Thursday, October 24, 2013

Restaurant Nepal, Himalayan Cuisine. If The Sage Won't Go to Mountain, the Mountain Will Come to The Sage.

It's been awhile since the Queen of the Food Bloggers, Awhiffoflemongrass, or AWOL,  (now more like a whiff of passing wind) and I have gone for a food review together.  Fastidious as she is, in order to maintain a certain quality in writing, with the minions whom she chooses to associate, she decided to take matters into her own hands, and drafted the first opening paragraph of MY post for me.

"She was holidaying in Cornwall and had posted a scenic picture of a secluded wooded valley, literally in the middle of nowhere, and was musing about the beauty of the place and the rustling of the leaves that sounded, amazingly, like the ocean. Naturally, someone had to burst her bubble. I was the first to comment on her picture. "All I saw this morning was the summit of Mount Everest," I wrote. Yes, I am a b**t**d.

But just in case you can't see the comments box, I've taken the liberty of enlarging it.

But seriously, can you blame me?  I mean, look at the spectacular Everest (below), compared with her pasty English garden, that looked like it had been taken by a geriatric Englishwoman sipping tea (with milk), thinking that Malaya still belonged to the British Empire.  (Fought by the gurkhas from Nepal)

Awesome is not a word I liberally pepper my descriptions with, but on this occasion, the amazing Himalayas, and the tallest peak in the world certainly deserve the adjective.  Mount Everest IS awesome.  Even from afar.  Well, I don't think I'll be climbing it anytime soon, ...but only because it costs about USD50,000 for non Nepali who wish to climb it. 

As it happens, I loved the Nepali food, from the Momos to the rotis, samosas and their fabulous dhal, and buffalo curries.  While the dhal produced the wind beneath my wings, I loved it nevertheless and looked forward to every meal whilst I was there. 
And the sights, and mind you, I was ONLY in Kathmandu, and didn't get a change to explore beyond.  I am told of the seductive beauty of Pokhara, and the breathtaking scenes of the Annapurna, and like a lover pining for one left behind, I long for the day that I can return to Nepal.  Well, thank goodness Air Asia flies there...

Back to the review at hand....

That's her there, the Queen, and her trusty sidekick, who due to some serious travelling, and lack of make up (although in my opinion, she looked gorgeous regardless), refused to be photographed.  Now how did this motley trio come about to be in Restaurant Nepal, Himalayan Cuisine, Plaza Damas?

Well, serendipitiously, an email appeared in my inbox, and didn't go to spam, and actually caught my eye, ...not because I'm inundated with invitations, far from it, but more because I am so careless in my email readings, old people are not used to technology and having to understand 50 different forms of communication...whatsapp, sms, email, viber, fb msg, google talk, the list goes on.  So, yes, was I mightily glad that I actually READ the email from a certain Robin Sherchan... and unlike most generic cut and paste invites, sometimes with the wrong name even, his (or her, I wasn't sure) email sounded personal and sincere.  AND IT WAS AN INVITE TO A NEPALESE RESTAURANT.  Heck, even if it had been an email that sounded as impersonal as a Citibank personal loan call, I would have said YES resoundingly.  But oddly enough, I found out, the Whiff had also gotten wind of the invite, and received her own, and we quickly compared notes to see if our emails were similar, but they weren't.  Hers was more complimentary.  I hate her.

So, to cut a long story (which I've inadvertently made long) short, here we were, sitting at Restaurant Nepal, Plaza Damas, with the wonderful coproprietor, Robin Sherchan, who exuded all the warmth I experienced in the recent sojourn in Nepal. No stranger to Malaysia, Restaurant Nepal is actually his brainchild as well as a partnership with his sister, who is the real chef, and it seeks to bring his ethnic cuisine to our shores.  Afterall, as the proverbial saying goes, if the sage won't go to the mountain, the mountain will come to the sage.  (Sage being a person, not a herb, though in this case, both are applicable)

To start our tongues wagging, a chilled "Shangrila", which is actually a Sangria, with finely shredded apple, (I forget his explanation as to why they are finely shredded, but I'm guessing the more surface areas of achieved by shredding finely impart a more robust flavour...and it also makes it easy for the teethless to gnaw upon).  Very drinkable, but I suspect, quite potent if imbibed in large quantities.  It being a weeknight, I had to restrain myself, and furthermore I didn't want Robin to think I was an inebriate.
These babies are RM9 a glass or RM40 a jug

