lacks the complexity and the depth that I normally look for. Only 2 mentions, the 2009 Rossini Rosso is fresh and light and would be ideal as a picnic wine and this Rose is made from Sangiovesse. And the unvintaged Premium Sparkling Shiraz which would make a great party wine with lots of berries and cassis on the nose with moderate longevity on the palate. Better than the Lumbruscos.

Senses Sea Dance: Saffron Gin Kingfish, Drunken Prawns and Oyster, Boston Bay Mussel Jelly.

Senses is part of the KL Hilton Studio Restaurants and is currently headed by a young Australian Chef, Michael Elfwing. It features contemporary Australian cuisine and is still being overseen by Cheong Liew. Throughout the meal, flashes of brilliance were evident and there is no disputing that Cheong Liew is a very clever chef. Chinese cuisine is deconstructed to it's essence which shows a remarkbable understanding of Chinese Cooking Technique and Philosophy and resurrected as again, married beautifully with perfect western cooking techniques. Take for instance, the starter. Those of us who have had Chinese dinners before would be familiar with the Chinese cold plate starter, which is not dissimilar to what we had. The drunken Prawns were marinated in Shoaxing and the cereliac provided it with an interesting twist. Intead of cold chicken jelly, we had Boston Bay Mussel Jelly and a light salad and Sashimi styled Kingfish marinated in Saffron and Gin.

Truffled Scallop Chicken Wings, Dried Octopus Custard with Wild Game Consomme

Each time a new dish is served, Chef Cheong will come over to our table and explain the intricacies involved in creating the dish of which we can see his brilliance. De-boned chicken wings, stuffed with scallop and minced chicken meat and scattered with truffles, tofu smooth soya bean jelly, with shredded dried octopus inside and smoky Venison Consomme, cleared with lobster. A perfect blend of tastes, smokiness blended with the taste of ocean.

We’re always in search of experience. In the whole cuisine of Malaysia, not one dish is fixed in one culture. One dish can have Malay, Indian, Chinese influence, sometimes even Portuguese or Dutch influence. This is how original cuisines evolve. Even 600 years ago in Europe, Paris-style food evolved from a mix of many different cultures. - Cheong Liew, Interview with Sumptous.

Patagonian ToothFish, Black Fish sausage, Snow Pea Prawn, Cuttlefish Rice

However, the union of east and west is not perfect and may result in a discordant, jarring cadence. This dish is heavily influenced by Mediterranean Cuisine. Squid Ink coloured the sausage skin with fish paste, Spanish equivalent of Carnaroli Rice Risotto with Aioli somehow or another did not result in a harmonious transcendence that I was hoping for.

Salt Baked Free Range Duck with Slow Cooked Abalone, Abalone Wakame Sauce

Farm grown Abalone was used and it was double boiled with scallops to give an illusion and taste of dried abalone. The duck was wrapped in a salt meringue before being baked, and although the skin was extremely salty, the resulting texture of the meat was perfectly tender and gamy, and tasted like smoke cured duck meat. Wakame seaweed was mixed with abalone blood to produce this rich tasting sauce and the accompanying broccoli and mushroom was tossed onto a bed of shredded dried scallops. Genius, I could hardly imagine that Cheong Liew started off his career as an Electrical Engineer.

Braised Wagyu Short Rib with Japanese Pumpkin Ricotta Ravioli

The Wagyu beef rib was braised to perfection with some Chinese Cardamom, and the texture was perfect and tender. The Pumpkin ravioli was dressed in some heavy Parmesan cheese and sweetish. The plain grilled wagyu loin eased the satiety of this dish a little, but I found this dish to be slightly too heavy.

Dessert Platter

Dessert Platter was some Cinnamon Ice Cream, Green Apple + Lime Jelly and a Mixed Fruit Loaf with Sago. It was not particularly inspiring.

An old wedding custom dictates that the bride should wear:

Something Old, Something New,
Something Borrowed, Something Blue

And with this marriage of East and West, all the requirements of were met, except nobody was blue after the meal. The only blue we saw was while paying the bill where we parted with quite a few blue coloured bills. This may not the the perfect marriage, but as with any cross cultural relationship, there was a lot of effort made to understand each another, respecting the traditions of each other and not to dominate, but to co-exist in harmonious union.

