Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Sushi Hibiki @ Four Seasons Place

Some chefs wait a lifetime, for a moment like this: Sushi maestro Makoto 'Sam' Saito has spent over two decades honing his craft, from his home city of Tokyo through stints that have spanned Sydney to Rome, Tel Aviv to Kuala Lumpur. This month, he finally opens up his own sushi bar in Malaysia, Hibiki (Japanese for echo), which resonated with laughter and excitement on a recent weeknight. It might be tucked inside a shopping mall, but it's a relaxed, intimate space with a cosy charm.
Hibiki's elegant attention to detail extends to every facet of the experience here, from the food to the tableware, so it's worth going all out for the restaurant's most comprehensive omakase feast at RM480 per person. You'll start with a choice of sparkling wine or cold-brewed Shizuoka-cultivated green tea, each sip of the latter flowing with natural nuances, followed by a selection of seasonal specialities, perhaps some baby scallops with a briny bite, edamame freshly harvested this month, tofu sweetened with corn, and tomatoes that burst with a smooth, sweet lusciousness.

Subsequent seafood courses display delicately captivating flavours, consistently well-balanced with sprightly accompaniments from the land. Our sashimi plate comprised what the chef called 'the king of whitefish,' alongside slices of scallops and octopus, with sea urchin as a compellingly lovely bonus, representing a range of textures to relish. We also liked the tuna 'satay,' a tender, fleshy skewer with the crunch of leeks; the bonito with ponzu sauce and spring onions; and the squid coated in two kinds of roe. The affable chef exudes an exuberant joy in presenting each serving, and that enthusiasm is infectious.

A series of sushi comes next, entirely handcrafted by the chef, who makes the effort to ensure that even the salmon is not of the norm, sourced instead from the wild in Hokkaido. From chutoro to kohada, rosy sea bass to golden eye snapper, it's a parade of pleasures at their prime. We're sorry to see it ever end, but a delicious dessert (conceived by KL-based pastry chef Shigeru Hashizume for Hibiki) helps to soften the blow.

If the occasion befits a splurge, you can go off-menu for a rice bowl irresistibly blanketed with uni and ikura (RM250) or request extra pieces of sushi (the otoro is RM55). Hibiki's cheapest bottle of wine is a Pinot Grigio that clocks in at RM320, but it works well with the fare here.

Sushi Hibiki
Lot B1-04(A), Basement 1 (inside Atlas Gourmet Market, near the wine bar), Shoppes at Four Seasons Place, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 1230pm-230pm, 6pm-late (last orders at 10pm). Tel: +603-2391-9008

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

La Cucina x Gohan @ Pullman Kuala Lumpur Bangsar

By Aiman Azri

Two veteran chefs, two venerable cuisines, in one convenient venue: La Cucina x Gohan promises recipes that embrace inspirations from both the Mediterranean farms and coastlines and the Japanese meadows and oceans, combining massive steaks and huge sushi rolls, pastas and sashimi, pizzas and unagi in a single epic feast.

It's a well-executed initiative by Pullman Kuala Lumpur Bangsar to bring together the best of East and West; step into this welcoming lobby-level restaurant and you'll receive both the Mediterranean and Japanese menus to order from. Make your selection, sit back and watch the culinary squad work its sizzling magic in a very open kitchen on one corner of this space.

The first component of the repertoire, La Cucina, is supervised by chef Mohd Faiz, focusing on produce like prime cuts of meat and fresh seafood. At the top of the list, the tomahawk steak is a sure-fire should-order, currently the on-trend choice of beef across KL.

La Cucina does juicy justice to this Australian Black Angus on-the-bone rib steak, skillfully seared on the grill and carefully finished off in the oven, sprinkled with pink peppercorn and rock salt. It's cooked to a terrific tenderness and seasoned sparingly to retain its full purity of flavour, so you can savour it easily on its own (or pick a pairing sauce, such as Rosemary Mustard, Béarnaise or Red Wine Gravy). The steak comes with your option of starch too (Mashed Potatoes, Steak Fries, Baked Potatoes, or Pommes Anna French-style sliced layered potatoes).

