JAKE’s Charbroil Steaks, Kuala Lumpur

Aust. Wagyu Rib-Eye (230 gms)

Steaks are served everywhere, from specialist steakhouses to fine dining restaurants, from pubs to even the office canteen on occasion. And yet finding a properly good steak is a mission and a half. I have had steak dinners across the globe, at all the supposed best steak restaurants in London, at the much lauded Striphouse in New York City, in Australia, at Michelin starred restaurants, at my local watering hole, and even at a Kobe steak joint in Tokyo. JAKE's, 10 minutes drive from my home in KL, remains the best steak I have ever had. I know, it sounds a trifle ridiculous that a neighbourhood joint in KL could be better than all these places (and I am always particularly suspicious when someone tells me their local anything is the best in the world - people have a tendency to overstate the quality of places they are familiar with close to home), but that's what my taste buds are telling me. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying JAKE's is the best steak in the world – I’d have (and very much intend) to try many more steaks in the US of A before I can even consider making a statement like that - but it is the best I've had till this point.

On my recent trip home a visit was, thus, high on the agenda. I started with the usual - Crispy potato skin (with crunchy vegetables, smoked beef & cheese), had to ask for extra sour cream, as always, and enjoyed it, as always. The main event, Aust. Wagyu Rib-Eye (230 gms), was tender, cooked perfectly medium rare, with a lovely charred taste, and seasoning that was spot-on. JAKE's struggles, at times, with bouts of inconsistency - my last time there a year ago was a relative disappointment, for example - but it was bang on the money this time.

In a nutshell...

The best steak I have encountered to-date anywhere in the world. One should note that there is a second branch of JAKE's in the Starhill Shopping Centre in the city, but it is nowhere near as good as the Medan Damansara original.

8/10

JAKE's Charbroil Steaks (Medan Damansara)
21 Jalan Setiapuspa, Medan Damansara, 50490, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
+60(0)320945677
Average Price: RM200

Cilantro, Kuala Lumpur

Unagi and Foie Gras with Mesclun

When I go back to Malaysia for holiday, there are, naturally, many establishments serving the local cuisine that I like to frequent, but there is only one absolute must hit restaurant on my list - and it might come as a surprise to many that Cilantro, a Franco-Japanese fine dining venue is that restaurant. After all the perception, not incorrectly, is that London, with its myriad of Michelin-starred restaurants and world-renowned chefs, is a far better place for fine dining than KL. But Cilantro is a restaurant like none in the English capital.

Ranked number 6 in the latest Miele Guide of Asia's Best Restaurants, and helmed by Takashi Kimura, a Japanese born, French trained chef with experience, via the Japanese embassy, first in Senegal and then latterly in Malaysia, Cilantro's food, though primarily French based, draws from its creator's diverse background, resulting in a unique form of fusion cuisine. Yes, I know that the term fusion is often met with a large degree of contempt, especially in the west, but not so in the east where it is still generally well-regarded; and with good reason - fusion done properly can be a truly beautiful thing.

Cilantro

A meal here always starts well, even before the orders have been taken, thanks to the divine bread and truffle butter. Well actually, the bread is often a bit disappointing, but the butter more than makes up for it.

Cold Capellini with Sea Urchin and Akagai

I opted for the "Cilantro", which is a self-selected 4-course tasting menu constructed with slightly smaller portions of dishes from the a la carte menu. The first of my two appetizers was a seasonal special, Cold Capellini with Sea Urchin and Akagai which was very good; a charming combination. Next, my all-time favourite Cilantro dish, Unagi and Foie Gras with Mesclun, a sensational combination of east and west, of soft, creamy foie gras against firmer eel against crisp breadcrumb exterior; it was, and always has been, absolutely mouth-watering.

