Eat Drink KL: June 2019

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Nasi Kerabu Golok, Pantai Dalam

Rice recipes that straddle northeastern Malaysia and southern Thailand form the backbone of Nasi Kerabu Golok, a stall that's popular primarily for takeaways but is also on delivery platforms. Its more intriguing offerings include Nasi Khao Mok (the southern Thai version of biryani, though much less complex in its spices than India's, made yellow with turmeric and earthy with coriander roots), Nasi Berlauk (with Thai phat phet chicken, like a cross between gulai and asam pedas, brightened with kaffir lime leaves, served with not merely the chicken meat but with chunks of liver and gizzard too), and Nasi Goreng Belut (rice fried with bony morsels of eel - Malaysian eel, of course, not to be catfished for Japanese unagi).

Naturally, the namesake Nasi Kerabu is available, a Kelantan staple that's now sold in numerous mall restaurants across the Klang Valley. We prefer the Nasi Dagang here though, aromatic and glutinous, channelling the soulful authenticity of a coastal street stall not far from Pengkalan Chepa.

Nasi Kerabu Golok
GM3-03, Pusat Penjaja Bazaria Pantai, Kuala Lumpur.

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Spice Garden, The LINC KL

By Aiman Azri

For the second-generation show-runner of Malaysia's Spice Garden family of Indian restaurants, the mastery of spices has been a lifelong journey of international lengths, taking him from his birthplace of North India (where he was once the only male student in his school to pursue home science) to a hospitality education in Switzerland, to dwelling among indigenous communities to see generations-old ways of using spices in their most fundamental way.

Mr. Pardeep Batra launched Spice Garden in 2003, rolling out a string of branches from Genting Highlands to Bukit Bintang; Chef Bharat joined his father in 2006 and became the brand's head chef. Their accolades haven't ceased - at the Malaysia International Gastronomy Festival 2018, Spice Garden earned awards for Most Outstanding Canapes and Most Outstanding Warm Starter, as well as the judges' choice for Best Festival Menu and Best Value for Money, while Chef Bharat himself reaped a Chef Personality Award for embodying Malaysia's muhibbah spirit during the festival.

The latest chapter of the Spice Garden story unfolds with the restaurant's latest outpost in The LINC KL, the city's centre's single most ravishing mall, endowed with endless natural greenery and glorious sunshine. This urban sanctuary offers a charming backdrop to a meal at Spice Garden, which blends India's classic heritage with contemporary culinary capabilities to create mouthwatering masterworks.

When Spice Garden's offerings emerge at the table, they live up to the restaurant's name, especially the curries that come heady with whiffs of cumin and cardamom, mingling with masala mixes, channeling the centuries-old traditions of kitchens from Lucknow to Ludhiana.

Spices are flown in from North India to best recreate these recipes in Malaysia; every speciality is prepared fresh daily, with a clear-eyed focus on quality, bearing no hint of oiliness on the top layer of the curries, in a reassuring sign that the restaurant avoids reusing and reheating its food.

The menu is encyclopedic, but first-timers won't go wrong with perennial favourites, cherished not only in North India but Malaysia. The Chicken Tikka Masala is a standout, sensually smooth to the core, with aromatic nuances that make each heat-kissed bite compellingly uplifting (RM30). The Palak Paneer shines pretty potently too, with spinach that's painstakingly ground each morning, balanced by house-made cottage cheese with an assertive, alluring character (RM24). Complete this triumvirate of triumphs with Aloo Gobhi Adraki, harmoniously assembling subtly smoky potatoes and crunchy cauliflower with ginger and other buoyantly fragrant condiments (RM17).

These rich, robust temptations make for the perfect pairing with Spice Garden's numerous rotis and naans (RM5 to RM14 per serving). Relatively health-conscious customers can opt for the multi-grain naan, constructed with semolina, whole wheat and white flour, topped with a bit of butter, but others will find the garlic naan irresistible, courtesy of its compelling scents and chew-worthy sensibilities. It's a testament to this restaurant's meticulousness that each flatbread is done justice, with tastes and textures that pay homage to the art and craft of oven-baked soulfulness, making them delectable even on their own.

Despite his reverence for time-honoured styles of cooking, Chef Bharat is also a passionate innovator whose most modern-minded concoction - the unique Khazana Mutton Biryani (RM70++ for two persons; RM125++ for four) - merits the visit to Spice Garden even if this is all you order.

Biryani rice is sealed with mutton, egg and spices in whole wheat bread, slow-cooked in a charcoal tandoor; the bread helps generate steam that travels to every corner of its contents, resulting in biryani that's cooked evenly across its dimensions, a little creamy from the egg, with exceptionally tender mutton.

Even the serving of this biryani is a mini-spectacle, as the bread is sliced open starting from the top to carve out its own bowl, flattened out to let the rice and meat tantalisingly spill open. The biryani pictured here is rounded out with mutton curry and yogurt raita, but it's also available in chicken, fish, prawn or vegetable variations.

