Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Taste of El Bulli via Lafite

I really liked Ratatouille the movie. Food is always an evocative subject matter for me. To see the colours and details on big screen was inspiring and heart warming to say the least. I especially love the jaded food critic Anton Ego. I can relate to this funny man. In the movie, Anton imparts some wise words, "In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new". Which brings me to my question, has anyone been to El Bulli? I want to taste the new version of the old and vice versa. I want my taste buds to wake up once more.

I know a couple who were lucky, or patient, enough to secure a reservation albeit 2 years in advance. They said it was exciting for the first few courses but the novelty soon wore off as the courses became a regurgitation of the same basic principles. Unfortunately I won't know for myself as I am a subscriber to instant gratification so I won't be putting my name down. Besides, it seems a little extravagant to fly somewhere for a meal. Fortunately for us mere mortals, we can now try a slice of El Bulli via Kevin Cherkas in Lafite, Shangri-la Hotel.

I can't say I was expecting much as it would be hard to anticipate the unusual. Actually I lie, of course there were expectations. For one thing, it is Lafite. Malaysia's first fine dining restaurant. And two, this chef has trained under the genius Adrian Ferria himself. So yes, I expect to be wowed. So while I am excited by Kevin Cherkas, I am also acutely aware that I have little faith in hotel restaurants. Upon walking in, we were greeted by what can only be described as a perspex carousel mounted with a lot of fancy danfangle accompanying a plethora of canapes. Talk about mouthful. We were seated and asked to pick our main course. We decided that one of us should try Kevin's signature dish which was a miso cod. It sounded so 90's to me but I thought it maybe a different interpretation based on his knowledge from El Bulli. I made Hunky order it while I ordered the shepherd's pie with wagyu beef, onion caramel and mash.

The carousel was colourful and held so much promise as I studied each little canapé of a starter. There were shotglasses of pink and tangerine froth which turned out to be just guava and orange juice with froth on top. Was it meant to clean your palate? And not even freshly squeezed. Leftovers from the buffet breakfast? There was sliced roast chicken with tomato compote and banana. I’m sorry to say, chicken will always taste like chicken, banana or not. Seared tuna slices with pineapple. Dry and forgettable. Sesame-crusted watermelon teriyaki which I nearly overlooked because I thought it was some sort of classy bengka ubi. Fresh and delicious. Apricot compote with cheese mousse. Rich and intense. Buns filled with what tasted like minced chicken with a thick peanut butter sauce. Was he channeling Nigella? Asparagus salad with mayo and grapefruit. Crisp and clean. A truffle flavoured egg sandwiched carefully wrapped with thin slices of salmon. Cleverly presented and tasty, good trick to stop the bread from drying out. Poached prawn with an extremely tangy broth. Mouth-puckeringly good. A mussel and prawn skewer served with a separate dropper filled with sweet chilli sauce. Less show, more bang please. It was a good assortment of canapés but I didn’t come to eat ordinary canapés. Has Kevin’s artistic license been revoked by the management? Or is it just my jaded taste buds speaking?

Our main course arrived swiftly. It is stated very clearly in the menu that the maximum wait for the main course is 10 minutes. My shepherd's pie was beautiful. It was simple, rustic and the meat was absolutely breathtaking. I only managed half of it as it was so rich. Hunky’s cod on the other hand left me less than impressed. It was slightly overcooked and bland. Shocking really. The simple steamed one upstairs at Shang Palace would’ve been miles better.

I am convinced dessert was not prepared by Kevin because there was something about it that screamed "Buffet!". We didn’t get a choice of dessert which was unfortunate because it was far too heavy after that main course. There was a dark chocolate souffle which was neither light nor airy. A "warm" creme brulee which the wait staff tried to bullshit me about. A super velvety chocolate mousse. And my favourite of the plate, a dense chocolate tart with whole hazelnuts. Dessert did not sit well with the wagyu. Overall, I would give the food a 7/10. I have no doubt Kevin can cook, if only the management would just him do his thang. So my first foray to the world of molecular gastronomy was a tad disappointing. It wasn't what I was expecting which was a new representation of the old and familiar.

