The perfect combination

By KRYSTLE CHOW
Published on page 13 of the Weekender section (now known as Star.Weekend) of The Star in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
August 24, 2002

One is immediately struck by how serene and Zen-like the interior of Cilantro Restaurant and Wine Bar at the MiCasa Hotel Kuala Lumpur is – the neutral tones, the minimalistic chic of the décor, right down to the jade-green bread plate and off-white lighting fixtures.

The recently refurbished restaurant boasts two walk-in wine cellars which carry labels from France, Australia, Spain, South Africa and Italy, as well as a charming cigar lounge. The lounge also doubles as a recreation where patrons may indulge in a game of Jenga or backgammon, or simply relax while enjoying dessert or a pre-dinner drink.

In fact, one cannot help but kick back and unwind here. The ambience is ideal, especially after a long and hectic day. With a glass of 2000 Quincy Domaine Trotereau, a white wine from the Loire Valley region in France, we sat down to do just that.

I began my meal with the Symphony of Cilantro’s Hors D’Oeuvres, a platter of five beautifully presented miniature starters – pan-fried yabbies with miso aioli, scallop mushroom soup, tuna tartare on avocado, pan-fried unagi (eel) and foie gras, and slow-cooked abalone tossed with cold some noodles, shiitake mushrooms, flying fish roe and oscietra caviar – garnished with a crisp golden seaweed cracker. It is a perfect way to sample the food and whet one’s appetite for more.

The clear and savoury mushroom soup was light and pleasantly appetising, while the fragrant somen noodles were enhanced by the delicacy of the mushrooms and flavourful roe. The tuna tartare was a delight with its pale pink colour and smooth texture, complemented by a bottom layer of creamy avocado and topping of tonburi (a caviar-like vegetable), chives and wasabi for a bit of bite, while the miso aioli (a mayonnaise-based sauce) gave the yabbies a honeyed flavour. My personal favourite in the platter was the juicy, lightly browned foie gras and buttery savoury-sweet unagi, one of the chef’s specialties.

Next we sampled two more of the chef’s specialties, the Zuke Ohtoro of Tuna with Tonburi and Wakame, and the Royale of Tarabagani (or Japanese king crab soup). To prepare the delicate zuke, the belly of the tuna is washed in water at a temperature of about 70°C, then sliced out and marinated with soy sauce and mirin (Japanese rice wine for cooking). It is served sashimi-style with chicken consommè jelly. In order to ensure freshness and quality of this very special dish, only five or six portions may be served throughout the day.

The royale with its cloud of creamy king crab and custard was reminiscent of the more traditional Japanese dish of chawan mushi, but the French influence was evident as royale is a traditional French style of soup. Another must-try specialty starter is the lightly spicy, creamy seafood angel hair pasta tossed with fresh mentaiko (spicy fish roe) and topped with shredded seaweed, an instant favourite at our table.

Feeling a little adventurous, I then ordered the braised ox tongue with Madeira wine, fresh truffles and mashed potato, accompanied by a glass of rich, spicy 2000 Penfolds Koonunga Hills Shiraz Cabernet, while my less daring companions ordered the crispy duck breast with seared foie gras and braised daikon (white radish), a recent addition to the menu, and the beef fillet medallions with seared foie gras, fine green beans, new potatoes and red wine sauce.

I was not disappointed , as the tongue, topped with chopped button mushrooms, parsley and garlic, and served with wonderfully fluffy mashed potatoes, shaved black truffles and a sweet and tangy wine sauce, was aromatic and very tender indeed. However, the serving was enormous and despite my savouring every bite, I was forced to put down my fork in order to save room for dessert.

Other specialties on the menu are the braised black cod with yabbies, aioli and black truffle sauce, the homemade smoked salmon trout served with salmon roe and fresh herbs, the pan-fried French sea bass with chanterelle mushrooms and shiso sauce, the steamed Ikejime sea garoupa with green soy bean, iwanori and anchovy sauce, and the pan-fried Australian Wagyu (Kobe beef) striploin with bluefoot mushroom and Japanese garlic rice.

Dessert was a scrumptious affair as we ordered the dessert platter – the chef’s special green tea Bavarois with adzuki beans and green tea ice cream; dark chocolate cupcake with caramelised bananas and anglaise cream; baked Fuji apple and caramel ice cream; green tea soufflé with green tea ice cream; and for a special treat, the roasted figs with almond puff pastry and port wine. The last was the general favourite, but has not yet been added to the menu.

Chocoholics are recommended to sample the tempting dark chocolate cupcake, which simply oozes with rich dark chocolate, while the Fuji apple – fetchingly presented in a crisp pouch of filo pastry and dusted with powdered sugar – melts on the tongue in a decidedly sinful manner which one does not normally associate with fruit! No Japanese meal would be complete without green tea, and the chef injects originality into the dessert by serving green tea ice cream with a subtle Bavarois, a velvety smooth pudding perfectly complemented by the adzuki beans, and with a moist and fluffy soufflé.

We also tried the almond tuile and mascarpone mousse with coffee sorbet, which was just sweet enough, delightfully offsetting the richness of the other desserts and refreshingly accompanied by coffee sorbet instead of coffee ice cream (which would have been a little too much).

A lovely selection of seven cheese is also available, ranging from Coeur Neufchatel to Roquefort.

This innovative menu, a successful marriage of the French cooking style and fresh Japanese ingredients, is the creation of Chef Takashi Kimura, who comes from a town called Ibaraki-Mitocity. He was appointed Executive Chef of Cilantro on Sept 1 last year. He began his career in La Saison Restaurant in Kamakura City as an apprentice in 1990, then studied in France for two years. Since then, he has worked in the Japanese Embassies of both Senegal and Malaysia, rising to the challenge of creating fine cuisine despite the scarcity of natural ingredients in Africa.

Despite his extensive training (or perhaps because of it), Chef Takashi sheepishly admits that he is far more adept at cooking French cuisine than Japanese! However, his Japanese roots are evident in his use of ingredients such as unagi and tarabagani (Japanese king crab), infusing his creations with a certain freshness and unique quality.

Elegant, minimalistic and delightfully subtle – words that may be used to describe almost every aspect of Cilantro Restaurant and Wine Bar, from the impeccable service and peaceful ambience to the incomparable food!

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