Spice Garden also boasts a modest Middle Eastern repertoire, attributed to chefs from the region who formerly worked for this restaurant. Protein-powered seafood surfaces in the form of Samak Meshwi, chunks of fleshy local fish barbecued to a light sultriness, almost delicate enough to melt achingly on the first chew (RM28), and the Prawn Golden Butterfly, enrobed in a breading of semolina and gram flour that proves a pleasurable package for the crustacean's briny sweetness (RM51).

All a la carte meals are accompanied by a complimentary starter of papadom, plus condiments of the day; ours comprised chilli sauce, house-made mint sauce and pickled vegetables. We were too stuffed to sample more, but we'd be happy to return for everything from samosas and kebabs to dals and desserts like gulab jamun. Spice Garden also accommodates requests, catering to customers who prefer to tweak the fieriness of the fare or request that certain ingredients be omitted (no onions?).

Beverages are a reviving counterpoint to the cuisine, with the full-bodied Masala Tea (RM6), the Indian-style lemonade Jal Jeera (RM8) and the rich Mango Lassi (RM12) among the highlights. A cafe-like selection of coffee is also available, priced at RM7 for hot and RM8 for iced.

All in all, it's clear why Spice Garden has endured for nearly two decades now, with a future that seems unfailingly bright. Chef Bharat has ambitious plans to keep the brand relevant, including transforming Spice Garden at The LINC KL into Spice Garden Signature, potentially promising long-forgotten, less-familiar North Indian recipes as well as more premium cuts of meat and seafood not often seen in KL's Indian restaurants, while still adhering to authenticity - a plan that should excite enthusiasts of adventurous eating.

Many thanks to Spice Garden and The LINC KL for having us here.

Spice Garden At The LINC KL
Lot 1-3 & 1-3-4F, First Floor, The LINC KL, Jalan Tun Razak, Taman U Thant, Kuala Lumpur.
Daily, 10am-10pm. Tel: 03-9213-0377

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

Mama Dessert, Damansara Uptown

More than 40 years ago, Madam Tay began running her own independent street stall, serving hawker fare that she taught herself to prepare. Since the 1970s, she has cooked for tens of thousands of Malaysians across the Klang Valley, moving from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, most recently setting up a nameless stall in Sri Gombak for five years.

Fast forward to 2019, Madam Tay's food - fuss-free warm meals and wallet-friendly sweet treats that she has perfected over four decades - is the cornerstone of a new restaurant in Damansara Uptown, founded on a matriarch's tireless work to feed her family, underscored by photos on the wall that pay homage to her personal history.

True to form in Damansara Uptown, the crowd peaks at lunch, when customers flock for midday specials (available 1130am until they're sold out), comprising rice with braised tofu and egg, complete with cherished classics like Herbal Chicken Leg (RM9.80; potently herbaceous, with an aromatic fragrance that alluringly permeates the fleshy meat) and Hakka Steamed Pork Belly With Yam (RM8.90; Chinese comfort food at its most moist, for sink-your-teeth-into-this succulence). These two temptations remain on the menu throughout the week, with other traditional offerings that channel homemade vibes like ginger duck (Monday-Wednesday) and stewed chicken with potatoes (Thursday-Saturday).

The lunch rice platters represent solid value for under RM10, but there are other even more affordable options, from snacks like rice cakes made textured and punchy with preserved radish (RM2.50), yam cakes that taste like genuine tuber, with morsels of cooked yam in each bite (RM2.50), both paired with a thick, moderately spicy sambal bilis and a light, kitchen-made sweet sauce, as well as fried tau pok, made addictive with a fluffy minced pork filling (RM1.50; limited amounts of this are made daily, so come early), to light meals like the economy mee hoon and economy mee siam with a tangy kick (RM2.50 per plate).

Despite her extensive experience, Madam Tay is still passionate about learning, consistently experimenting with and fine-tuning her creations, even studying techniques off YouTube. You'll find seasonal concoctions to keep patrons constantly engaged (such as hand-crafted dumplings for the recent Dragon Boat Festival), as well as other possibilities that'll pop up from time to time, like sambal petai udang and yong tau foo that's meticulously made, including foo chok stuffed with minced pork that's cooked with dried salted fish for a deeper burst of savouriness. Wash down with a daily-changing array of herbal tea (RM1.70; such as loh hon kor).

We've saved the sweetest for last: With a name like Mama Dessert, it's no surprise that a variety of tong sui is available all day long, from the soulful bubur cha cha (RM3.50; chunky with sweet potatoes and yam) to the spirit-lifting boiled peach gum with red dates and snow fungus (RM3.50; warm and collagen-rich). Those two are staples through the week, but you'll find other bowls rotated on selected days - ginger with sweet potatoes, red bean soup, and mak zuk wheat porridge on Mondays-Wednesdays, and green bean soup, black glutinous rice, and dried beancurd with gingko nuts on Thursdays-Saturdays.

Thanks to Mama Dessert for having us here.

