Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Mona, Publika

Mona's mystique is more than skin deep: On the surface, this might seem like a shimmering restaurant with a sleekly modern slant. But look closer and several blasts from the past come into sharp focus - black-and-white portraits of Malay female silver screen stars, vinyl records and vintage cameras and typewriters.

These showbiz flourishes spotlight a personal significance for Mona's founders. This is not merely a place to eat - it's a springboard for the ambitions of a group of young Malaysian cineastes. Its name is a nod to a fictitious femme fatale created by the venue's lead auteur, Imran Sheik, who's currently plotting a House of Cards-style political thriller called 'Daulat' that's poised to hit multiplexes next year. 

The restaurant itself aims to help fund the film, furnishing a creative solution to independent movie-making - this means that a meal at Mona offers more than an opportunity to step into a setting that gorgeously melds contemporary grandeur with classic glamour. It's a means to support the local cinema scene and a fresh generation of talented artists.

Mona's helmers aren't just film addicts; they're also food aficionados. The flagship crowd-rouser is the Salted Egg Butter Chicken (RM17.90), which brings together two poultry preparations - salted egg and buttermilk - in one platter of pure pleasure. 

If this recipe tastes familiar, you might be remembering it from Subang Jaya's popular Jibril cafe - the team behind Mona also launched Jibril four years ago (fun fact: Jibril is also the name of a character conceived by Imran, turned into a TV series in 2018, while Mona was the antagonist on the show). 

Imran and his cohorts have long been fans of both butter chicken and salted egg chicken, scouring Subang and beyond for renditions to relish. Their hybrid version blends the best virtues of both, bringing together the creamy sweetness of butter chicken with the lush savouriness of salted egg chicken, relying on quality ingredients like genuine salted egg.

The Salted Egg Butter Chicken alone would be worth the visit to Mona, but the kitchen has one-upped its own concoction with Nasi Lemak Butter Chicken (RM19.90) - the distinctively aromatic rice with all its essential accompaniments is elevated with a spicy variant of the butter chicken, featuring thigh meat for thoroughly tender, bone-free bites.

Don't skip the Salted Egg Chicken Wings (RM18.90) either - this is the twentieth-or-so iteration of this recipe, polished as close to perfection as possible, crisp to the bite, juicy to the chew, with a terrifically calibrated taste that's confident without being cloying.

For more playful poultry pleasure, pick up the Oriental Duck Egg Noodles (RM17.90), bringing together Malaysia's instant-noodle indulgence and American Chinese suppertime takeaways, bundled into a crowd-rousing treat for Maggi and Indomie fans, blanketed with smoked duck made punchy with a spectrum of East Asian condiments, including hoisin sauce, five-spice powder and fried sambal ayam penyet. This ticks the box for Malaysians who love robust, fiery dynamics in their food.

Meat is a mighty force at Mona too, ideal if you're craving a full-fleshed, protein-powered meal at Solaris Dutamas. Taking its name from the iconic 1960s-era singer-actress, the Saloma Steak offers beef that's done precisely to your preference - medium-rare in our case (a reasonably priced RM49.90 for a standard 10oz striploin; add RM10 for a ribeye, with a choice of mushroom, black pepper or spicy sauce); if you favour sweetly marinated lamb instead, or even a hefty beef burger with fries for the quintessential U.S.-diner temptation, Mona's menu has it all.

Beat the heat with the tropical flourishes of an Iced Lychee Tea and Passion Pink Lemonade; alternatively, sip on something stronger with cocktails that seek to imaginatively showcase Malaysian inspirations, spanning cendol to cincau (unlike Jibril, Mona offers alcohol). Options include the Cendol Colada (RM22; Malibu, kahlua, pineapple, cendol), Asam Cooler (RM22; gin, vodka, Galliano, apples, asam boi) and ABC Slide (RM22; Bailey's, kahlua, cincau, red bean, corn) - fun stuff for a night when you want to let your hair down, like Mona herself certainly would. And if you want to enjoy the evening in private, a beautifully outfitted room is available at the back.

Many thanks to the Mona team for having us here.

Mona
D3-G3-8, Solaris Dutamas, No, 1, Jalan Dutamas 1, 50480 Kuala Lumpur. Daily, 11am-12am.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Sfoglia Rina, Bologna, Italy

Prowling for pasta? Sfoglia Rina proudly makes its own in its kitchen. Since the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna is known as the birthplace of lasagna al forno, it's worth sampling this recipe here, layered with Bologna's authentically thick ragu.


Sunday, April 28, 2019

The Public House, Bangsar South

Brick by brick, bottle by bottle, dish by dish, The Public House has taken many months to build, framed over a foundation of love for food and wine. In its dining hall, patrons feast on Greek olives, U.S. pork chops and Chinese char siu sliders; in a nearby lounge, others unwind beside ceiling-high wine shelves that sprawl across the wall, with a ladder leaning toward the timbered top. Outside, convivial conversations resonate through a leafy courtyard, making this house feel closer to a home.