Their signature Chilli Chicken, which actually is slightly reminiscent of that Chinese dish, of chicken with dried chillies and cashew nuts, except the heat is more pronounced, as are the flavours of the individual spices.  It's a perfect starter kind of dish, to nibble with a beer (hint hint, EVEREST BEER please, Robin), or to eat with rice. RM12

The following dish, BHUTEKO BHATMAS, which is basically soy beans, deep fried, I think, is the equivalent of a party nut mix.  It is so addictive, and apparently was AWOL's sidekicks favourite dish in days of yore when she cohabitated with Robin.  Goes splendidly with alcohol, and I suspect, would go well with our nasi lemak too, in place of the fried kacang and ikan bilis.  As with all Nepali dishes, there is that subtle underlying spice.  RM9

MOMO MIA!!!! here we go again...

The quintessential MOMOS,  steamed and fried.  Actually I didn't have any deep fried momos whilst in Nepal, and I expected them to be somewhat dry, but to my pleasant surprise, the meat of the fried momos, (chicken, in this instance) was still moist, and tender.  The steamed ones are a bit like the Chinese xiaolongbaos, with a tinge of stock captured within that steamed skin, and squirts out like an erupting volcano if you are not careful.

Robin tells us that momos originated from Tibet (who presumably got it from the Chinese), but the Nepalese have made it better.  I haven't had the Tibetan momos, (I wonder if it's yakky), but I believe Robin.  Back in Nepal, momo shops are everywhere, like you'd find a mamak shop in every corner here.  Ah, one this I did miss was the BUFF MOMO.  No, it's not a momo that has been working out in the gym, carrying weights, and pumped with protein and steroids, but momos made with buffalo meat, a common staple in Nepal. 
Steamed/ Deepfried Chicken or Vegetarian Momos RM12 per serving.

Aloo Silam, (Mum's Recipe) Spicy Potatoes Marinated with red onions, Perilla Seeds & Special Herbs.  For the uneducated, the perilla seed (apparently known as wild sesame, and also touted to be the next superfood), looks like the picture below, and when grounded, looks like the one below it. RM12.

The perilla imparts a flavour not unlike cumin, I feel.  Or a cross between cumin and tumeric.  Then again, I was drinking the Shangrila, so I could be TUI.  (tasting under the influence)

That's Robin & me. Priceless.

Chatamari, or the "Nepalese Pizza".  Or rather pizza meets fritata.  A rice flour crepe with eggs (my favouritest ingredient on earth), tomatoes, spring onions and minced chicken.  RM12.  Hmm, honestly, I don't know how really Nepalese this is, it could pass off as any nationality.  But its so delicious and easy to eat.  Oh, the dipping sauces are an integral part of the dish, as those chilli sauces really give it that oomph.  Speaking of which, the Nepali equivalent of our chili padi makes our chili padi feel like a capsicum, totally no kick.  The Nepali chilli has that unique burn, but doesnt encompass your entire palate rendering you a screaming wreck for the nearest well.

Jhwol Maccha - Fish curry.  The flavours of the curry are amazing, but honestly, the choice of fish, a grass carp I think, is like navigating your way through Kathmandu traffic!!! The copious amount of bones means one wrong move, and choke, choke... But you have to understand, that Nepal IS landlocked, so only freshwater fish are available.  Still, I'd rather have this curry with any of our local fish.  RM18.  I could finish that curry with a bowl of rice and be very happy. 

Mutton Thakali Thali set.  I regret not buying sets of these quaint brass bowls and plates, that look so gorgeous.  I was surprised to see some stir fried vegetables, for during almost my entire stay in Nepal, I hardly saw any vegetables prepared this way.  There is an abundance of vegetables there, leafy greens, tubers, roots, but the preparation almost always rendered them unidentifiable.  The mutton curry was great, and covered any muttony smells but outstanding was the black dhal in this set.  It's called black dhal, but it's really from green beans.  RM17 for this set. 

A close up of the mutton curry in the thali set.

These were some kind of buckwheat pancake or roti, I believe, but strangely I cannot locate it in the menu, but is served with the traditional dhal.  The bread on its own tastes a bit bland, almost like a health food, and certainly needs to be eaten with curry. 