Braised Ox Tongue with Madeira

I often lean towards a wagyu beef main course at Cilantro, and many-a-time, they have been somewhat underwhelming. So on this occasion I went for the Braised Ox Tongue with Madeira, which I learned was actually Kimura-san's signature dish - I couldn't believe after all these years and countless meals at Cilantro, I had never known this was his signature dish, and that I had never tried it. It was superb - the ox tongue cooked perfectly, resulting in a lovely, tender yet slightly chewy texture; complimented by a jus bursting with flavour, and shavings of black truffle to lift to the dish yet another level.

Pisang Emas (golden banana) Soufflé

Green Tea Soufflé is my usual dessert of choice here, but I was persuaded to try something a little bit different this time, going with the Pisang Emas (golden banana) Soufflé in its stead. It was still pretty good, but next time I won't stray from my usual - when you only get to eat here at most once a year, it's not the right time, or place to experiment.

In a nutshell...
Not every dish at Cilantro is a success - I've eaten here enough times to know that; nor is Chef Kimura a culinary genius who can do no wrong, as evidenced by the rather uninspiring cuisine at Sage where he was temporarily stationed for a few months a couple of years ago while Cilantro was being renovated. And one could, entirely reasonably, argue that that is a significant failing because a truly top restaurant should deliver a consistent, minimum standard of cooking. But when Cilantro gets it right, and I have now worked out the exact dishes to order, it gets it really right, and hits heights few others can. This meal was easily of Michelin Star standard, and its place amongst the very best restaurants in Asia is richly deserved.

8.5/10

Cilantro
MiCasa All Suite Hotel, 368-B, Jalan Tun Razak, 50400, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
+60(0)321798082
Average Price: RM200-RM250
Closed Sundays

Village Park, Petaling Jaya

Village Park

Nasi lemak is, alongside the humble satay, probably the most identifiable dish from Malaysian cuisine. When I long for a taste of home, it is, more often than not, this dish that I crave for. Needless to say, there are nasi lemak stalls and restaurants aplenty in Malaysia, and everyone has their favourite; the "best nasi lemak in the world" in their eyes. My loyalties, after years of searching, now lie firmly with Village Park in Damansara Uptown.

Actually run by Chinese owners (nasi lemak is a native Malay dish), of Islamic faith, the restaurant is extremely popular, especially in the mornings - nasi lemak is eaten throughout the day, but is traditionally a breakfast dish - so be prepared to queue. Or takeaway.

You can order a basic nasi lemak with sambal and the usual condiments, or add various extras - on this occasion I went for the basic, plus the fried chicken, and beef rendang. The rice was moist, bouncy and fragrant, and the sambal, which is the undoubted secret to Village Park's success and popularity, was sensational as always. I also get the fried chicken every time on account of it being just superb - crisp and crunchy with a hint of sweetness and spice. The third item is usually a toss-up between the beef rendang and the squid sambal. On this occasion, the rendang had a lovely flavour, but the meat wasn't quite as tender as could be.

Nasi Lemak with Fried Chicken & Beef Rendang

In a nutshell...
I have eaten countless nasi lemak meals and I often enjoy even pedestrian versions, so much do I like the dish. Village Park's is anything but a run-of-the-mill rendition - in fact it is, without any doubt, the best nasi lemak I have ever had. My only regret is that it is located in PJ - not difficult at all to get to from my home in a KL suburb, but a bit of a distance to travel for people asking me for restaurant recommendations, who are visiting and staying in a hotel in the heart of KL.

9/10

Village Park
5 Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
+60(0)377107860
Average Price: RM10

Barrafina, London

Barrafina

Barrafina on Frith Street in Soho has long been regarded as the gold standard for tapas bars in London, even during this, a period when quality tapas places are abundant in the capital. I've eaten at Barrafina before, of course - no self-respecting foodie could possibly not have - but I hadn't been in a while, a good 18 months in fact, before I had even started this blog, so a return was long overdue. Barrafina is famed for its no reservation policy, and with only 23 stools available, you better get there early (or at non-regular dining hours) or you can forget about it - we were there sharp at 12 noon and managed to immediately snare two of those precious seats.

