Thursday, January 26, 2017

YES TO YEMENI FOOD AT AL NAFOURA

Meet the pièce de résistance of Al Nafoura restaurant in Wangsa Maju. A hearty Yemeni rice dish that takes about 20-30 minutes to prepare, Maghdout is well worth the wait. You can choose either Lamb Maghdout (1/2kg RM39, RM75 1kg) or Chicken (RM35 half, RM65 whole) which has long grain basmati rice pressure-cooked to perfection in tomato-based sauce with lamb or chicken and aromatic spices
Prepared only upon order, the resultant speciality had us hooked on its deep-seated flavours; the fluffy rice a nice foil for the chunks of meltingly tender meat. Served with a side dish of Al Nafoura Salad (RM10) - diced Japanese cucumber, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese, this signature dish is ideal for sharing and worth repeat visits.
Opened in February 2016, Al Nafoura - the word means water fountain in Arabic - has garnered a steady following despite its low-key existence. The chefs working at Al Nafoura are Yemeni as are the ingredients. The resto owners, Rahim and Izana ensure dishes served remain as original as possible to those found in Yemen, especially Rahim who had studied in Saudi Arabia and spent years relishing Yemeni food in the Middle East.

According to them, Yemeni food is heavily influenced by Africa, India and Turkey after the country's fisherfolks, merchants and traders brought exotic spices and recipes back from their forays. Also Yemenis thrive on rice as a staple unlike the rest of the Middle Easterners who prefer bread. Having sampled the assorted Yemeni and Middle-Eastern specialities, we realised they outshone those proffered in the city centre.
The opening salvo of freshly made and baked Mullawah Bread (RM5 small, RM8 large) was ample proof. Layered and folded with butter or ghee, this deliciously rustic Yemeni bread is only available on weekdays (after 6 pm for dinner only) and weekends.
Tear up the fluffy bread and savour it with Hummus (RM12), house blended chickpeas with olive oil and Prawn Salona (RM22). Both these tapas-style offerings hit the spot as we were ravenous after the long drive to the resto.
Tomato, onion and cumin formed the alluring base for the Prawn Salona, a robustly flavoured house speciality with shelled prawns. You can also enjoy the bread with Chicken Oqda (RM17), a well-spiced albeit slightly drier chicken stew with potatoes, tomatoes and carrots. In Arabic, oqda means knot - referring to how nicely 'tied up' the ingredients are. Think of it as a scrumptious Middle Eastern rendang.

Al Nafoura also served its own distinctive Garlic Sauce (RM4) - a creamy blend of garlic, egg white and sunflower oil to complement the array of lamb and chicken dishes. Of course, you can expect Shaweq - an irresistible relish of tomato, garlic, coriander and bird's eye chilli to accompany most of the food too.
The menu also includes ubiquitous Middle-Eastern dishes such as Mandi Chicken (RM16 quarter, RM26 half) - delectable spice marinated chicken grilled and served with basmati rice. I had my fair share of this and more commonly found fare on a recent assignment but I daresay Al Nafoura's is one of the more notable ones worth savouring and suitable for both adults and kids.
You'd find it hard to eat another lousy mamak mee goreng once you try the resto's hybrid Maggi Goreng Kabsa (RM18). Boldly flavoured with sedap giler tomato-spice nuances similar to the house speciality of Maghdout, we polished off this crowd-pleaser within minutes.

Partial to lamb? Then Kabsa Lamb Rice (RM23 small, RM37 large) should convert you into part of the flock once you have a taste of the hearty lamb stew laden with aromatic Yemeni spices served with fragrant basmati rice.
Dessert can be rather hefty to deal with single-handedly after all that carbs and protein. We suggest a serving to share especially if you wish to dig into Areeka (RM18). It's a sweet-savoury bread pudding of sorts, rustled up with housemade Yemeni wheat flatbread with minced dates and nuts. Crowned with cream and grated cheese, the decadent treat was rich and filling.
Cheese lovers may prefer Kunafe (RM15), an Arabic cheesecake of sorts which is made from shredded phyllo dough and white soft cheese baked and topped off with a dollop of cream. Simple yet extremely lush and not to be trifled with lightly. Good with a warm cup of Adani Tea (milky red tea enhanced with spices) to finish.