The exquisite Iced Grand Marnier Souffle with Chocolate Sauce

It was certainly enlightening to be able to taste Cheong Liew's food and actually experience his ingenuity in the kitchen. Not only that, we had the pleasure of interacting with a very down to earth and friendly chef who actually lived up to the hype. The dinner was very intimate and we were awed by the hospitality and interaction from both Cheong Liew and Michael Elfwing. I had the opportunity to make some new friends and fellow foodies, and this was a great way to end the year 2009 and certainly one of the memorable meals this year.

The face behind "The Grange" will be leaving it and will be taking a sabbatical. I wish him all the best, and hope that he will be back to cook again in KL soon.

Merry Christmas, y'all, and Happy New Year 2010!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sage, Gardens MidValley, KL. Can Chef Daniel Hold The Fort?

(no pork served)

KL foodies were abuzz when news of Cilantro's soft opening at Micasa hit the streets and the million dollar question everyone was and is still asking now, what will happen to Sage? After all, the iconic Chef Takashi is almost synonymous with Sage, which draws both accolades and brickbats from KL foodies. Fans of Sage will go on and on about how innovative the French cuisine with a Japanese touch is, and detractors were put off by the pretentiousness and quirky results. I do not see what the fuss is all about, Ramsay started The Maze with Gallic-Asian fusion too, but the citizens in KL seem to be lapping the food up.

What usually is a quite place for me to do lunch previously has turned into a bustling hive with Tai-Tais and Gordon Geckos crowding up the place, with almost unbearable noise levels. Dinners on Fridays and Saturdays are impossible unless one books a week ahead.

So, how is the new Sage, post Takashi era? Can Daniel hold the fort? Well, Chef Takashi still overlooks the menu and there is an ongoing collaborative effort between the two Chefs. I was there for lunch and had their seafood, and back later for dinner for their poultry. And to me, there was no discernible difference, except the dishes seem to be more robust, rather than subtle.


The Mousseline of Sea Scallop with Crab Bisque came in a golden hue that tasted as good as it looked, and the bisque seemed to be more frangrant than usual and the whole dish was a treat for the senses with the creamy mousseline adding richness to the Bisque while playing with the perfect texture of the scallops.


The Almond Crusted Atlantic Cod came sitting on a bed of Porcini Mushroom which was wading it it's own Porcini sweat. This was supposed to be a new dish created by Chef Daniel. It was a fabulous play of textures again, with the crunchy, dry almond crust surrounding a piece of moist, perfectly cooked piece of Cod topped by the wonderfully aromatic broth.


And Dessert was the warm Chocolate Galette with Nougatine and Vanilla Ice cream.

As for the Dinner menu, there have been some revisions as well.


I tried their poultry for dinner, and the Confit of Duck Leg with Puy Lentlis and Olive as a starter was perfect. Beautifully smoky and gamy and tender, the condiments gave a Mediterranean zing to the duck. The dish was hearty and whet my appetite for the next course.


The Chapon came with two different cuts of meat, cooked in 2 different ways. The Thigh was grilled to perfection with a crispy skin (I usually hate chicken skin, but I devoured it with relish) and some steamed breast meat. The Morel Fricasse tossed onto the chicken was slightly sourish with shalots and some herbs (Tarragon) thrown into it which tempered down the satiety of the chicken skin. Inset is the amuse bouche.


The Almond Blanc Manger was silky smooth with a slightly bouncy consistency which came with a perfect Mango Sorbet. Beautifully light dessert for a late dinner.

Though I arrived at 10pm, the dining area was still almost full and the private dining room occupied. Will be back to try their red meats later.

Mid Valley Megamall seems to have taken up the Spirit of Christmas with a Harry Potteresque floating candles decoration. There seems to be an abundance of German Stollen cakes, available from Cold Storage. The Biscuit tin that houses some Chocolates and Gingerbread from Bahlsen looks like an open book. With all the Christmas Songs in the and so many beautiful decorations around KL, I am almost convinced that the world is a beautiful place filled with people bearing no ill will against each other... Until, I read the newspaper.


Ciao! And Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Mezze. Jalan Kasah, Damansara Heights, KL. Of Turning Chickens Into Butterflies

(non halal)

Mezze.
Another fancy term which means finger food or small plates of appetizers or tapas. For ages we have been trying to catch up with this great twitterer @minchow. Finally, after an exhaustive study of migratory pattern of twitting birds and radio tagging her (the findings will be Published in the ornithology journal later, and her migratory pattern involves between home, work and watering holes in the PJ/KL suburbs) we managed to pin her down and decided to check out Mezze, which has seen a lot of buzz among foodies recently. For a postionally challenged (Boo says it sounds rude) Android, still getting the hang of getting around KL, I scouted out the place in the afternoon so that I will be able to make it on time for dinner.