Pimientos de PadronHam Croquetas

Pimientos de Padron is practically a necessity at Barrafina, and as always, it did not disappoint. It's such a simple dish, but no place does it quite as well as here, where the softness, firmness, heat, taste, and salt levels of the peppers are all pitch perfect. Ham Croquetas were also very pleasant - beautifully crisp on the outside, wonderfully gooey on the inside.

Razor Clams

Razor Clams, so regular a fixture on the specials board that they might as well make it a permanent menu item were superb, as always. Gambas al Ajillo is as common a tapas dish as any, and one that we've all eaten countless times before, yet Barrafina's version still manages to distinguish itself from the others with a superb balance of subtle flavours. Chorizo, Potato and Watercress, another very standard dish, was elevated by the lightness and fluffiness of the spuds.

Gambas al Ajillo

We were searching for one additional dish to complete the meal, and though I had my reservations, the waitress recommended the special of Cod a la Bilbaina so strongly that it felt almost rude to say no. In hindsight, we probably should have. It wasn't bad - pan fried cod in a tangy tomato-y sauce - but not nearly as good as what came before it.

Cod a la BilbainaChorizo, Potato and Watercress

In a nutshell...
Barrafina has, most assuredly, still got it. There are many worthy contenders but I wouldn't argue with anyone who claims this to be the very best tapas bar in London.

8/10

Barrafina
54 Frith Street, London, W1D 4SL
+44 (0)2078138016
Average Price: £30

Barrafina on Urbanspoon

One man’s favourite fish & chips in London

Having eaten a fair number of fish & chip meals of late, and discovered a couple of very good places after years spent trying one highly-rated but very average chippie after another, I thought it would be a good idea to put together a summary of what I consider to be the best fish & chips in London. This page will have a permanent link in the right sidebar (along with other similarly themed posts I hope to roll out in the weeks to come) and be updated from time to time, should new information necessitate a re-jigging of the rankings. So without any further ado, allow me to introduce my favourite fish & chips in London...

1.) Geales
An old-fashioned fish & chip shop in Notting Hill gone upmarket, Geales isn't perfect - service was haphazard, chips, mushy peas and tartare sauce were just average, and prices were fairly steep, but all that is forgiven because its battered cod was simply the best, as were the delightfully moreish whitebait and calamari starters.

Geales

1.) Kerbisher & Malt
We have a joint first place because I simply cannot separate these two. Geales probably has the (very slightly) better battered cod, and the undoubtedly better whitebait starter, but K & M wins on value, service, and with the best chips on this list. So I'm sitting on the fence and declaring it a tie.

Kerbisher & Malt

3.) fish!
Located at the heart of Borough Market, in a bright and airy venue, fish! can lay claim to having the freshest fish, and the best, nearest-perfect, mushy peas of all the places I have tried. The golden chips were good too, bettered on this list only by K & M.

fish!

4.) Seafresh
For many years my favourite fish & chip restaurant in London, its ranking is not an indication of a drop in standards, but rather of recent, better discoveries. Nonetheless, still a good, reliable option.

Seafresh

5.) Golden Union
Conveniently located just off Oxford Street, this no-frills chippie does a very decent fried fish, with a batter similar in style, if not quite in quality, to K & M. Chips were a bit of a letdown, but the mushy peas and tartare sauce were excellent.

Golden Union

Also considered: Chip+Fish, Golden Hind, Masters Superfish, Rock & Sole Plaice, Seashell at 
                                    Lisson Grove
Still to try: Fisher's, Fryer's Delight, Randall & Aubin, Two Brothers Fish Restaurant


My favourite composite fish & chips in London
Battered fish: Geales
Chips: Kerbisher & Malt
Mushy peas: fish!
Tartare sauce: Golden Union


If I've missed off your favourite fish & chips place, let me know and I will give it a try!

Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

Luk Yu Tea House

Luk Yu is the oldest, and one of the most famous traditional teahouses in Hong Kong, popular with celebrities, locals and tourists alike. In recent years, it has also gained a degree of infamy, the businessman Harry Lam having been murdered while eating breakfast here in a triad hit in November 2002. It is, nevertheless, arguably the best place in town for an old-fashioned dim sum meal, and conveniently located just 5 minutes from our hotel, was the ideal place for a quick bite before leaving for the airport.

Har gauLou pak gou

This place is, by all accounts, absolutely rammed at peak times, which in dim sum terms means 7-9am. We planned to visit at 11am, mercifully avoiding the morning rush, if also missing out slightly on the complete, bustling dim sum breakfast experience. We ended up going earlier, just before 10am, and upon arrival, told the gentleman at the front that we had a reservation, but for a but later at 11am. His response, without even looking up - it's not 11am yet. Right, don’t mind us, we'll just grab one of the vacant tables then. Service here, as you might have guessed, leaves much to be desired. Never mind, it's all part of the experience.

Fu chuk quin

The restaurant was, as anticipated, indeed half empty by the time we got there, but that proved to be more curse than blessing. Food was served the way dim sum used to be - with waiters and waitresses carrying trays and pushing carts around - all well and good, but because this was the in-between hour, the flow of dim sum from the kitchen was rather slow, and it ended up taking quite a while between servings, not to mention the fact that the varieties of dim sum in circulation were clearly reduced - for the first 40 minutes, not once did a basket of siu mai, arguably the most popular dim sum dish of all, even hint at coming our way. Thankfully at 10.30am the restaurant switched to the a la carte system, and we were able to put in an order for a basket of siu mai.

Char siew souMa tai gou

Anyway, onto the dim sum itself, and here's a rundown of most of what we managed to get our hands on. Har gau had a lovely flavour, but contained prawns that were neither particularly plump, nor particularly fresh. Fu chuk quin had a delicious sauce, a good filling and a very nice beancurd skin wrapper. Char siew pao contained meat that was a bit dry, and tough. As did the Char siew sou. Lou pak gou was reasonable. Ma tai gou was sweet and crunchy. The long-awaited Siu mai was a proper "old-school" version, and by that I mean big-sized dumplings stuffed with meat (pork).

You'll notice from the photos that these were full-bodied servings - none of those miniaturised dumplings that these days pervade so many a dim sum restaurant. There was an undeniable lack of refinement in Luk Yu's offerings, but equally, that's how dim sum used to be. Some will argue that the times have moved on, and I will readily admit that a good upmarket dim sum, dainty dumplings not withstanding, would get my vote every time for its better quality. But there was a certain unmistakable charm about Luk Yu; a reminder of the days of yore.

Siu mai

In a nutshell...
Was this the best dim sum I've ever had? No, not by a longshot. But Luk Yu did deliver on what it promised - an authentic, traditional teahouse experience in every sense of the word, right down to the abrupt service. If I was looking for a great dim sum meal, I wouldn't come here. But if I was a visitor wanting to see what old-fashioned dim sum houses were like, I most certainly would - and I'd go bang smack in the middle of rush hour for the full "show".

6/10

Luk Yu Tea House
24-26 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong
852 2523 5464
Average Price: HKD 150-HKD200

Lung King Heen, Hong Kong

Lung King Heen

Lung King Heen in the Four Seasons Hotel, with a stunning view overlooking Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour, was the first Chinese restaurant in the world to be awarded 3 Michelin Stars, when the Michelin Guide first started rating restaurants in Hong Kong in 2008. I ate at Lung King Heen a couple of years ago and came away very impressed - it was indeed a class apart from any Chinese fare I had previously encountered. So when we returned to Hong Kong recently, a revisit was very much in order.