Does anyone recognize this plant? Coz I sure as hell dont.  But apparently it grows everywhere in Nepal, and is used quite commonly in cooking.  Larverly.   (picture taken in Nepal)

But since it is NOT available here, a substitute called TIMMUR is used, a kind of pungent Nepalese pepper. to cook this fabulous piece de resistance, Fars Ko Daal Ra Khasi Ko Nali (Pumpkin curry with mutton marrow) - RM18.  Just for having that many words in the name I think should make this dish more expensive.

That spiced curry pumpkin, .... I wonder if you have to marry into the family to get the secret recipe.  The lamb was falling off the bone, and succulent and tender.  A must order when here. 

AWOL scraping the meat off the boner... oops, bone. 

It was a lovely night of great food and great company.  Apart from the culinary wealth we gleaned from Robin, we were also regaled with stories of the Gurkhas, and how we take the sea and beach for granted, but his friend who had come from Nepal was SO excited to see the beach (and that was Port Dickson), probably the same way we were so excited to see the Himalayas and Everest.

Well, we were fed far too much, and didn't get to try dessert because if we ate anymore, AWOL's Annapurnas might just explode.  So I guess we'll just have to return soon, and in any case, there were other items on the menu that I would like to try, like "CHOWMEIN".  It baffled me that it seemed to be so ubiquitous in Nepal.  (or Kathmandu anyway). And furthermore, the dishes are so affordable here.

Dhanyabaad Robin!!!

Restaurant Nepal
Opposite TGI Friday's (outside)
F-O-6 Ground Level
Plaza Damas Shopping Centre
60 Jalan Sri Hartamas 1
50480 Kuala Lumpur
+6 016 9770 718

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Frangipani, The Grand Old Dame of Changkat

The iconic Frangipani, ...sigh, a wave of nostalgia sweeps over me.  I think it was one of the pioneer, if not THE pioneer restaurant and bar along that Changkat road, that subsequently spawned an entire Bohemian street, of eclectic outlets ranging from Cigar Bars to Spanish Pork places.  But Frangipani, blows me back to circa 2002, when I met Nestle Nick, and this was his favourite restaurant.  He used to RAVE about the Sabayon desserts, and well, unfortunately digital photography was not as rampant as it is now, so I have no real photographic evidence.  And then of course there's the iconic BAR upstairs, where a certain Long Island Tea drink was named after two friends, Mario & Brian.  Many a time have groups of friends tumbled out of that bar in a state that would make a sailor blush.

When Carole Sai & Elfie  of Salina & Associates PR asked if I would like to try out the dinner at Frangi, I replied with the enthusiasm of a starving child given a tub of Haagen Daz.  It was with great anticipation that I dragged my date along, (she rarely follows for any of these food outings, as it's best to keep them under lock and key, and slim), having followed a number of instagram posts from Ciki of CC Food and Travel and Kelly Siew the week before.

The lovely interior and courtyard pool.  It's impressive that given the price of real estate in these parts these days, they have chosen beauty over function, when clearly, they could have increased the number of tables by getting rid of the pool, but it adds immeasurably to the ambience of the place, and actually (gasp, don't ever quote me), makes it one of the more romantic places for dinner.

Azmi, one of the bosses, warmly welcomed us, and we were ushered to our table, where we were served attentively by the very friendly Sommelier.  The freshly baked bread, accompanied with truffle butter, (they actually sell these by the block, if you call ahead to order), what can I say, a treat to the palate.  If my tongue were a dancer, it will be dancing on the moon.  I love butter, and when it is married to truffle, I love it even more.  I won't mind having a simple dinner of truffle butter, bread and soup.

Our very professional Sommelier, Shah, hailing all the way from Pakistan.

To start and titillate the palate, a glass of bubbly in the form of Castillo Perelada, Semi Seco Cava.  Nothing like a glass of bubbly to set the mood really.

We were told that our dinner was to be from the Signature Menu, which would usually cost RM195, sans wine.  The menu looked impressive, but over and above that, we were privileged to sample some extras that were not part of the Signature Menu.

A mushroom soup shooter, which went deliciously with the Cava, and the truffle butter and bread.
To accompany our next dish, which was the Prawn Carpaccio, was the Joseph Drouhin Saint Veran 2011, a crisp white that to me was like my favourite Sauvignon Blanc, which paired perfectly with the raw prawny goodness of the carpaccio.

Served with Shrimp Out, Pesto and Mashed Avocado.  The texture was amazing, and even the Date who is usually queasy about eating raw prawns, found it interesting, both in taste and texture.