For reservations call Al Nafoura, tel: 03-4131 4886. Address: 9-G, Plaza Wangsa Maju (Hedgeford Galleria), Jalan Maju Ria 2, Wangsa Maju, Section 10, Kuala Lumpur.

Monday, January 23, 2017

NOSTALGIC FLAVOURS FROM BABA NYONYA

It was love at first bite the minute we tasted the sizzling Salted Fish Chicken in Claypot (RM22.90). We discovered this hearty, downhome dish at Baba Nyonya by Sambal Chilli, a casual Peranakan restaurant at Avenue K recently. Glossy and dark, the caramelised chunks of chicken were superbly tasty and a fab take on the classic ham yue fah lam pou.
Good Peranakan food demands ample elbow grease but thankfully, there's a handful of Peranakan restaurants in the city to satisfy our cravings. We find Baba Nyonya by Sambal Chilli is one of the decent eateries worth trying.
You don't have to pay through your nose for decent Peranakan food here. The brightly lit, cheery outlet serves affordable packs of nasi lemak (a major crowd-pleaser), kuih-muih and delicious Assam Beehoon (RM2.50). The piquantly tangy fried rice vermicelli was so sedap we shamelessly ordered a second round to share!
Well-balanced sweet and spicy-hot accents from the resto's signature Sambal Petai Prawns (RM29) set our tastebuds alight. Both the prawns and stinkbeans were up to mark too, a combination of succulent and crunchy textures. Top notch!
For those who can't stand the heat from that robust dish, douse the fire with imaginative drinks such as Lemongrass Lychee (top pix left, RM10.90), Apple Assam Boi (top pix right, RM10.90), Cincau Bandung (bottom pix left, RM10.90) or Markisa (bottom pix right, RM10.90) - a refreshing blend of passionfruit, lemon, lime, calamansi and soda water.
The Fruit Rojak (RM9.90) also got two thumbs up. Tossed generously in dark, sticky caramelised prawn paste and crushed peanut dressing, the salad's fruity mixture and refreshing crunchiness proved so delectable, we devoured two portions in one sitting.
Bursting with such lush, deep-seated rempah flavours and lemak richness, the Curry Prawns in Claypot (RM36) left us struggling to relish it without rice. This surefire palate-pleasing offering stamped such an indelible impression on us, we agree it was worth returning for.

Amping up our quota of greens for the night was Steamed Ladies Fingers with Sambal (RM12.70). Personally, I found the sambal dip somewhat 'flat' and one dimensional but the tender ladies fingers was acceptable when partaken with the other specialities.
Two notable options which had us chomping with gusto were the wickedly addictive Tom Yam Popcorn Chicken (RM9.90) and Fried Belacan Chicken Wings (RM9.90). Again, their appeal can be attributed to the strong, distinct tastes imparted by two familiar and much loved flavours - that of tom yam and cincalok (fermented krill).

Our only grouse was the chicken wings were a tad dry from overfrying but the marinade managed to bestow the meat some tastiness.
The Crispy Fish with Sambal Sauce (RM56.90) was more slanted to Northern Malay or Southern Thai influences than Baba-Nyonya. Still, the fish was undoubtedly fresh and sweet; a nice canvas to capture the milieu of punchy spice nuances from the sambal.
Daily plates of noodles and rice are also available, to cater to the office lunch crowd looking for quick, reasonably priced lunches. The Green Curry Chicken Rice (RM14.90) was apparently a hit with the white collar clientele alongside popular choices of Nasi Lemak Chicken Kapitan (RM16.90) and Assam Pedas Fish Rice (RM19.90) among others.
After the earlier slew of potent servings, I daresay the Nyonya Chap Chye (RM16.90) seemed lacklustre by comparison. While the spongy beancurd puffs, black mushroom, glass noodles and mixture of veggies passed muster, the dish was too watery and flat on the palate.
The saving grace came from a defyingly simple but oh so fluffy portion of Cincalok Omelette (RM12.90). Sliced softened onion lent the savoury eggy serving subtle sweetness, leaving our dining party asking for repeat helpings.
Remember to leave tummy space for the house special of Banana Fritters (RM11.90). Raveworthy for its gossamer-light, crisp batter and sweet, soft bananas. A side dip of zingy black soya sauce (with ground chilli added) and a scoop of vanilla ice cream made for strange bedfellows for the fritters but somehow, these trad combo worked like a charm. You gotta try it to believe it.
Other dessert options such as Bo Bo Cha Cha (RM4.50), ABC (RM9.90) and Cendol (RM3.90) passed muster. I were underwhelmed by most of them but heck, I'm firmly of the "to each his own" school of thought so do try and decide for yourself.
Traditionalists may like sampling Sago Pandan Gula Melaka (RM4.90) and Bubur Pulut Hitam (RM4.20). Overall, I'd say Baba Nyonya is worth a visit for city folks who seek affordable meals with a homely Peranakan-Malay-Thai spin. The friendly and helpful service team earned extra brownie points from us too.
For reservations, please call BABA NYONYA by Sambal Chilli, tel: 03-21815544. Address: Lot UC-1, Upper Concourse, Avenue K, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur. Biz hours: 8am – 10pm daily

