Thursday, September 22, 2016

MAGNIFICENT 7 SUNDAY INDULGENCES FROM SERENA BRASSERIE

Hic, hic, hooray! Let the good wine, champagne, beer, soft drinks and juices flow when you sit down to InterContinental KL's Sunday Indulgence Brunch (RM150 nett per adult) at Serene Brasserie from now until 27 November 2016.


Drinks package priced between RM30 and RM250 nett per head will be available for those wishing to inject some sparkling spirit into their dining experience. A Mimosa Bar alongside bottles of Laurent-Perrier champagne, beer and wine as well as soft drinks and juices will leave you amply shaken, stirred and cheerily intoxicated.
Come, grab a glass of bubbly (Laurent-Perrier anyone?) in hand and let us guide you through the magnificent 7 options we highly recommend you savour from the extensive spread laid out.

Served with roasted whole garlic, French beans, crisp beef bacon bits and rosemary jus, this jaw-dropping show-stealer came encased in layers of buttery, flaky puff pastry. Once the chef sliced up this classic speciality, the juicy pink roast beef at its core transported us to seventh heaven. Accompanied by sips of chilled champagne, all we managed to say was 'Oh La La!'
Serena Brasserie is famed its seafood on ice selection from day one and rightfully, this remains a perennial lure for the Sunday brunch buffet. However, do allow us to suggest you go salmon fishing instead.
 No. 2 Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Mille Feuille with Scallops & Prawns

True to its Sunday Indulgence tag, this colourful and Instagrammable creation proffers an explosion of textures and flavours. Strewn with edible flowers, cherry tomato halves and fresh sprouts, the mille feuille layers of smoked salmon and cream cheese partnered with succulent seared scallops and springy prawns form a fab visual and palatable feast.
 No. 3 Gratinated Oyster Rockefeller

These cheese-topped beauties should leave you happily shell-syiok. Smothered in the lightly scorched, melty cheese topping, nothing beats savouring the lil' mollusk's squirt of briny, flinty jus and tender succulent flesh. So good!
 
 No. 4 Spiced Bagel with Truffled Egg Mayo (top)


Even the Earl of Sandwich would give his thumbs up to this delicious permutation bearing his erstwhile name. Rest assured the rich, creamy egg-mayo filling spiked with truffle oil amidst spice dusted mini bagel is noteworthy enough to spare tummy space for.  

 No. 5 Poppyseed Buns with Beef Pepperoni


Remember the minor kerfuffle over getting high on poppyseeds? Now, these scrumptiously diminutive poppyseed flecked buns stacked with beef pepperoni, tomato and gherkin slices and fresh lettuce should boost your mood for food. Suffice to say it's impossible to stop at just one.
No. 6 Har Lok 

Keep your eyes peeled for these irresistible prawn 'stars'. Savoury yet naturally sweet, the stir-fried crustaceans are worth the bother of getting hands-on, to enjoy the full extent of their finger-licking goodness.
 No. 7 Mixed Fruit Pavlova

Packed with so much fresh fruit especially colourful berries, these tiny cloud-like treats are literally guilt-free for the sweet toothed. Relish them with a cup of coffee or tea for that picture-perfect conclusion to your Sunday Indulgence brunch affair.
We have merely scratched the surface of the entire line-up but the magnificent 7 choices should serve as an apt teaser on what to expect. Diners can expect a plethora of appetisers and salads, main courses prepared Western and Asian-style, pastries and dessert in addition to kid-friendly offerings: fish fingers, cookies, sandwiches and candies.
Clown entertainment and cupcake decoration will be among the activities available to keep little tykes occupied.

For reservations, please call Serene Brasserie, tel: 03-27826228 or visit: kualalumpur.intercontinental.com 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