Barbecued Pork with Honey

Unlike on the previous visit, when we booked late and could only be accommodated with a table in the middle of the room, we were sure to make our reservations well in advance on this occasion, and were rewarded with a table by the window, complete with the much vaunted view that was indeed a sight to behold.

Perusing the menu, I was immediately reminded of a quirk I had observed on our previous visit - practically every other dish was tagged as chef recommended - so despite ordering a fairly large number of items, everything we ordered turned out to be a chef’s recommendation.

Barbecued Suckling Pig

Of the three appetizers, Barbecued Pork with Honey, was the shining star - tender with a lovely hint of sweetness, this was char siu like I have never tasted before. The other two openers were rather less successful - Barbecued Suckling Pig was alright - pleasingly greaseless, but a tad "gamey", whilst Mixed Hot Peppers with Fermented Beans and Chilli Soy Sauce was exactly what it said on the tin, a plate full of hot peppers - fiery, yes; special, not so much. And yes, the plate of peppers was also a “chef’s recommendation”. So a mixed start, and unfortunately, the trend would continue for the rest of the meal.

Mixed Hot Peppers with Fermented Beans and Chilli Soy SauceCrispy Frog Legs with Spicy Salt

Crispy Marinated Pork Loin in Fermented Bean Curd Crust with Pancakes, a dish we had sampled on our previous visit was sensational, and every bit as good as the memory - lovely, tender, beautifully battered pork, with sweet pancakes that provided a very nice contrast. Lung King Heen Roasted Chicken was superb - moist flesh and an excellent crispy skin making for a chicken dish, so often a thing of mediocrity, of significant note. Baked Crab Shell stuffed with Onion and Fresh Crab Meat also qualified as a success.

Crispy Marinated Pork Loin in Fermented Bean Curd Crust with Pancakes

But for every triumph, there were just as many average dishes. Sautéed Lobster with Vegetables in Fermented Bean Sauce was fresh, but thoroughly unremarkable. Crispy Frog Legs with Spicy Salt tasted like your run-of-the-mill deep fried chicken dish. Roasted Eggplant stuffed with Scallops in Spicy Plum Sauce had an appetising, Thai-style sauce but was again nothing particularly memorable. Wok-Fried Superior Australian Wagyu Beef Cubes with Duck Liver, Ginger and Spring Onions, at a whopping HKD 980, but for the price, would have been utterly forgettable.

Lung King Heen Roasted Chicken

Braised E-Fu Noodles with Shredded Chicken in Superior Chicken Pottage had a nice, eggy sauce, but was too bland on the whole.

Roasted Eggplant stuffed with Scallops in Spicy Plum SauceSautéed Lobster with Vegetables in Fermented Bean Sauce

For dessert, a former Egg White Milk Custard Tart chef’s recommended dish which really stood out on our previous visit was, very disappointingly, no longer available. Instead, a Double-Boiled Egg White Milk Custard with Bird's Nest was rather good - fragrant, silky smooth, with just a touch of sweetness. Meanwhile, Chilled Mango and Sago Cream with Pomelo was an ordinary rendition; the twist of adding mango pudding to the bottom of the bowl not working all that well.

Double-Boiled Egg White Milk Custard with Bird's NestChilled Mango and Sago Cream with Pomelo

Service was variable, with the need to constantly ask for drink top-ups a particular source of frustration.

In a nutshell...
There were a handful of outstanding dishes, with the stunning char siu and glorious crispy pork especially noteworthy, but the overwhelming number of mediocre dishes meant Lung King Heen was quite the disappointment. Yes it was, on the whole, still a good meal but given the astronomical expectations that naturally, and rightly, accompany a 3 Michelin Star establishment, and the prices to match, Lung King Heen fell some way short of the requisite standard.

6/10

Lung King Heen
Four Seasons Hotel, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong
+85231968888
Average Price: HKD 1000
3 Michelin Stars

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