Friday, May 06, 2005

PRIME FOCUS ON RETRO CLASSICS

Humans are creatures of habit. Despite our constant yearning for anything that’s new and exciting, we will eventually return to the tried and tested, and find great comfort in the things that are familiar and known to us.

How many times have we hanker for those dishes that stood the test of time and remind us of good times shared with family and friends, and of special occasions in our lives?So that is mainly the reason why classical favourites like steaks and oysters reign supreme at the Prime Grill Room at the Crown Princess Kuala Lumpur.

The restaurant exudes a stylish décor with lots of brown timber paneling, plush leather seats in dark chocolate and earth-toned carpet. Sleek, dark mahogany tables and lush green plants are offset with modern artworks in vibrant hues and peach lampshades. It’s the perfect blend of old world colonial style and restrained modernity.What I really like about this outlet is that diners are permitted to smoke only at the bar and lounge area but not in the main dining area. According to the management, they reckon second-smoke does affect the taste of the food served, besides imposing on the comfort of non-smoking diners.

If you are one of those who like a tipple before dinner, the wine selection is competitively priced for a hotel outlet with prices hovering close to retail pricing, starting at RM52++ onwards. The current list is predominantly Australian and touts many boutique wines including the house specialty, Turkey Flat Grenache Noir 2001, Barossa (RM89++ per bottle). In addition, you’d find a small number of Chilean, French and New Zealand wines plus one or two from Spain and South Africa.

So how's the food? Not too bad - out of ten, I'd say it garners a 6.5 rating. Chef Allan Parish of the Grace Hotel in Sydney (whose former master was the celebrated Ozzie chef, Neil Perry), was tasked with training the local team here.

A great appetiser to get you going is the salad of ‘harissa’ spiced prawns (RM42+) with baby tomatoes, pickled gherkins, shredded red cabbage and romaine lettuce. The exotic ‘harrisa’, a Tunisian condiment of red chilli peppers and salt covered in olive oil lent a splendid dimension to the crustaceans’ natural flavour, and added a tantalizing accent to the salad.

But I daresay the classic smoked salmon rose on blinis with mustard dill dressing (RM28++) is hard to eclipse while the salad of baby beans, tomato confit and salsa verde (RM18++) is surprisingly good. The crunchiness of the baby French beans is greatly enhanced by the refreshing tartness of ‘salsa verde’, a chunky, zesty sauce made from ‘tomatillos’ (Mexican husk tomato), green chilli and cilantro.

Equally good is the chilli spiced calamari with avocado and mango salsa (RM28++) for its varying textures and differing flavours. Too bad the fresh oysters were not as freshly shucked as they should have been (RM54++ per half dozen). If you fancy the molluscs cooked, then opt for oyster Mornay (RM56++), oyster Kilpatrick (RM58++) and oyster Rockefeller (RM58++).

For comfort food at its best, nothing beats the cream of shiitake, oyster and button mushroom (RM26++) and the Boston clam chowder (RM16++). The former is creamy and redolent with the beguiling taste and aroma of mushroom whilst the latter is richly satisfying with the delicious taste of fresh clams evident on the palate.

The outlet signature dish of char-grilled beef tenderloin with harisa prawns and caramelized shallots (RM68++) is excellent. Its ‘melt in the mouth’ texture is well-complemented by some caramelized shallots.Another memorable main course is the duck breast cooked with apples and potatoes (RM42++), a rustic French dish that oozes homely, earthy flavours. There was a thin layer of fat underneath the duck skin, ensuring adequate juiciness to the sliced breast meat. Its rich, gamey taste was nicely assuaged by the fruitiness of the cooked apple dices whilst the potato dices were the perfect foil for the robustness of the entire ensemble.

Personally I find the crisp skinned salmon with peppered green beans, warm potato salad and aioli (RM49++) not particularly outstanding as the overall combination turned out too heavy and rich on the palate.

The retro overtones extend to dessert that includes crêpes suzette (RM18++), crème brûlée (RM16++), gratinated fruits with vanilla gratin (RM16++), nougat parfait with chocolate and orange sauce (RM16++), and dark chocolate and white chocolate mousse (RM18++).Be forewarned that the crème brûlée is a huge portion and can be a little daunting should you have had the appetizers and mains earlier. Still, its silky smoothness is imbued with a lovely vanilla taste and fragrance.

Prefer something lighter? Stick with gratinated fruits - strawberries, kiwi and mango are covered with vanilla sauce and a light dusting of icing sugar, then lightly browned in the broiler or oven. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, this confection is a befitting conclusion to the meal.

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