Mama Dessert
19, Jalan SS21/56B, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.
Open Monday-Saturday, 730am-9pm. Tel: 016-232-5814

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Wrappe, The LINC KL

By Aiman Azri

A passion for experimenting with food collides with the practicalities of what to eat on a hectic workday: Wrappe's tortilla wraps, sandwiches and bowls promise a fresh, flavour-packed meal that patrons can pick up fast, consume conveniently and feel fulfilled without winding up in a food coma.

The route to Wrappe began for its lead founder Yong Lim before he was even a teenager - as a protein-craving nine-year-old, he couldn't get enough of meat, so his mom ordered him to cook it himself to satisfy his inner carnivore. His love affair with the kitchen was ignited, spurring him to craft his own recipes over the years and even harbour the hope of selling grab-and-go wantan mee.

Burritos captured Yong's imagination when he furthered his studies in the UK, where he saw that many of his peers preferred to make prudent use of their limited lunchtime by lining up for a burrito, needing mere minutes to purchase and gobble it up while walking to class.

Wrappe takes the basic burrito, typically stuffed with refried beans and some beef or chicken, and transforms it into a much more balanced offering that does justice to Yong's more recent adult passion of fitness. After participating in triathlons, Yong realised that triathletes adore wraps for being excellent sources of energy. You'll find a nod to that sentiment at Wrappe's latest outpost in The LINC KL, a terrific F&B destination for office workers in the city centre, where a mural in the restaurant illustrates a triathlon-like road map complete with mealtime stops.

Every meal here is assembled to order and served warm, distinguishing Wrappe from many of the salad-and-sandwich bars that dominate KL's healthy-eating landscape. Even the tortillas are elevated above store-bought, mass-made flatbreads: Wrappe makes its own every morning, with two current choices of a wholemeal tortilla and a sweet potato one - the latter debuted this year, offering slightly sweeter nuances (Wrappe tested out other tortilla flavours and varieties, including pandan, salsa, garlic, charcoal and milk, before deciding that sweet potato works best). 

Customers can also have their meal with brown rice in a bowl (the rice can even be upsized for free) or as a sandwich instead of tortilla wraps. A la carte orders start from as low as RM10.90 for one of the chicken options, but even ordering a full-fledged combo with nachos and a lemonade will only take most of the chicken, beef, fish or vegetarian sets to between RM14.90 to RM19.90. Not a bad bargain, considering that Wrappe strives to serve your food to you within five minutes of ordering.

Food photos above are courtesy of Wrappe.

All recipes are Yong's personal creations, sprinkled sometimes with pop culture references - Pepper Potts, the menu's wholly vegetarian treat (RM12.90), pays homage to his girlfriend for her constant support (she's the Pepper Potts to his Ironman triathlon aspirations), powered by a chunky, crunchy-creamy sweet potato falafel at its core, plus fibre-rich black beans, corn, carrots and cherry tomatoes, lushly laced and layered with hints of pepper (naturally), fennel, cheese, garlic and spices that subtly convey vibrancy without overpowering the reviving freshness of the ingredients.

Yong remains a meat devotee, so beef and chicken furnish sink-your-teeth-into-these succulence here. The Barbacoa is irresistible for its robust pulled beef, its juicy-savoury fleshiness balanced and buoyed by cucumber, capsicum, red onions, red cabbage and romaine lettuce (RM13.90), while the Sassy Chic' lives up to its moniker, borrowing unabashed inspiration from Hawaiian pizzas, pairing grilled or fried chicken with roasted pineapples for harmoniously smoky-sweet dynamics, bolstered by sweet potato mash and sauteed red cabbage for nourishment at your fingertips (RM12.90).

Plenty of other possibilities span combinations like the beef Habibi (with hummus and roasted eggplant) to the Fish & Peas (fish with mushy peas). You can even customise your meal from scratch, from the base to the fillings, with 10 different sauces to select from, making Wrappe a place that patrons could enjoy lunch at from Monday through Friday without having the same thing twice.

The Rosemary & Lemon Roast Chicken is the only savoury temptation not served in a wrap, worth noting for the fact that this recipe underwent more than 20 revisions before it was finally perfected. The rewarding results can be relished in chicken with a clean char, tenderly brined overnight, showcasing a herbaceously zesty marinade that shines through slow-roasting (RM17.90 for a whole leg with sweet potato mash and salad, alongside honey mustard and BBQ sauces). If you love roast chicken, bookmark Wrappe for exploration.

Seasonal specialities are also available; for Ramadan recently, a chicken satay wrap helped make the month extra-festive, while this present period looks northeast to Japan for the Teriyaki-san, channelling a wholesome take on donburi with teriyaki chicken served on intriguingly vinegared brown rice scattered with bonito flakes for resonant bursts of umami, rounded out with roasted sesame, sauteed carrots, cucumber and capsicum (RM14.90).

Is that a wrap for Wrappe? Having met Yong, it's clear that his vision for this labour of love is still far from complete, but there's little doubt that he has the determined endurance to stay the course. Many thanks to Wrappe and The LINC KL for having us.

1-3B & 1-3B-AF, First Floor, The LINC KL, No. 360, Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur.
Daily, 10am-10pm. Tel: 03-9213-0382

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