Sunday, January 22, 2017

LOTS TO CROW ABOUT AT SHANGHAI



Steamboat or more accurately, a charcoal-fuelled hot pot is the festive favourite bill of fare for Chinese New Year for Executive Chinese Chef Wong Wing Yeuk of Shanghai Restaurant.
The affable chef revealed this interesting nugget during the Q&A session with media and bloggers after we had savoured a selection of his classic Shanghainese creations to welcome the Year of the Rooster.
Starting from RM238 nett per person, Shanghai will be offering both set and a la carte menus throughout the festive celebration until 11 February. Richly furnished in red and gold hues, Shanghai is an exquisite haven for Shanghainese cuisine by Chef Wong.
The chef explains the restaurant’s Yee Sang is specially created to cater to local custom as the dish is non-existent in China. For those who wish to lou hei, the festive salad can be accompanied by a choice of abalone, salmon, lobster, sea urchin, octopus or fresh fruit strips.
Although the various colours appeared muted in Shanghai’s version of Yee Sang those served at some Chinese restos, we spotted fresh grapes with strips of rose apple, musk melon and snow pear instead of pre-packed crisps in striking hues. It was the sauce that caught our imagination with zingy bursts of wasabi making its presence felt on our palate. Inspired by the Japanese sashimi-eating practice, Chef Wong had reinterpreted the shoyu and wasabi combo as the premise for his titillating Yee Sang sauce.
His inclusion of ‘fermented’ black garlic also brought surprisingly complex depth to the Double-boiled Superior Fish Maw Soup with Black Chicken and Cordycep Flowers. Interestingly, black garlic is produced by ‘fermenting’ whole bulbs of fresh garlic in a heated, humidity-controlled temperature environment for up 30 days. 
Then the bulbs are left to oxidize for 45 days, turning the garlic black and soft, tasting like balsamic vinegar or soy sauce with mild prune-like sweetness. A spot-on description for the soupy tonic we imbibed albeit much more salubrious from the pricey ingredients such as dried scallop, fish maw and bamboo pith in it.
An intoxicating whiff and accent of brandy was discernible the instant we bit into the chef’s signature Pan-fried Cod with a touch of Brandy. That flash of boozy warmth and subtle gingery hotness served to amplify the natural fish sweetness, transforming it into a gastronomic delight.
The enticing muskiness of black truffle stealthily reached our nostrils way before plates of Shanghainese Seafood Noodles with Black Truffle Paste hit our table. Despite the noodles plain Jane appearance, the eventual taste was anything but. Hand-made by Chef Wong, the silky strands was suffused with soul-satisfying nuances bestowed by a stock base of Chinese ham, old chicken and lean pork used to cook the noodles. 
Naturally, no visit to Shanghai would be complete without a sampling of its famed Steamed Shanghainese Meat Dumplings or xiao loong bao. We admired the dumpling’s translucent skin which was sturdy enough to hold its catchment of broth without bursting before we savoured it.
This dainty offering paved the way for Chilled Cream of Sago with Seasonal Mango & Pomelo accompanied by sticky-chewy slices of Pan-fried Glutinous Rice Cakes with Sesame Seeds to ensure our preview finished on a positive note.
For reservations and enquiries, please call Shanghai, tel: 03-2719 8288. Address: Level 1, JW Marriott Hotel KL, Jalan Bukit Bintang, KL.