WHOOPING GOOD EATS AT HOOPLA

The only type of bone I enjoy picking is that of pork ribs. Especially in Klang Valley when pigging out on Western-style pork ribs used to be as rare as Michelin-starred dining. Now the scenario is changing as more restos are letting things rib. One recent eatery to jump onto the piggy bandwagon is Hoopla Lounge.
Our host and managing director of Hoopla Lounge/Chapter One Bar & Bistro, Ernest Chin informed us the signature Connor's Rib Slab is marinated in Connor's Stout Porter before it hits the grill with a basting of Connor's infused BBQ sauce. Unlike most ribs in town that lack textural meaty resistance, Hoopla's stood up to our taste test. Price at RM85++ per serving with two glasses of Connor's, all the luscious ribs needed was a squeeze of fresh lime juice to make its rip-roaring presence felt.
Tucked away in a corner of Sri Hartamas, this new-ish, dark and sultry wine lounge is above Chapter One (its more boisterous 'sibling' hangout). Conceived as a cool yet cosy space where urban folks can enjoy fine wine and some nibbles post-work with friends, Hoopla artfully blends clubby chic with bistro minimalism.
As an oenophile (wine enthusiast), Ernest plied us Réserve St Martin for the review. Both wines were easy on the palate; the dry, medium-bodied Merlot bore pleasant acidity and supple tannins while the Chardonnay's fruity crispness was edged with muted nutty overtones.
With over a hundred labels in its cellar, Hoopla's stockpile is sourced mainly from boutique wineries and small producers to pique fellow drinkers. Prices are also easier on the wallet (phew!) compared to the princely sum charged by leading hotels and fine-dining restos. Ernest's ethos is to induce Hoopla's patrons appreciate their chosen tipples in comfort and as an accompaniment to good food.
The menu stays in comfort food territory and pub-style offerings with an occasional quirky side or two as exemplified by the appetiser of Lady's Fingers (RM6) - a Japanese izakaya inspiration perhaps? Laced with garlic oil, mentsuyu (Japanese noodle soup base) and sesame oil, the tender fingerlings of okra was a nice way of loading up on one's green intake whilst lining the tummy agreeably.
Crunchy with deep-seated flavour reminiscent of Chinese nam yue (red fermented beancurd), the classic pub grup fave of Chicken Wings (RM22) hit a high note with us. Adding to the wings' allure was a zingy-hot chilli dip with crudites. 
Moreish finger-licking goodness emerged in the subsequent bite-size pieces of Cracklin' Chicken Karaage (RM38++). Again marinated in creamy Connor's Porter Stout, the juicy chunks of Japanese-style boneless fried chicken drizzled with bright orangey, sweet-spicy sauce had us wiping the plate clean within minutes.
Hot on the heels of such positive show-openers, we were floored by the generous platter of Pork Platter (RM104). Rubbed with cinnamon, onion and ginger, the hearty deliciousness of the crackling roasted pork skin and scrumptious meat made a slurp-worthy impression. Although I'm not big on the so-called pork bangers (can't beat the real English ones), the supporting cast of potato wedges, salad and dips ensured a favourable experience.
Knowing the Malaysian penchant for local fare, Hoopla includes a handful of typical Malaysian faves to appease customers. Ernest was quick to clarify the servings can never rival those dished up by hawkers but after a heavy night of drinking and partying, we doubt if anyone would whinge about forking RM19 for a plate of hot-off-the-wok Hokkien Mee. Taste-wise it was decent and apparently, so is the Mee Mamak.


Personally, I prefer chomping into the wickedly tender BBQ Chicken Thigh (RM40++) which had been basted with Connor's infused BBQ sauce. Complemented by roasted potatoes and spicy vinaigrette, the chook's slick, sweetish and subtly smoky lacquer-like skin and juicy meat was worth returning for.
Perked up with aromatics such as dried prawn sambal, ginger flower and coriander, we was reeled in by the Fried Seabass (RM13) with red onion salad. Imagine crisp skin yielding to sweet, flaky meat with the sharp freshness of onion blunting discernible greasy accent.
We skipped dessert but my reliable source tipped us off on the wicked decadence of Hoopla's Chocolate Brownies (RM15). Served warm with lashings of chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream, she enthused the splendid treat was spot on and should melt hearts. Now, I'd have to return for the proof of the pudding won't I?
For reservations at HOOPLA LOUNGE, call tel: 03-62116484. Address: 1st Floor, 72-1 Jalan 27/70A, Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

SAVOURING THE ORIENTAL GROUP'S 16 YEARS OF CULINARY SUCCESS

Justin Hor is undoubtedly Malaysia's most progressive, dynamic and well-respected Chinese chef today. As the Group Executive Chef and co-founder of The Oriental Group of Restaurants, his name is what the Chinese decrees as 'sou yat, sou yi' - literally second to none in the cut-throat and insanely competitive F&B scene. 

I still recall the buzz surrounding the opening of Noble House, one of The Oriental Group's earliest culinary bastion in KL. Well, 16 years later the resto group has grown by leaps and bounds yet the group's sterling reputation remains intact and as revered as ever. To celebrate its 16th year of Chinese culinary excellence, The Oriental Group spearheaded by Chef Justin Hor is offering a selection of age-old dishes updated for current times specially for customers to savour.
 
That was how us lucky few ended up at Noble House, for a sampling of the special celebratory menu. For the uninitiated, the impressive interior on the lower ground level is dominated by a koi-filled pond and gurgling water features. Upstairs, a warren of cosy private rooms allow customers to dine in comfort. Wheelchair-bound and infirm guests can even enjoy hassle-free access to the resto via a lift to transport them upstairs.
 
I was often asked what I like to eat most as a food writer. As a typical Chinese, I believe Chinese food trumps 'em all. Never mind if Chinese cuisine doesn't have the same cachet as French or Japanese in the eyes of the world. Fyi, Chinese cuisine is far more intricate and complex yet it remains sorely undervalued in today's culinary stage. Hence more Chinese food proponents like Chef Justin Hor helps tremendously to raise the cuisine to fresh gastronomic heights and give it extra shine.
  
Dinner rolled off smoothly with us scoffing down the first of five appetisers: sesame seeds-coated Black Squid Ink Balls. Held in place using decorative toothpicks with diced cucumber and cherry tomato halves, the springy squid paste balls darkened with squid ink bore a nutty aftertaste, whetting our appetite for more.

