Archive | May, 2017

Restaurant DC in KL (Apr ’17): an artisan’s restaurant among Asia’s best

7 May
2015. I first spent a prolonged period of time in KL in 2015, when I was posted there for 2 months as part of the life of an itinerant consultant. The fine-dining food scene, of the few times I sampled it, was not particularly exciting. The Azurmendi spin-off, Aziamendi, had a 4 month residency in the Mandarin Oriental. I tried Sushi Oribe in the centre of KL, but was not impressed by an over-application of fake wasabi (actually cheap horseradish). Given my limited time outside of work hours, 2-3 hour dinners were unfortunately rather rare.

My 2015 meal. It was towards the tail end of my time in Malaysia that I had a meal at Restaurant DC. I had read my friend Julian’s scene-setting review of Restaurant DC (a wonderful post that goes into Darren’s backstory, which I too encourage you to read). It was an attempt to bring the first-class French technique to KL. Darren, who specializes in the rotisseur arts, served a very French dinner with Bresse chicken, roast wagyu, scallops and fish – all impeccably done. The roasting technique was on point, and the sauces were wonderful. It was a pleasant dinner, well executed, but it suffered from predictability. Each dish was a triad of meat(or fish), sauce and little veg, and consequently boring. All of this was well-executed, but it suffered from multiple straitjackets – the rigidity of “correct French cooking” (why not throw in some Asian ingredients in?), and the compositional straitjacket. I would have given it a 16/20, but what prevented the good experience from being a great experience was the inconsistency of it. The main courses were all very well-executed, but with an average cheeseboard (oversold to me as a “wonderful selection”) and the pandan panna cotta dessert served lukewarm (I enjoy my desserts to have contrasts in temperature with the main course – either hot or cold, which is why I dislike panna cotta), I thought it was a bit Jekyll-and-Hyde.

The cuisine, also seemed to me a bit anonymous. I felt I wasn’t the target audience for Darren’s cooking. Similar to how David Chang’s Momofuku Ko in New York aims to provide Asian food for white people, Darren Chin’s Restaurant DC seemed to aim to provide a correct French-experience to an n-th degree not yet seen in KL. But for me, that reference “correct-traditional-French-restaurant” in Southeast Asia was Singapore’s Les Amis, and in a head-to-head comparison with Les Amis, Restaurant DC was every bit the equal in its treatment of meat, but it came off worse in the accouterments – starter, cheese, desserts.

2017. Fast forward to 2017. In KL for a weekend, I headed off to DC for a night at the chef’s table. I had heard glowing reports from Julian who had dined there a month earlier. It seemed like there was a different focus. There were indications that the straitjacket of “correct French cooking” had been loosened. A somen dish with uni looked promising. And no longer were the main courses just combinations of expertly done protein with a correct French sauce and some vegetables.

The meal turned out to be one of my favorite meals of 2017 so far. The strengths of chef Darren are in his faithful recreations of French excellence, and he is picking up more experimentation on ingredients, with a bit more straying outside the formula of protein-sauce-vegetables. It doesn’t hurt that his bread program comes with excellent Bordier and Pamplie butters. The wine pairings were also highly congenial.

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We started off with a drink in the first-floor lounge – an apple cocktail.

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Afterwards we decamped for the chef’s table, featuring a wonderful breadbasket. I could not stop myself from tearing off hunks of the bread to use as scoops for the butter.

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  • Prawn tartare with lemon basil, tomato granita (5/5)
    • Three layers of ingredients – a prawn tartare, tomato granita, and a powder made from prawn head (fried?) – well thought out to complement the strengths of the other. The base is a prawn tartare, with tomato granita to provide an icy textural contrast and sour taste contrats to the moist tartare. The powder of dehydrated prawn’s head lent it another layer of fragrance. A wonderful composition

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Lobster ball, tempura curry leaf, and vegetable sauce, with slices of macerated beetroot (4.5/5)

  • On the left, a ball of picked lobster meat wrapped in a vegetable, with a vegetable sauce and tempura curry leaf.
  • On the right, slices of macerated beetroot.
  • I’ve had something similar at Les Amis, as a lobster rouelle wrapped in spinach.

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  • Irish oyster, ikura, seagrapes

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  • Pumpkin croquette with pickled radish and lobster reduction (4.25/5)

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  • Somen with bafun uni, dashi (4.5/5)
    • Pasta with uni – a dependable crowd pleasable that I’ve seen in restaurants all over Asia. I’ve had a version at Ta Vie in Hong Kong. This version shades it slightly more Asian – the pasta is somen, and there is dashi-based vinegary sauce.

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  • Smoked butterfish arranged as a rose and puffed wild rice, with mulberry yoghurt, sorrel flowers, and oxalis for acidity (4.25/5)

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  • Razor clams from Klang, roast octopus, Landes white asparagus, crisp wild almond (4.25/5)
    • The razor clams from Klang boast local terroir, and are perfectly serviceable though not too memorable. The use of crisp wild almonds though, lends this dish a more interesting texture.

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  • St Jacques scallops, wild almond, tom sep sauce (5/5)
    • This dish was my favorite of the night. Scallops, usually a conservative preparation, is enlivened by Thai touches, including tom yam basil and a tom sep sauce. The crispy wild almonds added a nice nutty texture to the dish. This was executed with the precision of a miniaturist

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  • Butter poached Canadian lobster, with kale and sauce Americaine (4.25/5)

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  • Calamansi granita with mint yoghurt and toasted watermelon seeds

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  • Bresse pigeon with heirloom carrots, gooseberries and yuzu kosho (4.5/5)
    • Another well-executed pigeon, with unusual spicy tastes from the yuzu kosho (a mixture of chilli peppers, yuzu peel, and salt)

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  • Coffee gelato, hairy banana, lemon chantilly (4/5)

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  • Wild honey gelato, croquette (4.25/5)
    • A wild honey sorbet with honey from Chiangmai.

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I find it encouraging that there are more Asian touches in his dishes, which indicates Chef Darren is finding his own style away from the safe crowd-pleasers of a protein-sauce-vegetables. Of most interest to me in a future revisit would be whether he expands his style further to incorporate more pan-Asian touches – more Thai ingredients, a few borrowings from the local Malayan cookbook, nouvelle-cuisine a la the Japanese French style prevalent in restaurants such as Quintessence in Tokyo, a few borrowings from the modernist cookbook; or whether he increases his fidelity to la grand cuisine – with their greatest dishes such as truffle tarte, cooking en vessie etc.

Here is where the narrow fine-dining audience in Malaysia may become a handicap – if they don’t support such experiments from well-meaning chefs, the pace of innovation is stifled.

Chef Darren has been on record saying he aims for a placing on the Asia’s 50 Best List in the next few years. While I think Restaurant DC will probably be overlooked by the Asia’s 50 Best List due to the geographic concentration of voters (mostly in Singapore and Thailand), I think it deserves a spot on any list of Asia’s best restaurants on its own merit.
Rating: 17.5/20
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