Seafood emerges as the main bait to lure discerning diners at Lai Poh Heen; their dominant presence clearly noticeable in the latest a la carte line-up unveiled by Chef Ricky Thein recently.
Out of the seven-course tasting menu that we were feted to, only two dishes were non-seafood items not that we minded. Ironically, the star of the sampling show turned out to be the aromatic Spring Chicken with Preserved Red Beancurd (nam yue) - deftly deep-fried to crisp perfection, the juicy, tender chicken boasted crackling crunchy skin and piping hot, moist meat suffused with the distinctly lusty sweet-briny accent of nam yue. Although I'm not big on breast meat, I like it enough to pick the bones clean.
The best supporting dish rightly belongs to the Braised Seafood Treasure Broth with Whole Abalone. Slightly unctuous on the palate, the sweet, clear broth is generously strewn with sea cucumber strips and threads of dried scallops. One can hardly fault this sumptuous offering, not when a whole abalone dotted with shiny black globules of caviar takes pride of place in the centre of the soup plate. Supple yet resistant to the bite, every mouthful of it is likely to transport you up onto cloud nine.
As a young kid, the dish I eagerly looked forward to at Chinese banquets is the appetiser platter especially a four seasons dish. I still yearn for those delectable retro bites of hai chou (crab and minced pork balls drenched in a sweet and sour sauce), fluffy stir-fried omelette with shark's fin threads and poached silken chicken in aspic.
Chef Ricky Thein knows first impressions count hence his Lai Poh Heen's Appetizer Platter didn't disappoint. My favourite is the Steamed Prawn Mousse filled with Scallop wrapped in slender tapes of omelette and adorned with some crunchy tobikko (flying fish roe). The ensemble's delicate nuances, a meld of seafood sweetness, eggy richness and the roe's subtle brininess are as Cantonese as they come.
The second creation of Crispy Fried Prawn with Kataifi Roll was a tad messy to eat but delicious nonetheless. I like the unexpected surprised of soft, powdery yam stuffed inside the springy prawn. A small dollop of fine mango salsa and watermelon lends a refreshing dimension to the palate-pleaser.
I think the chef played it rather safe with the classic combination of duck and mango. Bundled up into egg roll skin, the Smoked Duck and Mango Spring Roll is predictably acceptable, helped along by a smidgen of hoi sin sauce - the ubiquitous sweetish/briny/tangy/faintly spicy dip made from soybean paste, salt, various spices, garlic, vinegar, sugar and chilies.
While the Braised Cod with Pumpkin and Preserved Vegetable (shuit choi) pushes the envelope a little, it wasn't overly revolutionary. Maybe Chef Ricky feels some restraint is necessary in view of how local diners can be averse to anything that test their comfort zone too much. The pairing of cod and pumpkin is admittedly quite novel and surprisingly good; both proffering distinctly different degree of softness. Also better to lose that starchy sheath coating the fish and rely on its inherent smoothness instead to pull the dish together.
Thick and plump, the Wok-fried Fresh Scallops with Enoki Mushrooms in Homemade Spicy Seafood Sauce were a marriage of textures and flavours. Piled atop a bed of glistening jade-green blanched baby bok choy, the supple Aussie scallops were slippery smooth; their natural sweetness spiked up by the chef's robust XO-style seafood-based condiment.
Impressive is the first word that came to my mind when I saw my portion of Crispy Egg Noodles with King Prawns and Cheese Broth. The nest of noodles, artfully deep-fried so that the crisp wisps fan out like illustrated rays of the sun, came surrounded by a pool of thick, creamy cheese sauce and a king prawn tucked snugly in the centre. Think of it as sang har meen with a Western twist. Safe to say this lush speciality will undoubtedly sit well with today's pizza and pasta crowd. I'm a purist who reckon the classic Cantonese egg sauce is irreplaceable but I'm just an old fogey when it comes to food.
A majestic pulled and spun sugar dragon sculpture on a platter of candies and pralines heralded our serving of dessert - Crispy Chinese Herbal Jelly with Honey, Avocado Puree and Pumpkin Cake. All three get my thumbs up especially the battered Chinese herbal jelly that's reminiscent of CNY nian gao. I'm a sucker for avocado and pumpkin so I took to both treats like bees to honey.
Appetizers and soup in the new a la carte menu are priced between RM36
and RM108 while main courses hover between RM32 and RM288. Desserts are priced
from RM16 to RM280 per order. Prices subject to 10% service charge and 6% government tax.
Lai Poh Heen, Mandarin
Oriental Kuala Lumpur,Kuala Lumpur City Centre. Tel:03-2179 8885