Sunday, 26 February 2012

Out & About: Fine Dining at La Fite, Shangri-La Hotel KL

I was recently invited to participate in a Food Safari, with the express intention of seeing what other fine establishments are doing with regards to F&B service. We were asked to select a minimum of 3 food venues out of 5 and I chose 4 (and why not? free good food rite?).

Rather strangely the drive there was not as bad as I thought it was going to be. Used the Waze GPS programme on my phone to direct my way using the least traffic-clogged arteries. Arrived in Shangri-La hotel at about 8.30 pm to begin my culinary adventure.

The last time I was here as a paying customer was at least 1.5 years ago, a time when I was uhmm, more financially careless ( I still am by the by!). If I recall correctly I spent close to 350 Ringgit for a 9 course Degustation menu without wines (wines would have added a whole new kind of heft onto the bill!).

Anyways, this time around, the lot of us fine-diners were seated in a private room around a long table and was guided through the evening. The waiters sought out our beverage requirements and a short while after we were presented with the Menu.

Le Menu

Page 1 of the 2 page menu

The menu is this exaggeratedly large poly leather bound thing with only 2 sheets inside (which is refreshingly simple as compared to some old fashioned restaurants that insist on detailing EVERY thing under the sun!). The menu offerings were classed into 5 selections of 4 choices each. If one prefers a 3 course meal, one chooses 1 dish from 3 of the 5 classes. If you are after a 5course meal (which I most certainly did), you would choose 1 dish from each class. So whee!

To help while the time away, La Fite treated us with a sharing platter Amuse Bouches of Salmon on Stone, Goat Cheese & Hazelnut Brittle Lollipop and Pear Sorbet with Peach Essence, to be enjoyed in that exact that order.
Amuse Bouche Platter (roughly translated as 'Mouth Teasers')

The Salmon was sashimi-grade fish lightly dry cured in an almost imperceptibly Balik style - sweet, salty and oily all at the same time. The Lollipop was pure genius, as it looked for all intents like a Confection but it had a powerfully goat-y aroma bursting forth as I bit into it. As I continued, the sudden crunch of Hazelnut Brittle surprised me further by cutting though the richness of the cheese. Who knew goat cheese could be paired with what is essentially a dessert item! Then the frozen Pear Sorbet did its magic of cleansing the palate with its tang and lightness.
Goat Cheese 'Grape' with a hidden gem & Frozen Pear Sorbet

My first course arrived moments later; light cold appetizer of  Ocean Trout Tartare.

Playful plate of seafood-y flavours!

I loved the simplicity of the dish, very French yet very contemporary at the same time. Lightly blow torched raw pacific trout cut into dainty cubes, with floating islands of Ikura-topped squid ink gelee and  a scattering of cucumber slivers and pea flowers.

Eaten as is, the trout just sang in my mouth, alternating textures of yielding butter texture and firmer torch-cooked fish.The squid-ink jelly to me could have had less of the acid hit as I would have appreciated the unique aroma of the ink jelly but the presence of the exploding bubbles of salmon roe helped the marriage of flavours. Ideally any Tartare dish should be eaten with crusty bread for the contrast in texture, and thus the Carbon Brioche supplied was just too good to be left unattended!

Charcoal Brioche
 My second course was Parsnip Veloute, a velvety soup of roasted and creamed Parsnips poured over a garnish of pear puree, and crisped apple slice. It came as a 2 parter; first was the soup plate of garnish and  second, the soup, was later poured from a silver kettle, around the quenelle of pear puree. Ohh the ceremony with which this dish was served, I loved it. Such drama!

Poured puree of parsnip!

The third run was again a fish course (I love fish when it is executed well, and I am having it to, ahem, benchmark the Chef's culinary skills), Oven-Crisped Amadai.

The local variant of the fish is none other than the lowly 'Kerisi', relegated to being deep-fried to a near wooden crisp or ground into a paste for flavouring keropok. Amadai, apparently is a regal fish, much appreciated by people of the pacific rim for its very light flavour and edible scales (like our Kerisi). I was intrigued by the mere note of this Amadai and wanted to know why it was favoured by our Japanese neighbours.
Amadai baked to crisp perfection. 
Delightfully crunchy scales atop succulent fish. 
Partnered with a spoon of lentil mash, mushroom mince and 
a sprinkling of dill and chopped mushroom gills.
This dish was great. Not exactly impactful in terms of flavours but the intermingling of textures was the primary theme in this dish. The crinkly sounds the scales made as I forked into it was wonderful. I did not appreciate the mushrooms however, it tasted like the Chef was a little heavy handed with the salt.

A short pause after the Amadai, the Plat Principal arrived. Rare Wagyu Tenderloin on Pearl Barley topped with Horseradish Foam and a small shooter of Beef Au-jus. It is rather difficult to describe the emotions I felt eating this dish as I am not exactly a fan of Wagyu (sometimes mistakenly called Kobe beef) as it is extremely fatty and tender. I prefer my meats to have a bite to it and tenderloin hardly puts up a fight.

Them black crystals next to the beefy goodness is black pacific salt!

I chose to have it the way any good marbled aged beef should be had - rare (but not bloody, as a leaky meat is a sure sign the meat was not aged properly). I was certainly rewarded by my choice. The Waiter suggested I had mine done medium-rare, probably due to most Malays liking their meat at least medium done, but he was pleasantly surprised when I chose to go against. I had really good steak at Las Vacas a while ago, and it was a totally different experience, but this, this dry aged Wagyu was majestic.

What made it even greater was the sprinkling of Black Pacific Salt. The mineral creaminess of the salt crystals was the perfect foil to the inherently buttery meat. Then there was the mound of Pearl Barley cooked to such al-dente perfection I was dumbstruck, grasping for the correct words to describe by feelings.

After this there was a short lull as the rest of the group traded horror stories from their restaurant experience the day before. Then our final assiette came, the much awaited dessert plate.

Combination of the richest chocolate mousse (ganache-like even!), chocolate soil, chocolate sail, basil mint ice cream, chestnut puree and cocoa butter bread.

The dessert was just pure sin. Heaviest, most dense chocolate mousse I have had in my life. Thick, unctuous and unapologetically rich! It was perfect when had with the other textures on the plate - cold and minty, grainy, spongy and crunchy. A master pairing of good mousse with greater partners.

Just when we though we couldn't have another bite, the waiters brought in Praline Trees as the closure to the meal. We were then regaled by the presence of the rather good looking Chef John Nash (the ladies were rather smitten with the Chef's almost bashful reaction to all their ogling) who wanted to know whether we had a good night. We did Chef, we certainly did.

Chef Nash being bashful!

Oozy Butternut Squash Risotto

Pan Roasted Duck

Slate of Rolled Venison Au Jus