The serving could completely stuff two hungry eaters, making it a worthwhile bovine bargain at RM260 (all prices listed here are nett), costing considerably less than what many other restaurants in the Klang Valley charge for tomahawks. But if you need a smaller cut, other steaks are also available, including a Australian Wagyu Marble Score 7 range.

Fans of Italian fare will relish the Freshwater Prawn Aglio Olio, with the chunky grilled crustaceans taking centre stage on this strikingly fine plate of pasta, flavoured further with garlic, chilli flakes, chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese (RM43). Alternatively, for a princely pizza to share, try the one topped with Smoked Duck; the savoury meat is balanced by lively vegetarian elements like artichoke hearts and basil pesto on a satisfyingly crisp crust (RM38). La dolce vita in the centre of Pantai Baharu.

Moving on to the menu of Gohan, customers will uncover the talents of chef Daud, who embodies a remarkable 26 years of experience in the Japanese gastronomic arts. He began his career at the age of 17 as a teppanyaki cook, working his way up the rungs of restaurants and hotels, even accomplishing a podium finish in a Battle of the Chefs competition in 2007.

Chef Daud's signature speciality is the Oyster Motoyaki Gratin, which he keeps fine-tuning through the years to keep it in tune with patrons' evolving palates. It remains a staple in every one of his menus. Digging into this reaffirms his decision - the baked oysters burst with a creamy, mayo-fuelled, cheese-complemented sweet-brininess that'll make you want to have another luscious piece immediately (six for RM120, or a dozen at RM220).

We bow down to King Dragon Roll, in which a King Lobster becomes bosom buddies with avocado, mango, fish roe,and sweet garlic teriyaki sauce. For this mighty maki, the lobster meat is deep-fried for a firm bite on the exterior, but the flesh inside remains sumptuous for a pleasant textural contrast. A fit-for-royals platter of eight pieces clocks in at RM130; each piece is more than a morsel, it's practically a handful. We love the meticulous plating for this sushi roll too, scoring gloriously for presentation.

For a limited time only, the restaurant is also offering its exclusive Itacho Omakase, an elaborate Chef's Special of premium Japanese delicacies. This consists of five main components:
Salmon Sashimi Aburi Salad, with avocado, ikura salmon roe and yuzu dressing
Kinoko Misu Jiru, miso soup with assorted mushrooms
Six-piece Nigiri Sushi Set, with maguro, shake aburi, spicy hamachi, unagi kabayaki, hokkigai red clam, and amaebi sweet prawn
Unagi Chawanmushi
Japanese Yuzu Sorbet

This is a treat for customers who want to dive into the delicate nuances of Japan's culinary heritage, with subtle, pure flavours and textures in each component. Considering the quality of ingredients intricately assembled in one bountiful spread, representing the diversity of Japanese food preparations, from raw to cooked material, with an emphasis on produce from both sea and land, it's pretty reasonably priced at RM100, remaining true to the omakase concept of trusting the chef to serve you what's best in season. This is available from now until the end of September.

Here's a bonus incentive for wine enthusiasts: For every purchase above RM90 on a single receipt here, the restaurant will be happy to offer you two complimentary glasses of wine from its premium selection, comprising Barwang 'The Wall' Shiraz, Barwang 'The Wall' Chardonnay, Banfi Collepino Toscana IGT, and Placido Pinot Grigio Toscana IGT. It’s a rare offer that we’d happily check out while the promotion is ongoing.

Many thanks to Pullman Kuala Lumpur Bangsar for having us here.

La Cucina x Gohan
Pullman Kuala Lumpur Bangsar, 1, Jalan Pantai Baharu, Jaya Tower 3, 59200 Kuala Lumpur.
Open for lunch, 12pm-230pm, and dinner, 6-10pm. Steaks available daily except Sundays and public holidays.
For reservations, call 03-2298-1888 and ask for extension 5006.

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