What was truly unacceptable was the level of service. The wait staff we had did not have a clue about the dishes. The explanations should’ve been so well rehearsed that he would've anticipated my questions. Besides, I wasn’t asking anything unreasonable. I simply enquired about the lamb loin main course. I wanted to how the corn was prepared. If He said “Two types of preparation. Er…Ah…Its like ah…I also don’t know how to explain it to you”. If you are going to be clever and place "cornX2" on the menu, the least you could do is to brief your staff properly. And another waiter told me that the creme brulee was mango pudding. Really, need I say more? At RM68++, I'd rather pay a little more and head on over to Cilantro's for their super popular lunch (available only on Fridays, wait list approx. 2 weeks). Maybe Air Asia will be flying to Europe in two years, maybe I should make a reservation.

For a more pleasant take, visit FatBoy's blog.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Catching Up

I know I keep saying this but honestly! Time really does fly! Has it really been over two weeks since my last post? I've just been busy catching up with friends who were visiting. One of them, Deng, is moving to NY with her hubby. So over the past couple of weeks, we've been trying to cram as much eating time possible as she doesn't know when she will be back next. Deng is a huge fan of all things chicken. Fried chicken, KFC, chicken rice, salted chicken and more. One of her all-time favourite haunt is Madam Kwan's for their nasi bojari. I've been to MK twice in a week. Thats more than I've ever been in the past year. Come to think of it, the last time was when she last visited! I don't have anything against MK. Its convenient, relatively cheap and fast. But with so many other new and better restaurants, it has fallen off my restaurant radar. The nasi bojari is still very good. The chicken is always perfectly seasoned and crispy. The beef rendang is so tender that it just falls apart like candy floss. The prawn sambal is still the weakest of the three, tasting more like water than prawn. I just remembered why I stopped going. There was one time when we were being bitten to death by mosquitos. When we asked the staff to do something about it, they plonked a can of Shelltox on the table and walked away. What the?!

I also met up with Hot Mouse at Marmalade. He felt like cupcake being the big girl that he is. I keep forgetting about this cafe. Its a charming little place for mums with kids. Which probably explains why I never think about going to this cafe. I love the mural especially the chick on roller blades. I can imagine kids must love it even more. We both ordered watermelon juice with mint and lime. And we shared one large peanut butter cupcake and two small ones. We both love the soft and fluffy texture of the small cupcakes. I could've easily popped 10 into my mouth. The peanut butter failed to impressed. The texture was a tad dry and coarse. For the sake of research (yea right), we ordered one more cupcake. It was a lemon cupcake with lemon frosting. The texture was soft and fluffy but the taste of lemon was too subtle for me. The bill came up to under RM30 which was surprising. The drinks must've been about RM10++ each which meant that the cupcakes came up to less than RM7. Gasp! Is that possible?! What is more shocking that I find myself thinking how cheap that is.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fukuya Revisited

Tonight I had the priviledge of dining with the company of blogosphere's most luscious women -Boolicious, Lyrical Lemongrass and BabeKL. We gathered at Fukuya for BabeKL's initiation to JFKA and my belated birthday celebration. Over a 6-course Kaiseiki dinner, we mulled over ingredients, nibbled (yes, nibbled because FOUR of us shared ONE kaiseiki set) at our food and caught up with food gossip. I won't blog about Fukuya again as I'm sure the other three luscious creatures will be updating their blogs soon enough. Instead, I just want to thank them for a wonderful dinner and getting a lovely moist chocolate cake from Just Heavenly. I loved the slight citrus tang in the icing. We were also given a scoop of macha ice cream. At least I think it was complimentary? It was very creamy with just a hint of green tea. I'm not a fan of green tea ice cream anymore. I think I overdosed on those numerous occasions where I used to gorge myself at Japanese buffets. Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Thank you LL for the lovely pair of earrings. Boolicious has promised me cupcakes which I dreamt about. What more could a girl ask for? I am one happy and lucky girl... Oh, and for all things mochi, macha and ocha, please refer to our newly appointed Head of Chi-cha-cha, BabeKL!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Super Supper

