Sunday, December 27, 2015

Best New Restaurant 2015 - Dewakan

For a restaurant, located away from city centre ... amidst industrial offices and a plethora of half occupied condos ... to garner full bookings for dinner almost every night for the past couple of months (after opening for less than a year) ... is nothing short of amazing.

Mostly just by the powerful word of mouth. Its an amazing feat by Darren Teoh and the team led by Mohd Hafriz.

Darren Teoh, a molecular gastronomy lecturer at KDU’s School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts, this restaurant was two years in the planning. Well-known in culinary circles, Teoh has an impressive background that includes staging (culinary apprenticeships) at restaurants like two Michelin star Noma in Copenhagen and the three Michelin star Restaurant Amador in Germany. Teoh first showcased an imaginative and progressive type of cooking coined as modern Malaysian cuisine in his 2010 book Re-definition: Molecular Cuisine: Traditional Recipes through a Modern Kaleidoscope.


    Cured Mackerel, Ulam Raja, Pomelo, Local Flowers 

 easily the best dish of the night ... just like the signature "salmon/seaweed" dish by Tetsuya... this should be Dewakan's signature dish ... the cured mackerel retains sufficient saltiness/bite and raw fish freshness elevating it to a spectacular sashimi standard experience  ... the local flowers worked very well with the fish and the acidity of the lime juice added a lasting impression ... mackerel's taste enhanced and elevated ... I could have ten of this ... 10/10

    King Oyster Mushrooms, Green Curry Paste, Yoghurt, Dried Mackerel Flakes

the mushrooms were raw on the right side, to slightly grilled in the middles and cooked well to the left ... each had its own sauces ... the green curry paste worked so well with the raw ones without detracting from the freshness of the mushrooms ... remember the flakes ... the mushrooms all tasted like 3 dishes but coming together to one very satisfying dish where the star was the mushrooms  9.5/10

    Aubergine braised in Mushroom Stock, Jackfruit Seeds, Black Bean Sauce and Garlic Emulsion
    Steamed Ming Prawns, Brined Radish, Dried Vegetables, Cold Prawn Broth
    Smoked Pike Conger, Custard, Fermented Long Beans Relish, Roasted Okra, Clams Foam

the first of the "main courses" ... like a porridge and a very eggy tasting steamed egg in the middle ... very good dish but may be a tad too big a serving, making us feel a bit full after just the fifth course .. 9/10

  • DUCK
    Roast Duck Breast, Duck Leg Rillette, Beetroots, "Blood" Sauce

like a marriage of Chinese and Western style of duck roasting, crispy skin ... almost pink duck breast, juicy and condensed flavour of duck with every bite ... wanted more  9.5/10

    Confit of Lamb Breast, Spring Onions, Marsala and Onion Puree

not your usual grilled or oven baked lamb ... its more like it has been cooked in its own fat in slowly, hence no charring with a consistency like a "more tender waxed duck" ... the spices used make me think of Middle Eastern flavour, very very satisfying, esp if you like lamb  9/10

    Mulberry Jam, Cardamom Ganache, Cashew Brittles, Pucuk Gajus, Mulberry Snow
    Gula Melaka Marquise, Sour Meringue, Pulut Ice Cream

looks nothing like gula melaka or pulut ... more like a Monet painting, beautiful to look at, easily the TOP dessert ... its almost heavenly ... pulut ice cream was like taking in the essence without the calories ...but the gula melaka, meringue and cookie kinda like drew out the best aspects of cendol/ondeh-ondeh and elevated the taste to a higher level ... 10/10

    Warm Chocolate Tart, Caramelised Jackfruit and Gandum Ice Cream

Thankfully, at Dewakan, Darren exercised utmost restraint in his molecular cuisine approach, which I think helps diners to focus on his brilliant cooking abilities, and less on the hype and bells& whistles of molecular gastronomy.

The pleasant surprise at the end of the meal ... fresh, organic ice cream potongs with local flavours ... the assamboi one did not gel but the pomelo and pineapple ones were great. Very local, very Malaysian, very nicely done ...

Why Dewakan was the best new restaurant in 2015 for me:

- A definitive strategy to use ONLY LOCAL ingredients ... for far too long whenever we say fine dining, its always the "Western model" of exotic or hard to get ingredients. Malaysians tend to too easily favour anything foreign and too fast to pooh-pooh anything local. At Dewakan, we continued to be marvelled at the amazing variety of produce, condiments and plants that are all around us... being presented on plates worthy of any Michelin starred place.

- There is a strong sense of sincerity and integrity in the food cooked, the way they are presented, to allow for an enhanced appreciation of each and every ingredient used.

- PLUS, the food tasted bloody good. While not all dishes were home runs, the majority were ... and even the lesser ones were more than decent.

Do book way ahead of time for dinner. Corkage for wine is RM50 per bottle. They do have a limited wine list. Get there before they start raising prices.

For me, Dewakan easily bulldozes its way to being among the top 3 best fine dining places in the country. Darren changes almost half his menu every 3 months I think. If he keeps hitting home runs with new dishes in 2016 ... Dewakan may even reign as the best fine dining restaurant in the country in 2016. Its creative, innovative, immerses the diner with the pleasures of the ingredients ... its just bloody well done.

