Sunday, January 11, 2015

When Japanese meets French in Malaysia

We took a break from consecutive nights of partying with a quiet evening at Cilantro Restaurant and Wine Bar, not far away from the Golden Triangle district in Kuala Lumpur, inside a boutique hotel. The Japanese-born, French trained Chef Takashi Kimura has quite a reputation of his unique take of Franco-Japanese fusion cuisine at this compact restaurant featuring contemporary decor and quiet atmosphere. It's apparent most people came here on a date or special occasion, as many were quite dressed up, making us perhaps the odd ones out with rather casual outfit.

The dinner-only restaurant offers a 3 or 4-course prix fixe menu, for which guests can pick and choose, or the degustation menu, with dishes in tasting portions. There were a good number of choices for each of the courses and some changes according to season.

Both of us went for the 4-course prix fixe options and understandably, chose predominantly from the seasonal menu. We started with a simple amuse bouche of chicken roulade with dashi jelly served cold on a chinese spoon. A bit simple and cliche, I know, but it's tasty and a cold appetizer was good in this tropical weather. 

The bread basket has good choice of items, except I personally prefer bread to be served warm. But the truffle butter that went with it was sumptuous and filled with umami flavor - it's understandable why this is one of the most mentioned signature items for the restaurant. We ended up finishing 2 basketful of breads.

My first course was foie gras with crushed almonds and roast figs. The foie gras was pan-seared and served with nuts on top and no sauce, but it was well-cooked and full of flavor. The fig was added to the sweetness to go against the richness of the liver, and was lovely. And C also mentioned her first course of Lobster Double Consomme was very tasty - almost as rich as a bisque but somehow chef manage to do it without the cream.

I went for a pasta for second course - the fedellini with tarashirako and sakura ebi. Tara-shirako, or cod milt, could be a tricky ingredient to deal with - people would either love it or hate it with its funny looking shape, funky texture and "interesting" taste (not to mention the unthinkable idea of swallowing fish's "sperm") But here the taste was quite mild but it's almost melted into the pasta like a mac n cheese, then the tiny shrimp (sakura ebi) added to the umami taste with some textures. I quite enjoyed this slightly different pasta course.

My main course was Confit of Loire Poussin and Etuvee of Maine Lobster. It was a very simple dish - chicken was done two way - breast sous-vided and thigh pan-seared, and lobster was deshelled, picked and lightly steamed. The Americaine sauce - made from the reduction of lobster broth - brought everything together. Not exactly the most creative dish on earth, either with the cooking or the combination of flavors, but it's delicious, especially the succulent lobster. I also liked the addition of gingkos as side, making the overall taste somewhat more interesting. Both of our entrees came with a side dish of sauteed green vegetables - which I found it a bit generic as it looked exactly like the greens served in a Hong Kong fast food joint (油菜).

There were six to seven dessert options on offer and I went for the Vintage Rum Baba with Extra Vanilla Ice Cream, which was decent. And yes, the vanilla aroma was evident in the "Extra" vanilla ice cream.

I was put off by the high alcohol tax in Malaysia so we flew our own wine in from home inside our checked luggage. The restaurant has a very moderate corkage charged per head instead of bottle. But I did take a quick glance at their wine list, and realized Guillaume the sommelier did have a well-balanced collection with focus on Burgundy but with good selection from other regions and at various price points too. As for our wine we brought in, it was a flavorful Burgundy white table wine with fresh floral nose, a bit of pineapple aroma and ripe stone fruit flavor, which I thought worked refreshingly well and with a lighter cuisine we had this evening. Easy and cheerful.

In terms of value for money, I have absolutely nothing to complain about this restaurant especially if you come as a group and BYO, and it's probably the best venue for a quiet evening out and for something slightly different than typical Malaysian food. You wouldn't get anything half as decent in Hong Kong for that kind of price.

I bet it could even be a strong contender to be one of the best western fine-dining restaurants in KL or even Malaysia as some has said (including The Miele Guide who selected them as the top in Malaysia for many years), but I have a gut feeling that there's something better elsewhere - I found this a bit too conservative and lacking sparks, and particularly I guess I was looking for more creativity, either from more daring use of Japanese cooking techniques or through the use of more exotic, local ingredients to make Chef Takashi's dishes more unique and special. 

When? January 2 2015
Where? Cilantro Restaurant & Wine Bar, Micasa All Suite Hotel, 368-B Jalan Tun Razak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Menu Highlights? Fedellini with Tarashirako and Sakura Ebi
Drink? Domaine Albert Bichot Puligny-Montrachet 2009

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