Thursday, November 24, 2011


A worthy, value-for-money Japanese set lunch. The last time I was impressed by such a deal was back in 2008, when Lyrical Lemongrass, FatBoyBakes and I met for an eight-course kaiseki lunch at Fukuya, Bangsar One. I did find out later that Fukuharu also belongs to the owner(s) of Fukuya. That explains the similar minimalist interior, warm hospitality and affordable, homey Japanese food.

If not for FBB's dive wife (she's an admirable runner too), who'd highly recommended the set lunch, I wouldn't have travelled the distance to come to the TERRACE, given how horrendous the traffic can be like along Jalan Ampang. But more importantly, I wanted to catch up with her and share my recent running experiences.

After a run earlier in the morning, I was certain that one set lunch (Japanese, especially) wouldn't be enough for me. But I was assured that the portions here are huge. The dishes rolled out one after another, starting with the salad, chawan mushi, choice of main dish (I chose the saba shioyaki, or grilled mackerel sprinkled with salt) and a bowl of hot soba (one can choose rice instead). The selection was J-typical but the ingredients remained fresh. Especially at only RM38+, there was nothing left to complain about, really. But of course, the stomach was only half filled, at best. But that's not their fault.

Somewhere between deploring the erratic slopes along the Putrajaya Night Marathon route and planning for the insane Western State 100 Mile Endurance Run (it will not materialise, believe me), we were served the mini kaiseki appetizer platter, which I'd absolutely forgotten. It was surprisingly a plateful. And of relatively good quality too. Among others, the salmon sashimi slices (and cubes - with a wafu-style dressing and served in a shot glass) were considerably fresh, the riceball-coated deep-fried prawn came à la minute crispy and there was even a cut of well-seasoned roast duck. Now that's what I call worthy.

Our fervent discussion on running went on for some time (covering Asics/Saucony shoes versus the world, introversion of runners, strategic locations to hide hydration bottles while running, etc), paused only for dessert (part of the set). It was a simple, flavourful scoop of vanilla ice cream, interestingly drizzled with black sesame sauce.

Fukuharu brought back good memories of Fukuya at Bangsar One. Both restaurants offer unbeatable set lunches in a relaxed setting. Personally, I think that this is a better option for a weekend gathering of few friends than to splurge on a chic restaurant where just the appetizer of colourful foams and a deconstructed iced lemon tea cost more this set lunch.

TERRACE at Hock Choon
241-B, Lorong Nibong off Jalan Ampang
50450 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yut Kee, finally.

Dad said that he used to despatch chicken to Yut Kee from his employer's stall in the old Central Market. He would get a free meal every time he's there. People were more sincerely generous in the old days, weren't they? According to dad, the pork chop and egg roll were really good. All these years, he had never mentioned about Yut Kee (and I never asked why), until I suggested that we have lunch there a month ago. I took the family to Yut Kee a week after my first visit with a couple of friends. Having learnt that the best time to avoid is around the lunch hours, we took a slow ride to reach at 2 pm. Surprisingly, the famous pork belly roll was still available. What luck!

It's a very typical coffee shop but while many would see a more slowed and relaxed tea time, Yut Kee was still very much a high speed production line, churning out dish after dish. Despite the overflowing crowd waiting at the shop's front, I thought they operated efficiently; from allocation of seats to taking orders to the payment process. This system (which seems intuitive but nonetheless requires sufficient manpower and good coordination to work) that they've adopted shortens the waiting time significantly and puts the customers at ease. It's a major plus, really. I can't remember how many times I'd sworn that I'd be damned if I had to revisit some badly managed but prideful eateries in town.

As we sat down, Dad began observing the surrounding, obviously looking for familiar faces but couldn't recognize anyone. He said the workforce had been replaced by, perhaps the next generation. There were four of us at the table, with eight dishes to share; including the westernized roast pork belly, which I thought was very good. It's all in bite - the crispy crackling, the aroma of lard melt bursting in the mouth and a nutty taste of the filling. The apple sauce gave an interesting sweetness to the salty meat. Of course, when one's at Yut Kee for the first time, one has to try the perennial favourites such as roti babi, Hailam mee and belacan fried rice. I didn't think much of the roti babi filling (which could do with more filling and seasoning) but the soft, encapsulating bread coated with a thin layer of egg was nice. I thought the roti was skillfully prepared. The taste is to be enhanced with a dip of the Worcestershire sauce.

On this second visit, I'd decided to try other less popular dishes on the board. Less because they were not seen on every table, unlike the roti babi and pork chop. I'd ordered the beef noodles served with a generous amount of meat and tripe, soft radish and a clear stock, and the Cantonese-style fried noodles with enough wok hei to keep me intoxicated and happy.

Let's talk a bit about the all-time favourite pork chop. The first bite unravelled a well-marinated piece of tenderized pork. The construction was traditional. From my (limited) pork chop experiences, the brown sauce is usually mild, bordering tasteless, even. That's not the case at Yut Kee though. The caramelized gravy was rich and flavourful, and went really well with the otherwise bland potato wedges and assorted boiled vegetables. Oh, not to forget a sprinkling of the appetizing Worcestershire sauce too. However, Dad did mention that the pork used to be crispier, but perhaps due to higher demand, were pre-cooked, hence the softness.