It seem that Mezze is rather easy to locate, because it is just next to Vintry, (which I have never dined in) and behind the venerable Victoria Station, an Icon of the KL dining scene. The menu is fairly limited, but very wittily categorized under Grazing (starters), Greedy (mains), Indulge (desserts) and Afternoon Quickie (lunchtime specials).

We had the board menu specials for starters.


The Grilled Pork Belly came together with some apples with cinnamon, which was rather Christmasy. Unfortunately, the skin of the belly was very very tough and took quite an effort to chew. Anyway, I am not a big fan of lard anyway which makes it all the easier to disregard this dish.


I usually get very embarrassed when my blog readers comment on my photography. I do not use any fancy equipment, and am too cheap to buy Adobe Photoshop, which costs about RM 1700. The photo above is the undoctored version, and the one below, after manipulating with GIMP, a GNU Imgae manipulation program, available free from www.gimp.org. For some really serious food porn, I have just discovered Lady Iron Chef's website.


The next dish was Sumac and Sichuan Fried Calamari, which all of us thought a weird combination. Sumac is usually used as an ingredient to add tartness to Middle eastern food such as kebabs, and some varieties may be poisonous. The calamari fritters though crunchy and light, came out too bland even when dipped into the aioli sauce.

For starters, I had the Barbecued Spatchcock Chicken. Now, the term spatchcock has got a very interesting history. I googled it, and guess what? It is probably Irish in origin and comes from a shortened "Dispatch Cock!", in other words, send the chicken in quickly. How do you do that? Well, the spine or backbone of the chicken is removed, and the chicken is flattened onto it's breast and the end result of it would look as if you were lying flat on your stomach, spreadeagled. This reduces the cooking time by increasing the surface area.

Guys, if you have been a good boy, your wife might whisper demurely in your ear, "Spatchcock?", which is distinctly different when you have been bad and she screams, "I'm gonna Spatchcock you!". The term describing a chicken, with no spine, it's legs permanently spread open waiting to be .... also reminds me of certain politicians. And to prove how non-partisan I am, from BOTH sides of the political divide.


Notice the picture above? That was the Spatchcock Chicken I got. The Drumsticks were touching the wings? That would be akin to lying spreadeagled on your belly and being able to tickle your armpits, which could only be possible if you were a contortionist, or had some really serious Yoga training, or if i just chopped you up and put your legs under your armpits. OK, OK, I'm just nitpicking here. The chicken was halved. So what? How was the chicken? Well, the skin was nice and had a very honeyed, smoky flavour but had over charred bits, but unfortunately the insides were not very well cooked. Kinda like the BBQ wings we did while camping during our school days. Of course, during that time our chicken was not served with aubergine salsa and potatoes. Joe from lotsofcravings seemed to have gotten the real deal from his photos here.


Next on the list was Ballotine of Lamb, which was marinated with tnagine spices. Probably the best dish of the night, the lamb cutlets were flavourful and tender, but the cous cous was way too bland, which was a pity. The above picture shows that if the photos were really badly taken in the first place, there is no way you can save an out of focus shot.


We also tried the Giusando Alicante, which was Saffron Broth, with Calamari, Mussels, Fish, Chorizo and Chilli. The soup was rather disappointing. It tasted like tomato soup, and did not impart any hay like flavour of Saffron. Neither were there any subtle hint of Pimento from the sausages. Compare this photo and the one posted on Aly's blog here. Now, be honest and tell me that there is no difference between dining there as an influential food blogger on an invited (free?) review and when you go there as ordinary folks and pay for the soup with your hard earned money.

Desserts were no longer on our minds and we just wanted to hurry out and go for desserts somewhere else (The Pressroom). To be really fair, the place had an a decent wine list, and the prices of the wine was reasonable. We paid 155 for a Prosecco. Dishes were also reasonable. 20's for the mains. The lamb was 42.

This post was not meant to insult the bloggers who went there, but the food you got and the food we got were not comparable, and I was just blogging about my SINGLE experience there. I already am a social outcast, and guys, please don't send me to have my meals at the Spratly's!

Mezze
No. 132, Jalan Kasah, Medan Damansara
50490 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Tel: 03-20950122

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