By this time, the very generous portions of wine were certainly going to my head.  Next up was the Greco Di Tufo Feudi Di San Gregorio 2102, which we shall call Greco for short.  Obviously economy of words isn't a top priority with wine makers.  This was paired with the very interesting Quick Sauteed Baby Squid, which is NOTHING, I can tell you, like our rubbery sotong.  It's almost like the Wagyu of Squid.  Tender, almost melt in the mouth, yet startlingly fresh, as if them babies had been swimming in the Mediterranean the morning before.

Sauteed Baby Squid that were still swimming this morning, probably.  A lovely chopped parsley, garlic, and olive oil combination gives it that wonderful verdant hue, quenelle of mashed potatoes, (I'm learning new words everyday, what the heck is a "quenelle"?) with Aioli and Extra Virgin Olive Oil.  I love this dish.  When I eat this menu again, I will opt for this, rather than the soup below, which is also very good, but I liked the squid more.

Pumpkin and Ginger soup, with shaved black truffles, truffle oils, edible flowers and crispy croutons.  You can't really go wrong with those ingredients, and it made for a hearty yet elegant soup that yells "fine dining", marrying the familiarity of comfort food with class and style.

And they topped up our truffle butter midway.  Gasp.  I think this was before my blood test.

The White Rioja was paired with these plump, juicy, delightful Pan Seared Hokkaido Scallops.  It is always such a rare treat to get seared scallops perfectly done, without being over or undercooked, and this was one of those occasions, although this was the Date's dish, I did get to sample it.

Mine was the Mediterranean Grilled Octopus, with Wasabi Mash, and Spanish Paprika Oil. What is it about the tentacled creatures of the Mediterranean that make them so tender, and sweet, compared to some of the dunlop manufactured squid we get in these parts of the world?

I admit I was a bit disappointed at first that there was no Foie Gras on the Signature menu, but it was as if our host read my mind, and lo and behold, like Christmas coming early, a plate of gorgeously pan seared Foie Gras appears.  At this point, they explain that the Chef's specialty is actually another form of Foie Gras preparation, known as Mi Cuit (half cooked, layers) which you can pre-order.  But oh my, to the foie, to the foie, it's to die foie.

And paired with this sexy fortified wine, ..... I think my vocabulary has been used up.  I can think of no more adjectives.

Grilled Wagyu Rump, Sauteed Vegetables and Romesco Sauce.  My first exposure to romesco was at Cava's new menu relaunch, and have loved it since.  From Wikipedia, Romesco is a nut and red pepper-based sauce from Tarragona, Catalonia, Spain. It is typically made from any mixture of roasted or raw almonds, pine nuts, and/or hazelnuts, roasted garlic, olive or sunflower oil, bitxo peppers and/or nyora peppers.

The sauteed baby vegetables were a treat, and I loved the simplicity of the meat.  It's like a beautiful lady who needs no artificial embellishments.

Confit Fillet Of Black Cod, with Organic Corn Cream.  Wifey (previously referred to as "the Date", but in case there is any miscontrued identity, I think I best make it clear).  Superb, down to those bits of loose corn adorning the plate.

The two wines that accompanied our mains, both reds.  It's true, one should not compartmentalize the fish & white, meat and red combination so dogmatically, because this red did work with the cod.

And finally, dessert, with dessert Muscat, which wife loves, but I don't.  Really NOT a fan of dessert wines, no matter how good.  It's a taste my plebian tongue has failed to acquire.

Lemon Panna Cotta with Strawberry and Mint Sauce, ...actually I expected a more fancy name.  This dessert is the bomb!! Who knew that Mint Sauce paired so well with Panna Cotta, when all this while we thought it only went with lamb.  The texture and flavour of the panna cotta was flawless, and truth be told, of the two desserts, I preferred the panna cotta.

Mine was the Torrija Toasted, a traditional Spanish dessert, with some croutons that are akin to French toast, in a Creme Catalana Foam with orange zest.  There's something about foam that doesn't quite do it for me, I feel cheated, like I'm eating air. But taste wise, it was all there.

No need to reinvent the wheel, and Chef  Manuel Lopez Quinones introduction is right here on the menu. He shares that most ingredients, apart from Vegetables, Chicken and Duck, are imported.  Malaysian vegetables, chickens and ducks are of an acceptable quality.

Thanks Chef Manuel for a fabulous meal, that the palate will remember for a long time to come, and to Azmi for your warm hospitality, and to Carole & Elfie for the invite.

25 Changkat Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur 50200.
Telephone (03) 2144 3001