Growing up, I was privileged enough to have eaten quite a fair amount of Hainanese noodles cooked by an aunt of mine. It's quiet different from my usual Cantonese and Hokkien mee with the noodles simmered over a longer duration and served soupy but less starchy than loh mee. Yut Kee's Hailam mee was different. The soup was reduced to an almost stir-fried consistency. Still, it was a tasty treat, especially when eaten with the topping of some fragrant, crunchy fried shallots.

The extensive menu at Yut Kee is posted on a larger than life whiteboard hung on the sidewall. So far, I've only tried a small fraction of it. For me, every visit is to try something new, and to discover something old but gold as well. Here, especially when dining alone or in a small group, chances are that one would be sharing a table with older loyal customers that are happy to share their tales of Yut Kee or recommend some dishes. Tourists also flock this coffee shop, which I think is a good choice. It's definitely a more identifiable Malaysian experience. Truly Asia what?

I didn't ask Dad what he thought of today's Yut Kee. He seemed pleased though, whopping one dish after another. Perhaps for him, there was a taste of nostalgia in the food too.

Take away the hype, the rustic interior (which is one of the attractions of this coffee shop) and endless free publicity, I will still be back at Yut Kee, simply because the food is good and affordable (especially in this part of the city). Not many good old coffee shops like this survive the test of time so I really hope that they'll stay for long time. And I'm confident of that, unless of course, there's a forced, unwise plan to demolish this row of shophouses in the name of development.

Yut Kee
35, Jalan Dang Wangi
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chinese mitten crabs at Capital Restaurant

...or hairy crabs, as they are usually known as.

I knew I'd be late, given the rush hour madness at the MRT stations. The heavy wooden toy set (it must have been at least 6 kg) that I'd lugged all the way from Paragon wasn't very helpful in increasing my pace. So I decided to take the good old bus to get to Capital Restaurant instead. Not a bad idea. In fact, it was brilliant. Not only was the bus relatively spacious (as compared to the over-packed trains), the ride was also smooth and fast. I reached much earlier than expected and could afford to withdraw some cash, try a bowl of fishball (the stall called it fish bakso) noodles from the People's Park food center and identify some of the most competitive money changers in the adjacent complex. It was a very good start to the dinner ahead.

The name Capital (首都) itself has already given an impression that it's been around for decades. New restaurants don't bank on names like this. They prefer something, anything that catches your attention or raises an eyebrow. I'm sure one who's reading this can instantly name a few. Well, I happen to think that there's a certain rustic charm to a name like Capital. And to have survived so long in this dynamic F&B business on this little red dot means something.

This is at the fringe of Chinatown, an area that I'd only passed by, but never took notice of the shoplots. If not for wanting to try hairy crabs, I wouldn't have known the existence of Capital. Some hotels in town offer hairy crabs too, but I don't think the prices are as affordable as here.

What's the correct procedure to dissect the crab to fully savour its taste? Do we taste the fur on the claws? Is there a particular sequence to eating the legs, claws or roe first? I came absolutely unprepared and tried to do some last-minute research online but the mobile broadband service was down. So many burning questions unanswered! The shameless stomach was growling. I had to get started. It was me, a pick and a pair of scissors against steamed hairy crab number XXXXXXXXX from the Tai Lake in China. I strategized by digging the remains of my secondary school biology knowledge and mostly logic.

Firstly, I cut the hairy legs. Followed by the mitten claws. Now, I was left with the body. Gosh, this sounds like Natsuo Kirino's Out already! I separated the shells by gripping the upper half and pulled the lower half. It was easier this way as there was a dent on the lower half that could fit the tip of my index finger. With one gentle pull followed by a crack, a molten, golden mass of roe was revealed.

We, the hairy crab virgins, decided that the roe was as rich as a salted egg yolk. I even suggested that it's a crustacean version of the steamed salted egg bun. The flesh was sweet, subtly. The dip of ginger and black vinegar provided a refreshing contrast. A small Chinese cup of ginger tea was served after we were done with the crabs. The Chinese believe that ginger will dissipate the wind accumulated from consuming the cooling hairy crabs. It was one fiery cup of tea, for sure. On average, it took us about 30 minutes to devour the fist-sized crab, which weighed about 200 g, if I recall correctly. The neighbouring table sat a couple attempting 3 (or 4) crabs each. I wonder how long it took them to finish all the crabs.

I think we made the right choice of having the crabs as our first dish. Some prefer to have it last. I'm sure, if served last, we would have been full and less enthusiastic about spending 30 minutes digging for crab meat and roe. And inevitably, some precious parts would have been ignored and wasted.

The rest of the recommended dishes were mostly Cantonese fare. My favourite was the roast duck, which must have been showered with boiling oil, post-roasting, for that extra crisp on the skin. Coupled with well-seasoned and succulent meat, I thought it was fantastic. I wouldn't say that pork cutlets in coffee sauce, sizzling venison with scallion and spinach soup with 3 types of eggs are representative of classic dishes served at Capital but they were still delicious. Perhaps the captain thought that young people like us (how much more shameless can I get?) would prefer more familiar, modern dishes.

With a full and now, quiet stomach, I left Capital with the 6 kg toy set still in tow. I didn't mention earlier that the toy was purchased for work purpose and unrelated to the dinner. I just had to bring it along since I was already in town. The next morning, I carried it through a 500 m walk, 1 MRT and bus ride each before reaching the office. Along the way, I'd also reminisced about the golden roe and roast duck. And that really made the journey less exhausting. You may call me cheesy now.

Capital Restaurant
323 New Bridge Road
Singapore 088759