Gallery of art­ful cui­sine

Kikubari em­bod­ies re­spect for pro­duce and diner, serv­ing up won­der­fully com­plex, artis­tic plates com­bin­ing Ja­panese pro­duce and Euro­pean tech­nique.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Taste - By SUZANNE LAZAROO

KIKUBARI is a Ja­panese con­cept which, if ex­plained in English, would en­com­pass con­cepts like em­pa­thy, self­less­ness, good man­ners and com­mu­nity-mind­ed­ness. Lit­er­ally, the word is an amal­ga­ma­tion of “kubari” (to spread around) and “ki” (life force, en­ergy, or at­ten­tion).

It’s about pay­ing at­ten­tion to the needs of oth­ers; trans­lated into an un­der­stand­ing of ser­vice, means a con­stant font fo­cus on de­tail, on hu­mil­ity, on pro­vid­ing what the other needs be­fore they even ask. Kikubari is also a very new and very ex­cit­ing restau­rant in Kuala Lumpur in­ti­mate and cosy, but with sharp styling: plush navy up­hol­ster against w and glass and an el­e­vate glass floor over a stylised, dra­mat­i­cally-lit Zen gar­den for a new age.

Pre­sid­ing over the im­pres­sive cel­lar is gen­eral man­ager and chief som­me­lier Yuhei Teraoka – one of KL’s most es­tab­lished and recog­nis­able som­me­liers as well as man­ager and som­me­lier Danny The cel­lar holds 50 types of sake from the lighter, sharper kind, which Teraoka would pair with starters, to the full-bod­ied kind the would sug­gest with a main.

The sakes are dif­fer­en­ti­ated by re­gion which de­ter­mines the kind of rice and water used – and if you see a num­ber af­ter a sake’s name, know that the lower the num­ber, the more the rice grain is pol­ished and the sweeter, fruitier and more pre­mium it is.

Not in a sake kind of mood? The cel­lar also holds over 400 dif­fer­ent wines; the fo­cus is heav­ily Euro­pean, with a dis­tinct lean­ing to­wards French and Ital­ian la­bels. You can opt to match a tast­ing menu with a wine or sake pair­ing as well, for an ad­di­tional charge.

Kikubari should ap­peal to bon vi­vants who ap­pre­ci­ate meals cu­rated like a show at the Lou­vre – small plates which are heav­ily-de­tailed and care­fully-crafted, and which un­furl in a worlds-within-worlds sort of way.

These plates are built around a heart of Ja­panese pro­duce, trans­formed by French tech­nique, and an eye for de­tail which draws you down a fan­tas­tic culi­nary rab­bit­hole of nu­anced el­e­ments.

Ex­pect a tartare re­born with wagyu beef, the rich­ness of roasted bone mar­row am­pli­fied by gre­mo­lata spiked with yuzu.

Five-course tast­ing menus change every two weeks; they’re priced at RM288 per per­son. Ten-course tast­ing menus (RM488) change every week or so; book­ing one of these will see you perched at the eight­seater chef’s ta­ble, the long bar­top that fronts the open kitchen where you’ll see chef de cui­sine Jun Wong and her team in ac­tion.

Wong has spent time in the kitchen of Cilantro, KL’s most en­dur­ing bas­tion of fine din­ing, as well as kitchens il­lu­mi­nated by the glow of Miche­lin stars – the three-starred Robu­chon au Dome in Ma­cau and two-starred Nari­sawa in Tokyo, Ja­pan. And in Aus­tralia, the twohat­ted Six­penny.

She then helmed rus­tic French restau­rant Le Petit Flot in Syd­ney, the de­vel­op­ment of the restau­rant over­seen by her men­tor and Cilantro’s top chef, the inim­itable Takashi Kimura.

Off the tast­ing menu, a dish like the in-sea­son Kochi tomato capellini with briny-sweet botan ebi and in­tense, translu­cent taraba­gani jelly (from the oft-chang­ing tast­ing menu) evokes that con­nec­tion be­tween men­tor and mentee.

