Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Starry Starry Bites

For the ladies of leisure who frequent the Couture Pavilion precinct of Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, Cafe Stelle is a godsend. With a 40-metre elevated fashion runway down its centre aisle, this tranquil haven is perfect for a cosy tete-a-tete or merely to refresh and rejuvenate after a bout of retail therapy. Husbands and beaus who sometimes are roped in as unofficial bag carriers will also find welcome respite from the labourious task of following their other halves around.

An outlet managed by the international Raffles Hotels & Resorts company, Café Stelle exudes modern chic with a stylish environ that abounds with natural wood and metallic finishes, neutral hues and streamlined furnishings. Aside from formal table seating, patrons can loll around comfortably in cosy ottomans and lounge settees.

The word 'stelle' which stands for 'stars' in Italian is a tribute to the very spot where the Pavilion KL and hence the cafe is sited - Bukit Bintang - a thriving commercial hot spot which means Star Hill in Malay.

The cafe's Italian-inspired menu is entrusted to Chef de cuisine Elson Cheong, a multiple-award winning chef who has spent 10 years working in some of the finest hotels in Singapore. Despite his tender age, Cheong's finest hour came when he was named Best Chef in Asian Cuisine at the 2008 Food and Hotel Asia Culinary Challenge. Citing Chef Otto Weibel as his mentor and the biggest influence in his culinary career, Cheong confesses he is as finicky about food quality as he is about his dishes' overall taste and presentation.

With an obvious penchant for Singaporean and Malaysian street food, the youthful culinary wizard admits he relishes the challenge of modernizing local specialities without losing out on the original flavours.

"Modern dishes is similar to modern art. You rely on the basics but one still has to find new or innovative ways to build on. The results can be pretty unusual yet interesting," he opines.

“At Café Stelle, the same principle applies. Whether it’s a healthy gourmet salad, a bowl of simple soup or a delicious sandwich, the finest and freshest ingredients are our key basics that we build upon. Whether it's to replicate the traditional and contemporary delights in our menu, everything that comes out from my kitchen has to look and taste good.”

For the starter of Confit of Salmon, Mango Salsa and Crunchy Baby Salad, Cheong slow-cooked a slab of marinated salmon at 40°Celsius for 30 minutes. Served with warm olive oil, the fish tastes sublime; its inherent richness is well-balanced by its aromatic marinade of herbs, garlic, onion, dill, salt and pepper. Adding divergent colours, flavours and textures to the artful composition are zesty mango salsa speckled with tiny dices of red chilli, tart orange wedges and briny green olives, accentuated with splashes of fragrant vanilla oil and sweet aged balsamic vinegar.

Next came the Cream of Wild Mushroom which seduces the palate with its superbly rich and creamy flavours. While the fresh button, wild shiitake and portobello mushrooms are credited for the broth's alluring earthy aroma, it is the unexpected inclusion of mascarpone that gives the soup its full-bodied thickness. Chef Cheong reveals that instead of flour, he thickens the concoction with potato while truffle oil imbues it with a woody, musky scent.

The Rack of Lamb with Feta Crust and Three Types of Caramelized Vegetables, accompanied by Lamb Jus with Shallots also come with a sumptuous surprise which turned out to be goose liver in a crispy, golden coating of breadcrumbs. Juicy and tender, the lamb remains slightly pink in the centre which is exactly the way I like it. It is one of those rare dishes that manages to boast a balanced mix of strong and light flavours, brininess and sweetness intermingled with earthy accents.

The chef's dessert creations are no less imaginative. Tongue-ticklers include Avocado Sorbet, Porcini Mushroom Ice Cream or the constrasting flavours of Marinated Strawberries with Balsamico and Pepper.

Do bring the curtains down on your fine meal with a pot of TWG tea here. The brand’s refined selection encompasses choice blends such as Grand Wedding (black tea with white flowers and exotic fruits aroma), Moroccan Mint, Magic Flute (black tea with citrus fruits and hints of red berries), Emperor Sencha and Royal Darjeeling. I had the Creme Caramel which amazingly has all the sweet, delectable fragrances of the famed dessert minus the calories!

One can eat well without burning that big a hole in the pocket at Café Stelle. Its three-course set lunch is served at RM68 while starters start from RM18 onwards. Soups range from RM17.50, sandwiches from RM19.50 onwards and pasta dishes between RM29 and RM38 each. Main courses tend to hover around RM40 and RM90 while dessert is at RM15.

Café Stelle by Raffles (pork-free)
Couture Pavilion, Level 2
Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 2118 8822

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