My best friend from school, Hogey, is visiting from Oz. She is getting married in March next year and I am to be bridesmaid for the fourth time. Luckily, I'm not the superstitious sort. I would even go as far to say that I deliberately seek out opportunities to challenge it. Hit me with a number 4 baby, yea! Is that a ladder I'm walking under? Yea, I love living dangerously. Rebel without a cause, yup thats me. You know, sometimes when I'm feeling especially adventurous, I even venture out of my comfort zone and agree to have dinner in obscure places like Peejay. Tonight was such a night. Technically it wasn't quite PJ, not in the chaotic and irrational town planning sense. It was really TTDI, at the shop lots near Damansara Specialist Centre. It was pissing down and we had a interesting ride in the Kelisa. That car was not built to be driven on highways when it is raining. Still, we made it in one piece to Super Tanker. Yes, that is the name of the Chinese restaurant. Hey, theres De Foodland, Elegant Inn, so why not Super Tanker?!

It was brimming with families halfway through dinner when we arrived at 8:30pm. CW had done the ordering as she frequents this restaurant. She said that this was one of the better Chinese restaurants in the area. The food here is definitely tasty and reminiscent of homecooking. The special of the night was stewed pork ribs with potatoes. It arrived in a claypot and tasted like something my mum would make at home. Intensely comforting, the meat was tender and the soft floury potatoes made me want to curl up my feet and go to sleep. The fried chicken was tender and crispy. It came with a cuttlefish-infused sauce with chilli, mint and onions. Fantastic with white rice. The steamed garoupa fillets were slightly overcooked and tasted very faintly of mud. Some pieces tasted better than others though. I really loved the caramelised prawns! It was sweet, salty and springy all at once. The other dish which I thought was very good was the tofu. It was layered with fish cake and I don't even like fish cake! Somehow this particular dish worked for me. The springy texture of the fish cake was perfect when combined with the soft tofu. Topped with crispy shallots and thick soy sauce, it was a dish I wanted to eat over and over again. Oh, the claypot salted fish and belly pork slices was fantastic! It was salty and spicy with just a hint of mandarin peel. Think it might be better than Overseas! I had to stop myself from ordering a second bowl of rice. All that lovely gravy, sigh...

We also had kangkong belacan which I did not get around to trying. I just don't enjoy eating it anymore. There was also squid stir-fried with salted egg yolk. It was a little oily and not as fragrant as it should've been. It was quite a lot of food but at the same time I wasn't bursting at the seam. The bill came up to be quite expensive because of the prawns and fish. It was RM290 (RM130 for the fish and prawns) including two beers, orange juice and coke. I guess I would go back again when I'm in the neighbourhood again. It was a pleasant change to Overseas. Ah, but no char siu!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Sizzling September

I couldn't have picked a better day to have friends over for a barbecue. The sky was as blue as Siti's contact lenses. At some point the day it did start to feel rather hot and still but all the better for drinking ice cold Pimm's and vodka jelly shots. Even more perfect still for Nigella's watermelon and feta salad. I've been wanting to try this salad ever since I watched her make it on tv. The fusion of ingredients piqued my interest. And the best part is that its dead easy. Simply toss cubed watermelon, crumbled feta, finely sliced red onions, flat leaf (Italian) parsley, chopped black olives and mint together with the juice of 2-3 limes. I used limau kasturi instead which is not as sharp as lime. She also adds olive oil but there really isn't any need. It was just perfect! It was tangy, sweet, juicy, herbaceous and refreshing. Perfect for a hot summers day.

We also had sausages, smokey bbq beef kebabs, honey & mustard chicken kebabs, tamarind prawns and grilled brandied pineapples. I bought the sausages from Fogal in Plaza Damas. They were almost sold out when I went to buy them on Wednesday. Guess everybody was preparing for the long weekend. I managed to get hold of some Italian sausages and chicken sausages. The Italian sausages were a combination of pork and beef and they had a lovely and spicy aroma to them. The chicken sausages were not very good. The ones from Rawlins is much better. These were very dry and full of bread crumbs. It was disappointing especially since I paid so much for them.

We ended the evening with a super rich peanut butter cake from Le Meridien. Its creamy and crispy all at once. Oh it was so good but I struggled to finish my tiny slice. Must try if you are a peanut butter fan. Anyway, its late and I've been awake for far too long. I had a lovely day and received many wonderful presents from my dear friends. Thank you for your thoughtful sms, you know who you are. I have some cake left which I will be eating for breakfast. Mmmm...