A plate of taraba­gani (red king crab) with macadamia petals and ohba oil (RM48) is an ab­so­lutely breath-tak­ing or­der. It’s pleas­ing in all sorts of ways, a cre­ation del­i­cately ar­moured in fine petals of shaved macadamia, so care­fully placed that it seems a waste to pick even one off. But do force your­self: you’ll find a wealth of the juicy, freshly-picked taraba­gani, its flesh both sweet and in­tensely oceanic.

The tofu mis­ozuke with house-made tsuke­mono and Ja­panese Meiji crack­ers (RM25) is de­cep­tively sim­ple, but the creamy, spread­able tofu is ac­tu­ally a del­i­cacy of the Fukuoka pre­fec­ture – un­usual else­where – and the re­sult of a rather in­volved prepa­ra­tion process. The tofu is mar­i­nated with white miso, ac­quir­ing that soft creami­ness and a strong umami na­ture. The pick­les (tsuke­mono) are worth a men­tion too – tangy and crisp but not overly acidic, they com­ple­ment the rich tofu per­fectly.

Wagyu beef in the hands of a ta­lented, thought­ful chef, is a ver­sa­tile de­light. Kikubari serves it up in sev­eral ways, each as en­joy­able as the next.

A dish of wagyu tartare is served with a runny-cen­tred on­sen egg to be mixed in, with thin slices of crisp yuzukoshou toast (RM105 for 90g) adding crunch.

The vis­i­bly mar­bled cubes of A3 wagyu present a re­mark­able bal­anc­ing act on the palate, meaty and rich and smooth and del­i­cate, all at once. The meat is gen­tly sea­soned with a whis­per of shoyu and shiso, for a won­der­fully com­plex ebb and flow of flavour and tex­ture.

A hunk of A5 wagyu, chuck blade (120g for RM280; ask the server if you want a dif­fer­ently-sized por­tion) is a par­tic­u­larly ven­er­a­ble piece of meat, and the highly-mar­bled cut needs noth­ing be­yond a light grilling, leav­ing a fra­grant char on the sur­face and its juicy in­sides in­tact.

Fi­nally, a roasted wagyu bone mar­row is given dis­tinc­tive flavour and char­ac­ter with a crumbed top­ping of yuzu gre­mo­lata and yuzukoshou (RM46). The fra­grant char­ac­ter of the Ja­panese cit­rus fresh­ens the uber-rich mar­row, while the chilli pep­pers lend a hint of clean bit­ter­ness.

Fin­ish your meal with the miso ice cream par­fait (RM18), rich umami and sweet notes min­gling per­fectly in the smooth, cold con­fec­tion. Again, the in­ter­play of many el­e­ments – salty-sweet caramel, roasted can­died peanuts, choco­late tu­ile and warm slices of banana – make each mouth­ful a study in a myr­iad flavours and tex­tures.

Kikubari is def­i­nitely one to watch on the KL din­ing scene, and a haven for the think­ing diner with a so­phis­ti­cated palate, who ap­pre­ci­ates each dish built like a multi-lay­ered poem, with re­spect paid to both pro­duce and diner.

Kikubari

Kikubari@DC3 L3-01A Jalan Da­man­lela Da­mansara City Mall Kuala Lumpur Tel: 03-2011 8200 Open Mon­days to Satur­days, 12pm to 2.30pm and 6.30pm to 10.30pm (the bar is open till mid­night).

Chef de cui­sine Jun Wong is home to over­see Kikubari’s kitchen – af­ter cook­ing around the world in var­i­ous starred and hat­ted kitchens. star2@thes­tar.com

The stylishly ap­point­ing din­ing area, its glass floor sus­pended over dra­mat­i­cally-lit sand pat­terns.

— Pho­tos: IS­MAEL MA

(L-R) A def­i­nite feast for the senses – del­i­cate petals of shaved macadamias en­close the frag­ile yet flavour­ful strands of taraba­gani, or red king crab.

The tofu mis­ozuke is an un­usual dish from the Fukuoka pre­fec­ture, creamy and spread­able and full of umami ap­peal. Capellini with Kochi toma­toes and botan ebi. A bril­liant miso ice cream par­fait with caramel and bananas – a fresh take on dessert, com­bin­ing sweet­ness and umami.

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