Eat Drink KL: Soleil & Grand Imperial: Modern European Meets Modern Chinese Degustation Menu

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Soleil & Grand Imperial: Modern European Meets Modern Chinese Degustation Menu

What happens when a Belgian chef who thrives on contemporary European cuisine collaborates with a Malaysian peer who has made his mark in fine Chinese restaurants?

KL is no stranger to East-meets-West endeavours, but Soleil offered a rare experience with this recent event that showcased two chefs at the top of their craft. 

For two exclusive evenings in April 2021, Soleil's head chef Evert Onderbeke shared his kitchen in Damansara City Mall with chef Chew Yow Chuen, who has steered the Grand Imperial Group's menus since 2008.

The result: An eight-course degustation dinner that brought out the best in both men, their teams and their produce, leaping from abalone to Alaskan king crab, with perfect wine pairings for pure culinary magic.

Note: Soleil currently remains open for deliveries and takeouts, offering everything from steak dinners to house-made ice cream to exceptional wines.

Chef Chew shot the opening salvo with an elegant assemblage of amuse-bouche. 

Live abalone, plump and firm to the bite, was flanked by salmon roe topped with quail's egg on a beautiful deep-fried beancurd skin 'spoon,' bursting with creamy umami to awaken the palate.

This first course was enhanced by the Escarpment ‘The Edge’ Pinot Gris (Martinborough, 2018), hand-picked by Soleil's chief sommelier to match the abalone's freshness with a light, delicate sweetness. 

Chef Evert followed with his perspective on seafood: A bowl of organic egg custard, concealing Alaskan king crab beneath its chawanmushi lusciousness, beside a spoonful of New Zealand Cloudy Bay clams crowned with salmon roe and agar-like gelee de Sauternes. 

Chef Evert's crab and clam make for a palate-provoking juxtaposition, coming immediately after chef Chew's abalone and roe, conveying two contrasting takes on marine marvels. Chef Evert infused intriguing Japanese touches into his modern European concoctions, while chef Chew presented a Chinese banquet's opulent flourishes.

With this second course, the Selbach Classic Riesling (Mosel, 2018) delivered dry hints of minerality, a bracing foil for the natural brininess of the clams and roe.

With the third course, the bites get bigger, the textures more full-fleshed and the flavours more full-bodied.

Barrelling in with poultry pleasure, chef Chew's whole baby duck drumstick brims with tea-smoked succulence, a playful presentation that will charm fans of fowl. 

For this, Soleil poured out a Clos Marsalette (Pessac-Leognan, 2010) from the Bordeaux area that's known for both red and dry white wines. This white may seem an unconventional choice for duck, but it works well for a wine that's still early in this meal, with hints of grapefruit and a tint of bitter cherries to balance the duck's richness. 

Slipping in next, the Sabahan slipper lobster is an ingredient that Chef Evert is fond of, potently channelling the sea. The crustacean is embraced by an earthy, herbaceous sauce, woven in a complex swirl of chervil, tarragon, parsley and barley, made extra-aromatic with vanilla that helps the lobster pop.

These lovely, intense flavours were married with the Pouilly-Fuissé Vielle Vignes (Chateau Fuisse, 2010), with sufficient body to hold up to the lobster, plus lemony notes with a tinge of vanilla to bridge the gap between dish and drink.

With starters and soups concluded, chef Chew swoops in with the first main course, a Grand Imperial signature of coral trout slow-poached in olive oil at low heat. 

Moist, flaky fish that turns out buoyant and bouncy, this would be strikingly memorable even on its own, but Soleil underscores the moment with the Frédéric Magnien Marsannay Coeur d'Argile 2017, with a light acidity and fleshy fruitiness that bolsters the fish's original flavours and textures. Soleil's Coravin wine preservation system ensures this bottle's life is extended long after this evening is over.

Chef Evert then seamlessly seizes the limelight with rack of lamb, this time slow-cooked over binchotan charcoal, yielding a sultry char surrounded by passionfruit gel, butternut squash and baby milk cabbage. It's a terrific illustration of how chef Evert has mastered the art of melding Asian elements with European techniques, with binchotan representing Japanese traditions and baby milk cabbage being the nai pak choi that personifies Chinese vegetarian cuisine.

The lamb emerges with the night's final wine, the Chateau Le Puy Barthelemy ‘Les Rocs,’ (Francs-Cotes de Bordeaux, 2007), a medium-bodied red from a silky and seductive vintage, with a vibrant acidity that stands firm to the flavours from the white charcoal for the lamb.

The food has been impressive throughout, flowing surprisingly but cohesively from one Chinese-inspired course to the next European-inflected one, while the wines have been equally outstanding in their curation, demonstrating why Soleil is one of KL's best bets for food-and-wine enthusiasts.

Desserts display the duality of this dinner's themes: From Chef Chew, a double-boiled chrysanthemum delight comes with a classic Chinese pancake studded with sesame seeds, while chef Evert sends us off with strawberry mille-feuille, layered with Gariugette strawberries, a springtime French varietal with an intoxicating strawberry scent, rounded out here with strawberry ice cream, of course.

Soleil's special degustation dinners have consistently captivated us, and this was another triumph - throughout challenging times, the restaurant has remained resiliently distinctive in everything it offers, including its steady, sterling series of collaborations. Many thanks to Soleil for having us back.


Lot 13A & 15, Second Floor, DC Mall, Damansara City, Jalan Damanlela, 50490 Kuala Lumpur.
Open Monday-Saturday, 1130am-1130pm; Sunday, 11am-1130pm. Tel: 03-2011-8261

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