Priced at RM2,888 nett (a table of 10), The Oriental Group's 16th Anniversary Set Menu gives more bang for the buck while simultaneously serving as an exquisite throwback of the group's grand dinners past. Featuring a king's ransom of premium ingredients, the multi-course repertoire entails laborious prep work and masterful culinary techniques, coupled with artistic food presentation using exclusive custom-made tableware.
For the second appetiser, Chef Justin decided to give classic braised pig's ear a fresh spin, reinterpreting it as a crunchy Chinese salad of Pig's Ear with Baby Black Fungus. Sliced into strips, the slightly resistant cartilage pieces tossed with baby black fungus and Japanese cucumber chunks were light yet tantalising to sample.
Likewise, he tweaked the old-school 'hai jou' (crab meat dumpling rolls) by adding clams into the filling. Enmeshed in pig's caul, the deep-fried and sliced Crispy Clam Rolls with Five Spices yielded an irresistibly good mix of minced pork, clams, waterchestnuts and five spice powder. A delectable creation that would induce anyone to polish off a whole plate!
Inspired by a trip to Tawau, Chef Justin whipped up a distinctive kerabu-style salad of Sea Grass with Shredded Yam. Tossed in piquantly sour-hot Chef's special sauce, we relished the multitude of crunchy textures: that of tiny silverfish, thin strips of yam and sea grass (also known as sea bird's nest).
His Hong Kong 'pei fung thong' (typhoon shelther) style of Baby Pomfrets with Cili Padi & Minced Garlic also took us by storm.
A surefire crown-pleaser thanks to the invigorating strong flavours evoked by the scattering of crisp-fried curry leaves, minced garlic and hot bird's eye chilli. Kudos to the chef for daring to wade into unfamiliar waters, using the little fishes which left us hooked on their smoky crispiness and sweet flesh.
Then we were all souped up by the Imperial Rejuvenation Soup. According to Chef Justin, this speciality recipe came from his 'sifu' (mentor) and is similar to a traditional Buddha Jumps Over The Wall. Updated to fit modern cognoscenti, the double-boiling process took up to 6 hours and that lengthy period haven't covered the initial, painstakingly preparation of the various dried seafood items yet.
We dug in and uncovered a 4-head abalone, superior shark's fin, fresh fish maw, sea cucumber, Japanese dried scallop and conch in addition to plump Japanese mushroom, Yunnan ham, pork tendon, a hardboiled quail's egg and Chinese herbs like ginseng, 'huai san', superior 'tong sum' and wolfberries. With such choice ingredients in one specially designed receptacle, the sumptuous soup will boost your vigour for sure.
Next in the pecking order was Roast Baby Hong Kong Pigeon. Delicately suffused with the complex nuances of 'lou sui' (braising stock) and aromatic spices, the crackly crisp skin gave way to moist, tender meat. Every serving also came with half a kaffir lime and cherry tomatoes soaked in preserved plum juice.The kaffir lime was meant to moisten the drier breast meat and temper its mild gaminess while the cherry tomatoes helped to cleanse the palate from residual greasiness.
Those of you who are old enough like yours truly will remember the Traditional Stuffed Whole Chinese Cabbage once ruled supreme in Chinese banquets of yore. The Chinese has always held this vegetable in high regard as 'pau choi' in the native language means guaranteed prosperity. 
Now you can appreciate this retro masterpiece in which the whole cabbage held an enticing stuffing of minced pork, crab meat, diced mushroom, carrot and waterchestnuts at its heart.The yummy offering was accompanied by florets of broccoli enrobed with fish paste and immersed in an unctuously rich dried scallop sauce. Heavenly.
The culinary wizardry continued with the droolworthy sight and smell of Steamed Fresh Water Prawns on Glutinous Rice. Tucked inside a huge bamboo steamer basket was sizeable fresh river prawn halves, generously smothered with minced ginger and chopped fresh coriander plus spring onion. These springy textured crustaceans reclined on a bed of fluffy glutinous rice; the sticky grains capturing all the sublimely sweet prawn jus for our enjoyment.
What little tummy space remained was amply filled by Sweetened Red Bean Broth with Old Guangzhou Orange Peel. It was fascinating to learn from Chef Justin the aged citrus peel he procured from Guangzhou cost a bomb. Compared to the regular homemade dried mandarin peel which imparted a stronger overtone, this one infused the 'tong shui' with its pleasantly mellow citrusy scent and nuance.
Plenty of 'oohs' and 'aahs' over the skillful handiwork that went into making the White Lotus Peonies & Crystal Pumpkin Dumplings. I prefer the latter for the dumpling's slightly chewy skin - stained a bright orange - contained subtly sweet mash that contrasted well with the flaky, light floral-shaped dumplings brimming with white lotus paste.
For more information and advance reservations, please call Noble House, tel: 03-2145 8822 or check www.orientalrestaurants.com.my for the full listing of The Oriental Group of restaurants.