REI marks an opportunity to celebrate the talents of two promising young Malaysian chefs as they embark on a fresh path in KL - this unconventional pop-up sushi bar is spearheaded by Perlis-born Eddie Ng, who honed his craft in Japanese kitchens in Tokyo & London in recent years before returning to Malaysia. For the next few months, you'll find Eddie & his buddy, Barcspain Nea, who trained in Gallic cuisine in France, manning a 10-seat counter at Taman Tun Dr Ismail's DC Restaurant, crafting their own memorable take on sushi for omakase-style dinners with resourceful techniques & intriguing ingredients.
Eddie does things differently from many typical sushi set-ups, producing elegant results - he ages his fish & seafood in a box filled with crushed ice for several days, deepening the dimensions of umami in his cuts & making them more tender, & relies on a variety of dressings & garnishes to totally replace soy sauce dips (a practice inspired by his stint at London's Yashin Sushi).
Expect to spend one to two hours for dinner at REI (at a rate of RM180++ per person). Our first taste of Eddie's efforts proved lovely - shiro ebi white shrimp (in season right now), enhanced with koji-fermented shrimp paste & lemon zest, draped on firm, well-separated grains flavoured with a nuanced red vinegar that's originally intended to work with genmai brown rice.
Course by course, each round is revelation - sticky-textured squid with hints of lime, topped with Sapporo sesame & dulse red alga flakes (REI's substitute for the oceanic flavours of kombu); torched cutlassfish with daikon ponzu; & marvellous chutoro tinged with a mix of soy-marinated fresh wasabi & wasabi paste - every piece inventively conceived & intelligently constructed.
Both in their twenties, REI's show-runners look youthful enough to easily be underestimated (they initially met while working in Nobu KL last year), but their work is elaborate & painstaking, evidenced in meticulous creations like soy-marinated hotate sushi (the scallop is blanched, not raw, harking back to Edo-period preparations) & ikura with dashi jelly (genuinely gorgeous).
This is a lean operation; Eddie & Barcspain handle everything themselves, with Eddie's wife (a Japanese-born chef) slated to join them here soon. Being fresh faces, sourcing for produce can be tricky, but they perform admirably despite their limitations - amberjack belly comes topped with Kyoto black shichimi-spiced daikon (the shimichi is meant to be a change from the typical red togarashi, with flavours subtly closer to sansho pepper) & tuna is marinated with Hokkaido-brewed soy sauce. Even salt is thoughtfully chosen; REI uses Australian Murray River salt (a nod to how Eddie loves to pick up ingredients while travelling).
All good meals must come to end - here, with seared otoro bolstered with truffle oil & a terrific tuna hand-roll with crunchy pickles. REI can mean either 'zero' or 'etiquette' in Japanese, & this pop-up successfully encapsulates Eddie's principle of starting from scratch & preserving a sense of humility & grace in the process.
An invigorating palate cleanser of apples infused with calamansi & ginger extracts paves the way for Barcspain's turn to shine, with a whimsical modern dessert of kinako roasted soybean mousse, coconut flakes, Gula Melaka creme anglaise, peanut brittles, matcha powder & raspberries, ravishingly textured, with flavour profiles that remain remarkably consistent with the rest of the meal, with an Earl Grey madeleine on the side. Barcspain has plans to spin off on his own venue & projects too eventually, so keep a close eye on him. A carefully curated shortlist of sake is available; Eddie recommends the sparkling, delicately delicious. This is one initiative to check out for Malaysian fans of Japanese fare - thanks to REI for having us here.
REI Contemporary Sushi Pop-Up
Inside DC Restaurant, 44 Persiaran Zaaba, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur.
Open Tuesday to Sunday. First seating at 7pm, second seating at 9pm. Tel: 012-279-4188
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