Dewakan will be taking a break from the 1st to the 17th January 2015. During this time, reservations will be closed and will resume on the 15th January. The restaurant will be opened on the 18th January.
Lunch: Mon to Fri – 12 Noon to 2:30pm
Dinner: Thur to Sat – 7pm to 9pm
Closed on Sundays and certain public holidays.
For Phone Reservations:
Monday to Friday only @
10am to 12pm, and 3pm to 5pm only.
Directions to the restaurant at KDU UC
Lower Ground Floor
KDU University College, Utropolis Glenmarie
Jalan Kontraktor U1/14, Seksyen U1,
40150 Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Cairo Confidential 2007

Wanna feel like Indiana Jones? Here’s just the place for you ....

A diversion from the norm. Four years back I had the opportunity to go to Cairo. It was part business and some post-conference partying. That was when I still had a 9-5 job. Well, after the uprising in Egypt and ouster of Mubarak, no one should be visiting Cairo anytime soon till things settle down. I am so glad I was there before the whole thing blew up.

The long ride from the airport to the hotel was an eye opener. If you thought the drivers in Malaysia and Thailand were nuts, wait till you get in a car in Cairo. They cannot drive without their horns for sure. Cars slide in and out of lanes like well oiled machines. After ten minutes, I found a way to de-stress myself, just keep looking out the side windows, don't look ahead.

Crossing the roads would be a cinch for Malaysians as we are so used to dancing and weaving through the traffic – Malaysia's national sport? The difference being, its less stressful crossing the roads in Cairo than in KL. At least motorists in Cairo do not accelerate just as they have spotted you trying to cross the road. I have always wondered why Malaysians do that – do we really want to kill or scare the daylights out of pedestrians?

The buildings are in all shades of brown. I asked a colleague why is that and he explained that the buildings were brown, not by design, but as a result of the dust from the desert. Eventually, all the buildings ended up looking the same.

Egypt is an Islamic nation but you can easily find good places to drink yourself silly. Most hotels have a small casino (ten tables or less) but they are opened to foreigners only – still an interesting fact. And it has a fair share of dancing – there's dancing during dinner and at hotel lobbies, people simply break out in song and impromptu dancing in celebration. Extremely refreshing, to say the least. 

Walking around on the tourist trail, visiting the pyramids, the sphinx and museums can easily delude one into believing he or she is having an Indiana Jones moment. You almost feel like stealing some treasure or rescuing some maiden. 

The first impression, like most first impressions of things so widely talked, written and read about ....  is that the pyramids are much smaller than what you had envisioned in your mind. They are barely 10-12 stories high. 

The highlight of my trip was the camel ride. Its not the pussy 5-10 minute camel ride, mind you.

When the bus pulled up to this group of 70 camels and their drivers, I thought it was only going to be a five-minute joy ride and photo opportunity. But hey, it was the real deal. Imagine riding in a huge pack of 70 camels for 45 minutes traversing across the desert. Imagine Lawrence of Arabia leading a band of troopers to conquer some tribe.

In the distance you get to see the setting sun and images of the pyramids as well. That was golden. Many of my friends have warned me about the ruthless camel drivers who will try and fleece you for huge tips at the end of the ride. I was prepared for that.

My guide was a boy, probably 15, or 16 tops. The funny thing was he tries his best to “connect” with his customer with his limited English.

Here was the best memory from the trip. He kept asking me “Are you happy?” ... the first couple of times, I gave my polite short answers. When he gave me the same drivel for the tenth time, I lost it. He was like an old zen master disguised as a young camel driver. For the first few times, you'd answer “Yes, I am happy” but when continuously prodded on, you start to ask yourself “Am I really happy?”
You laugh out in sheer frustration, but against such a glorious backdrop you cannot help but marvel at the same question. 

Here I was on a camel ride watching the sunset, feeling a bit like Lawrence of Arabia, in the historical land of Moses ... seeing the sphinx and the pyramids in a distance ... If you are not happy NOW, right here, when will you ever be? 

But isn't happiness a lot more than just that? Do I have a happy soul? Am I really content? The temporary grandeur and material comforts fade into obscurity. Wow. It was more than just a camel ride (which in itself was excellent). Thanks to my “zen master”, I now “know” that I AM happy.

If you get the chance to go to Cairo, book yourself into one of 3 better hotels on the Nile (the Four Seasons, Hyatt and Sofitel). The room rates have not exploded yet and are about the same as in Malaysia. Funnily, there are about 5 casinos within 5 hotels in Cairo. They are not huge, open only to foreigners. Only 10 odd tables per hotel, but its fun to be in a casino (half empty) with table all to yourself.

Naturally you should go to any one of their museums, its incredible but go to one is more than enough unless you are a big historic buff.

One should also go on a dinner cruise on the Nile. It's frightfully romantic and serene. To think that things existed centuries ago in this exquisite historic city added layers of connectedness and warmth to the experience.

Not all things are wonderful, many of the retail outlets operate much like Petaling Street – you have to bargain like hell. Taxi fares are highly negotiable and many of the tourist destinations will be full of “modern day pirates” – plenty of people dressed in ancient Egyptian garbs wanting to take photos with you for free. But it's never free. 

In that sense the Egyptians are actually fighting with Malaysian taxi drivers for the trophy as the worst place on earth to get a cab. Not a place for two ladies, go in a group of 3-4 for safety in numbers.

 It was a unique experience to go to one where it is still very Egyptian and very local. I was never one to go abroad and clamour for McDonalds or KFCs but honestly, I found myself dying for some KFC after the fourth day. As it turns out, there is only so much of hummus, chickpeas, kebabs and bread one can consume. Can't wait for things to get better to go back to Cairo again.


The Leakers - Helmed by the often brilliant Herman Yau Nai Hoi (whom I believe was from Malaysia who became a great success in HK films). 7...