Food & Drink

Breaking Down Malaysia

James Won elevates local ingredients for Tanah Airku, an immersive dining experience through the six senses.

BY GRACE LAI | Jul 25, 2018 | Reviews

Scene one: Mushroom Tartare, truffle egg yolk, Mushroom distillate gelée, roasted quinoa, sesame, pickled shallots, cornichons and chives.

“Beauty is about clean lines. Minimal beauty isn’t easy. It may look simple but there’s more than meets the eye and that’s what my team and I want to create. No theatrics but pure strength in each ingredient on the plate. True couture that transcends time is simple, but people know what it means [and remember it forever],” Chef James Won, creator and curator of Enfin By James Won divulged. As I sat with him at Enfin, the wind whispered gently, quietly rustling the greens in my line of sight. A cigarette in hand and a bottle of San Pellegrino on the table, James is relaxed at six in the evening, an hour before service is to commence, believing completely in the strength and know-how of his team who is at that very moment in the kitchen prepping for the grandiose dinner to come. Completely unperturbed, he sits, smiling, and calm enough to simply spend his time chatting with this writer with a drink (of quintessentially English, sparkling water) in hand.

Hennessy, together with Tapestry Malaysia (which, by the way is entirely home-grown and a part of James’ group), is offering a distinctive dining experience through multi-sensory interactive technology and a 360° immersive projection from July through November. Specially curated by Chef James Won and hosted at Enfin, the dinner promises to tantalize, evoke and satiate all six sense from the get-go. “Food is about memories. To me, food, memories and one’s emotions are linked. And this menu is all about Malaysia and what Malaysia means to me,” James reveals.

James has always championed Malaysia. “I was always looking for ways to talk about the magnificence and beauty of this country and I’m happy that this concept, Tapestry Malaysia, will travel throughout Asia upon the completion of the Kuala Lumpur leg. Our next stop is Singapore. I’m really very proud of what we have here in this country and I want people to see what I see, feel what I feel. It’s about first making Malaysians proud of what we have, celebrating our culture and our food, and then bringing it to non-Malaysians, outside of Malaysia. I want people to see that our food isn’t boring and it’s not just Nasi Lemak or hawker street food,” James explains.

Tapestry Malaysia, the dinner, is essentially about tasting Malaysia in ways we have not before. By using local ingredients, home-grown techniques and in-house technology, James dreams of building Malaysia and breaking it down, in the finest sense, through his art, for the world to taste and see.

Scene one begins with his legendary Mushroom Tartare, truffle egg yolk, Mushroom distillate gelée, roasted quinoa, sesame, pickled shallots, cornichons and chives. A hallmark of Enfin, James’ Mushroom Tartare is served with Baby Baguette stick, apple sorrel, sambal olek a la enfin, chicken skin and flowers. An ode of sorts to the multi-cultural side of Malaysia, this opening of Tanah Airku, James’ concept for the dinner primes your palate with its silky yolk on textured quinoa and fungi. If ever you try nothing else at Enfin, this, you must.

Scene two teases the senses with a single, solitary Kumquat (that isn’t a Kumquat) on pristine white. Smoked Mackerel with rendang confetti, ginger torch, a tangy laksa emulsion centre within a delectable kumquat glace, kaffir leaves and rye bread on the side, this dish is James’ song for the Malay heritage of the country. “I wanted to elevate our local ikan kembung, which was once the cheapest fish you could get in the market. It is a very humble fish and by breaking it down and then transforming it into what you see before you is my representation of the gentleness and humility of our people, in royal settings,” James described. Traditional music accompanies the serving of the dish with the aesthetics featuring a royal Istana scene. “This simple dish is very herb-driven, as is traditional Malay food. It is sweet and spicy with strong umami flavours.” There is after all, nothing more local than a good Laksa.

Scene three features Enfin’s well-loved Lobster, ice plant, vegetable roulade and lobster bisque, with a twist of burnt cauliflower, caviar, fennel frond and fennel gelée. “This dish represents our sea. Malaysia has some of the greatest seafood available and I wanted to highlight our ocean. The pan-roasted cauliflower again, heightens a very simple vegetable but bathed in butter and oil and served the way we present it, mimics our corral, which is again, one of the most beautiful in the word,” James smiles. “Our bisque, as regulars will know, is cooked not just from lobster shell but its corral and eggs, giving it the strong and distinct flavor you taste.” It is, ultimately, the flavors of the sea and surrounded by turquoise water, believe me, close your eyes and just savour what’s offered. Don’t ask, don’t question. Taste, let your mind travel, and hold the beauty that is Malaysia in your mind.

A palate cleanser of Yoghurt and Olive Oil ice cream, kumquat, cranberry and wasabi later, Scene Four showcases the main dish of the night with options of Garoupa fish or Wagyu beef. Both, I can’t recommend highly enough. So go with a partner or friend for the opportunity of having both. “The Garoupa is a deep-sea fish. A stone fish that is very thick, hard, and quite difficult to cook for most. You will often find it braised but here, we merely sear it and let the fish do all the talking,” James shares. Lightly-seared with layer of glistening, crispy skin, the opaque, translucent fish is almost flaky to touch and mind-blowing at first taste. Infinitely simple with flavours of dried scallop, shrimp, fermented chili on truffle mousse, leek, Chinese celery oil, nasturtium and parsley, chlorophyll broth, and a side of pickled radish and squid ink tulle that resembles corral, the Garoupa well proves James’ mastery of the complex technicalities it takes to prepare something others can’t.

The alternative option of Wagyu beef, served with a veil of Sarawak peppercorn (again, luscious) on pomme de terre ala chinoise, charred broccoli, capeberry mustard and wild fermented chili olek is no less magnificent. Ruby pink flesh encased within a perfect sear that makes your mouth water, food, I believe is simple as it is, and James’ desire for simplicity is well-translated as you appreciate first one, and then another of his “simple” masterpieces.

The finale caps the night in the form of a Bombe Alaska with Durian Musang King parfait glace and a perfect 70% single origin dark cacao sponge. Flambéed with pure Hennessy X.O, James created this to demystify the myth that Durian can never be eaten with alcohol. Presented with a flourish on an Indian raised plating, the accompanying songs of Teresa Teng, most legendary of Chinese crooners transports you to yonder years of simplicity, beauty, and love.

I left the dinner well satiated, with a full heart and memories of a Malaysia that was, and could be. A coming-together of differing heritage, culture and race, towards a unified and singular hope of betterment, and if I may, goodness and kindness in our everyday, for all.

“I want to continue to discover more incredible, local ingredients. I want to find that one ingredient, or logic, that allows us to put everything (every flavor) on a plate, in just one single bite. It is a struggle because Malaysia is so extremely unique in that it is one but also a very distinct, multi-cultural country. But that is and will be my quest, until the day I no longer am.” On his favourite local plant then? “The Pandan leaf. You can use it sweet, savoury, served raw or cooked, whole, juiced-up, distilled into oil or as it is. And all from one single plant. It is also medicinal! So if you ask me, the Pandan leaf is practically Malaysia in one leaf,” James laughed.

Limited to 16 seats per session, the 5-course menu will be priced at RM999+ (with alcohol pairing) and RM790+ (without alcohol pairing) per person.

This showcase will be available to for lunch every Saturday and Sunday, and for dinner every Tuesday to Sunday from now until 9th November 2018. Reservations are available via TABLEAPP. Visa cardholders will be entitled to an exclusive 10% discount when bookings payments are made.