Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chef Choi Sushi Bar @ Ampang

It's the sort of ambition that might be admirable: Respected Chinese restaurant Chef Choi launched its long-gestating sushi bar this week, seeking to put its own stamp on how to serve Japanese fare in KL.

Chef-owner Chan Thye Seng says he's striving to mainly showcase specialities that remain unavailable at most Japanese outlets in this city. The four-seater bar, tucked at a corner of the main Chef Choi restaurant, is expected to eventually expand to comprise a teppanyaki counter & an udon compartment too.

For the most part, the sushi bar will be run by a sole chef, Ah Wai (though he might prefer to be known by his nickname 'Kimura'), who's had more than a decade of experience at restaurants ranging from Fukuya to Kaihomaru to Kin Shui Tei.

 Take a chair at the counter to observe the meticulous preparation; note nevertheless that customers can still place orders for the sushi from the restaurant's regular tables.

Hirame sushi (RM22+ per piece). We wish we could say our meal was an unadulterated success, but there were issues that may require fine-tuning, including the rice. Chef Choi prepares the grains with less vinegar to preserve the spotlight on the flavours of the fish, but the batch we tried had the taste & texture of rice that had been cooked improperly, not complementing the raw seafood in the slightest. That sentiment was shared by our companion, who co-owns two Japanese restaurants in KL.

 It's tricky to tell whether these problems were a one-off thing or not, but freshness was also hit-or-miss; while it was interesting to order this Hokkaido scallop (RM78+), anatomically sliced for better differentiation of each segment, it tasted slightly but recognisably past its prime. And while it's likely that future customers will have better luck once the sushi bar finds its stride, there's no certainty that we'd return, since prices here can be prohibitive.

Chef Choi serves chilled seafood instead of frozen, hoping that makes a discernible difference for the botan-ebi shrimp sushi (RM45+ each).

Maybe it's all in your head: Squishier sections of the shrimp aren't wasted, employed instead to crown another serving of sushi.

Kinki sushi (RM25+ each). Chef Choi claims it's the only one in KL that currently serves this; that might well be true. A distinctive choice, with a slice of rockfish that melts in the mouth. 

Otoro sushi (RM42+), perhaps not quite as top-flight as anticipated.

Negitoro bowl (RM38); ultimately, the hurdle is probably the disconnect between the prices & our level of enjoyment for the food _ a conflict that isn't customary at KL's top Japanese eateries.

Sea urchin sushi (RM42+). Yep, this has all the makings of a budget-busting meal. 

The coup de grace: Uni with Russian Beluga caviar. RM125+. Probably never again, for more reasons than one.

Chef Choi's marinated ginger is pungently punishing; more of a palate-killer than a cleanser.
P.S. On a positive note, Chef Choi possesses a friendly service team. And though this meal missed the mark, this restaurant's still a solid choice for Chinese cuisine & could certainly overcome its sushi bar's teething troubles. It wouldn't be too surprising to hear praise for Chef Choi's sushi in a matter of months or less.

Chef Choi
159, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.
Sushi available for lunch & dinner. Tel: 03-2163-5866


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14 comments:

  1. Not really into Japanese and not into sushi - guess I'm more into stuff more exotic and stronger in taste.

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    1. Suituapui: ooo, in theory, Japanese fare can provide some of the most interesting eating experiences we'd find in kl, but ya, you've mentioned before that you're not a fan of Japanese food but that your daughter is a major fan. It might be a generational thing, the way my grandmother also doesn't like Japanese food at all, hmmmm :)

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  2. I am not a sushi fan...but I enjoyed watching this chef at work. He is so deeply involved.

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    1. Linda: yeah, it's definitely a privilege to watch these craftsmen skillfully ply their trade, and I was thankful they had no qualms about me photographing them and they weren't flustered by the camera at all but focused all their attention on the task that was literally at hand :)

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  3. OMG.. those prices are overkill laa... even if it's super good.

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    1. Rebecca: heh, ya, it turned out to be pricier than my now one-year-old recommendation at st mary place :)

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  4. Woooo I want uni! Must eat one more round of uni before I go back. Hehehehe.

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    1. CK: hope you manage to get some great uni before you head off! :)

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  5. alamak... the prices... i doubt i will pay rm50+ for a mouth of rice plus a slice of fish :x

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    1. Ken: heh, under rather different circumstances, the price could almost be worth it :)

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  6. Tacky, cheap looking interiors that resembles the buffet corner of popular local karaoke chains. Certainly, for a lot of cases, it's substance over style (hawkers, kopitiams, low/mid-range Chinese restaurants). But please lah, for Japanese fare — and at such EXORBITANT 'fine dine' prices, this experimental sushi bar must not be forgiven for making patrons experience one-of-a-kind ingredients under unflattering cool-white spotlights (correct me if I'm wrong – may just be your whitebalance?) and on a glittery black counter top (reminds me of my aunts kitchen in a wealthy area of Seremban).

    Maybe I can bat an eye though, as it is connected to the Chinese restaurant? And most Chinese restaurants are sadly tackily ostentatious!

    For me, an understatedly elegant ambiance is really part and parcel of a Japanese meal in Malaysia. This corner sadly disappoints. Perhaps this should be a sort of motto – "do judge a sushi bar by its chairs".

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    1. Ah Kit: you make some valid points. the set-up at the counter could benefit from a few changes. the counter top was cold. it's true though that the sushi bar is part of the restaurant's main dining hall, and its look fits in with the rest of the place. it'll be interesting to see what customer feedback will be like in the near future; there could be mixed reactions, with some patrons leaping to the restaurant's defence.

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  7. Love their food! Am sure their sushi is spectacular too! :D

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  8. we were here today again. the Sushi was top notch! awesome max. Rice was fine. Probably teething problems if you're gonna go eat when it just opens. Please go try it again and say it ain't so! haha! :P

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