The New Menu At Enfin By James Won Is Built Upon Mature Reflection
During brainstorming sessions at enfin, Chef James Won always asks himself three things: 1) As a Malaysian, are these flavours I can relate to? 2) As a chef, am I being challenged? 3) As a customer, would this meal be worth my every cent?
One technical and tasty spread later, T.Dining ticks all boxes that apply. Here are our takeaways:
On Embracing Beauty
Vanity is embarrassing — or at least that's what the present generation likes to pretend. Simply consider some of social media's most used hashtags, which include #nofilter, #nomakeup and #iwokeuplikethis. Even restaurants are stripping down to the essentials, embracing exposed concrete, bare light bulbs, and other Brutalist features.
enfin pays little heed to such trends while staying en vogue. Golden grills glide open as you approach the restaurant, which emulates the golden age of Art Deco. Worthy of Architectural Digest centrefolds, the restaurant's whimsical interior hints at marvelous things to come.
“Every single dish that I present to you already contains the best ingredients, so you don't need backups," huffed James Won to photographer Jimmy Khoo some months ago. The two artists had gone to head to head while collaborating on the very pictures that accompany these words.
Khoo's request for extra ingredients hinged on prior experience, but in Won's own words: "If the ingredient is not strong enough, it might as well not be there. But once we got the right shot, which just so happened to be our mushroom tartare, the rest of the shoot just flowed."
Chef’s Hakka Heritage
Chatty and charismatic, James Won issues constant reminders to cradle sips of Champagne in our mouths. Earlier this year, Malaysia's first and only ambassador for Maison Krug — a role Won fills so well — flew to Mexico with 12 other Krug Ambassades for the Champagne house's annual single ingredient challenge. Being in the birthplace of the pepper inspired Won to create this most technical of dishes: picture peeling off the charred skin of a chilli without tearing its flesh or spilling its stuffing.
Crowned with black beads of white sturgeon caviar, chive flowers and carrot fronds, there it is: the most beautiful piece of yong tau foo we have ever laid eyes on.
"True-blue Hakka yong tau fu is always pan-seared and finished off with a bean sauce," explains the Hakka chef. "Hence what I’ve done, which is to confit mine in duck fat.
This is the best way to make people eat vegetables.
It is also, for me, a whole new logic of what Malaysian cuisine can be."
Malaysia In A Mouthful
Like its designation, the dish called Terroir of Malaysia is un peu French and Malaysian. "I wanted to show two sides of me: my French training as well as my Malaysian heritage," elucidates Won. "So I painted the Malaysian landscape onto one plate."
Save for an ethereal foam, which contains charred chicken and oysters, it is an 'almost vegetarian' dish. In fact, enfin endeavours to accommodate plant-based diets.
I am very proud to offer full vegetarian if the customer wants it.
The duck is a super serious dish,
says an unsmiling Won, so we sit a little taller and pay full attention to the poultry. "If I were to pick a dish to represent Malaysia, this would be it; every single ingredient is local."
While duck and goose are common sources of proteins in Hakka cooking, a side of yam gnocchi hints at traditional Teochew cuisine. Most interesting of all is the braising liquid flavoured with Ipoh white coffee — this alone is enough to perk us up.
While the waiter seems to have forgotten my knife, the utensil isn't completely necessary for our next dish. Unctuous and utterly satisfying, the blue lobster's sweet flesh easily gives way beneath the side of my spoon.
Diners receive not one, but two types of risotto on one plate. It soon becomes evident that Won is playing at some sort of wizardry...
The red risotto represents 'nasi lemak.' The white rice is an homage to 'har mee.' Blend both for something close to 'kai fan'!
Before you tut-tut at enfin's prices (RM298 or RM398 for 2 or 3 courses at lunch; RM488 or RM578 for 4 or 5 dishes during dinner, not including complimentary amuse bouches), consider the truth of the matter:
There are so many places you can visit simply for delicious food.
But to be whisked away, even momentarily, to luxuriate in 'extras' such as Champagne and Valrhona chocolate? Blissfully enjoyable experiences don’t come cheap.
enfin by James Won | Menara Hap Seng, Second floor, Lot 2-05, Jalan P Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur | 010-288 7920 | email@example.com
- Photography ZINQ Studio