The Public House is the latest restaurant by the founders of the Vintry Group, Stoked in Medan Damansara, Proof in Bangsar and Mont Kiara, and Grano Pasta Bar in Bangsar - some of our favourite eateries in KL, known for passionate craftsmanship in their cooking, turning everything from Hokkien Mee to Umbrian Black Truffle Pizza into a meal to remember. 

The Public House's chefs Desmond and Jace are young Malaysian talents who've earned their stewardship of this kitchen following a culinary trial by fire around the ovens of Stoked. The responsibility demands skilled versatility - The Public House's menu leaps from Europe to Asia within a single page, embracing every ingredient from Italian anchovies to Korean japchae. The team churns out complete meals, stamping an impressive mark on what might otherwise sound like familiar offerings. 

The starters shine, perfectly constructed for sharing - soft-shell crabs come beautifully battered, balanced with basil, cauliflower puree and a house-made hot sauce that each play a role to ramp up this recipe (RM26); baby octopus are gently grilled with Shaoxing wine and sesame seeds, their bouncy chew remaining intact, jazzed up with juicy orange segments (RM18); sliced cecina with shaved manchego form a lusty, full-bodied marriage of Spanish air-dried beef and cheese (RM33); daikon is lightly pickled in a lovely salad that accentuates the winter radish's invigorating crunch without a too-pronounced piquancy (RM22).

Public houses, or pubs, have historically been places where people come together, bonding over the food and drinks they love. While The Public House might not be perceived as a pub in the current tavern-and-taproom sense of the term, the sensibility of communal fare with down-to-earth roots still fuels this restaurant, refined for 2019's modern-minded market. 

Young or old, nearly everyone has a soft spot for something like fried chicken, buttermilk-brined here for a natural, fleshy moistness in that classic southern American style, its crisp breading sprinkled with thyme and honey for a subtly herbaceous sweetness, with grilled corn on the side to keep Georgia on our mind (RM18).

Though the recipe for beef bourguignon was first published in the early 1900s, its origins can be traced back centuries earlier, as a countryside preparation to soften less-coveted cuts of meat through lengthy cooking. The Public House's rendition preserves that tradition, ensuring each chunk of the beef cheeks bears the fork-tender results of a red-wine slow-braise, cushioned with a soothing potato mash, brightened with wide ribbons of carrot (RM36).



Vintry fans who live or work in Kerinchi will be happy to hear that several Vintry staples are also available here, from the aforementioned Hokkien Mee to Claypot 'Mousetails,' a hot-and-hearty heap of loh shu noodles with pork and prawns in superior dark soy sauce, rounded out with a rich, runny duck egg that shimmers seductively from the surface, made extra-debauched with a scattering of pork lard croutons (RM26), to roast pork belly that tweaks the five-spice ratio of Vintry's original but remains a crackling gold standard for siu yok (RM12 for 100 grams).

Ultimately, The Public House's repertoire boils down to comfort food in its various shapes and guises, be it pastas, pizzas or burgers, done to a delicious attention to detail. The Linguine Rendang is a should-try, its minced beef spiced sumptuously with subtleties that might evoke the regional rendang of states like Perak or Negeri Sembilan (RM28); the thin-crusted, thick-topped pizza is the epitome of a crowd-rouser, layered with luscious bacon and egg over creamy mozzarella (RM25); the TPH Burger is no mere whopper, packing a house-made beef patty and barbecue sauce, with the meat displaying a depth of flavour that's meant to recall dry-aged beef, plus the final flourish of another duck egg draped over the princely patty (RM28).

It's easy to get stuffed silly with The Public House's savoury sensations, but the sweet temptations merit a mention too. While the French Toast with ice cream is worth the calories, with its pleasurably warm-cold, crunchy-creamy contrasts (RM15), our dessert allegiance belongs to the drop-dead-delectable Chocolate Chip Brownie, slightly salted, made with 70 percent dark chocolate for intense, melt-in-the-mouth opulence, a hybrid of a brownie and a lava cake - we could eat 365 different brownies over the course of a full year and only one of them might taste this terrific (RM15, with vanilla ice cream and berry compote).

The Vintry Group's reputation as an ambassador for wine has been steadily nurtured for more than a dozen years, so it's no surprise that The Public House so prominently showcases a myriad of vintages spanning two full walls (with a smattering of whiskies and sake too). The selection of house pours should be an attraction for drinkers seeking to explore new horizons, including an evolving list of at least two wines by the glass and six by the carafe. Expect engaging, character-rich choices like an Angheli that's as assertive as the Sicilians who cultivated this Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend. Satisfactory cocktails are also available, with an emphasis on a handful of classics, ensuring that the night won't end too young at The Public House.

Many thanks to the team here for this high-spirited house-warming.

The Public House
G7-G8, The Sphere, Bangsar South, Jalan Kerinchi, Kuala Lumpur.
Daily, 12pm-late (kitchen opens 12pm-3pm, 6pm-1030pm). Tel: 03-2785-2990



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