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The Finer Things in Life
As a food-obsessed nation, Malaysia’s dining landscape is constantly evolving. Our foray into fine dining may be at its infancy, but with talented and innovative chefs leading the pack, the future is promising. We speak to two of the finest.
Malaysia is known throughout the world for its street food, from its heritage as a former British colony to the amalgamation of the different cultures from its Malay, Chinese and Indian heritage. However, what you may not have noticed is its burgeoning fine dining culture that has been rapidly growing in the past few years. We speak to two chefs who are pioneering this form of cuisine in Malaysia: Darren Chin of DC Restaurant and Darren Teoh of Dewakan.
DEWAKAN: A TOUCH OF LOCAL
Dewakan, helmed by Darren Teoh, has been opened since April 2015 and has received a lot of attention, mostly due to its approach of using local produce, and more importantly, local flavours.
“The definition of fine dining comes from the patrons of the restaurant. When people want to come and be part of something more sophisticated, they call it fine dining. Most of the time, Malaysians do not have a solid point of reference as there is very little of it (fine dining), even in the past 10 years,” says Darren.
Dewakan, which was birthed from the KDU (Kolej Damansara Utama) Culinary School, emphasises on sourcing for local produce that is indigenous to this region. This can be seen in their menu with items like the Braised Aubergine, which uses jackfruit seeds and black bean sauce as part of its components, to dishes like the Blue Mackerel, which is a cured fish, also locally known as the tenggiri, served with ulam raja, a Malay herbaceous salad. Another dish that illustrates this is the Gula Melaka Marquise, a dessert made with Malaysian palm sugar served with pulut ice cream, an ice cream made with the flavours of glutinous rice, a traditional Malaysian dessert.
“The cornerstone of what we do is to emphasise the use of local herbs and vegetation. We use as much organic produce as we can, especially those which are indigenous to the area. This is what we call, for the lack of a better term, Modern Malaysian cuisine. We don't produce half-hearted products. Every dish is completely conceptualised before serving.”
DC RESTAURANT: PREMIUM AT ITS BEST
Another name in this growing food scene is Darren Chin of DC Restaurant, a chef known for his attention to detail and use of high quality produce. The winner of the prestigious Délifrance Sandwich World Cup has time and time again served up amazing concoctions, taking lessons from classical French cuisine to inspiration from the East.
“It’s very tough to find the right people for staffing, and produce which is of high quality. I like to take from what the land has to offer, which we call terra. It’s actually quite simple, it has to stand out. Today, it can’t just be Instagram-friendly, it has to taste good. There is no use for it to just look good but not taste good. We’re looking to give our patrons an experience. Each plate should reflect me and represent the philosophy and spirit of the restaurant,” says Darren.
Darren uses high quality products imported from all over the world, as he believes that to make food that taste good, you have to use the best ingredients. One such dish is the AOP Anjou French Pigeon, a slow roasted pigeon which is served with black winter truffles and a chestnut cream. The AOP designated French bird definitely stands out, as this dish had the most tender and perfectly roasted meat, soft to the cut but skin still crispy. The chestnut cream added a smooth texture but retained its grainy nuttiness to taste, which helped the pigeon sing even more.
“In Malaysia, we have plenty of street food but gastronomy, which focuses on gourmet cuisine, not so much. At the moment, we are just touching base. People come to my restaurant to taste my food, and I hope to give them that kind of experience. From the get-go they will say it’s French, but with that wow factor. This is what I strive to achieve.”
Darren really goes all out to highlight the freshness and flavours of the produce, and this is exemplified in his pièce de résistance, DC’s Signature Seafood Medley. This dish consists of Chilean sea bass, fresh yuba, a Japanese bean curd, Hokkaido scallops, Chilean blue mussels (we were served with a South African abalone, since they happened to be fresher on that day), grilled slipper lobster, and most importantly, the sea urchin emulsion. This emulsion has been worked and refined for years by Darren, and is definitely worth a visit out of your way.
“I like using as much local produce as I can, and I try to get them from directly from the source - from farmers and seafood suppliers. One such example is the Mersing slipper lobster, one of Malaysia’s most famous crustaceans. However, I do stress on using great produce, and this is why I use only imported black truffles and for example, pigeons from France. The puyuh (local quail) is a lovely bird, but it does not produce the same results that I’m looking for.”
The two Darrens are just at the tip of the iceberg with the burgeoning fine dining scene in Malaysia, with one rooted in more traditional produce, and the other, high quality ingredients from all over the world. We are also seeing an increase in public education about produce and high quality food, where people are actively seeking out fine dining experiences to test out specific flavours.
Today, more and more restaurants are becoming forerunners in the fine dining arena such as Cantaloupe in Kuala Lumpur and Macalister Mansion in Penang, and with this, we can only expect great things as gastronomy grows in Malaysia.
Dine at the featured restaurants:
Address: Lower Ground Floor, KDU University College, Utropolis Glenmarie, Jalan Kontraktor U1/14, Seksyen U1, 40150 Shah Alam, Selangor.
Tel: 03-5565 0767
Address: 44, Persiaran Zaaba, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, 60000 Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: 03-7731 0502
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