By Anthony Dylan Anak Frankie Jurem

Food has always been a subjective matter when it comes to taste and value. Yet, one wonders as to how some prices balloon to a lofty sum beyond comprehension. Perceived value drives this mostly. Branding is the buzz word where marketing is concerned with creating a price far exceeding its actual cost.

Imagine no further. Ask yourself as to why is gold so precious? Or why the same handmade leather tote bag can be so expensive. It happens when the brand becomes a perceived luxury. To make it sound better, call it a collection. You are bound to get a higher price and more so when it is escalated as a limited edition.

What is fine dining anyways? If you were to search in the World Wide Web, some have defined it as follows:

“Fine dining is a restaurant experience that is typically more sophisticated, unique, and expensive than at a typical restaurant. The décor of such restaurants features higher-quality materials, with establishments having certain rules of dining which visitors are generally expected to follow, sometimes including a dress code.

Fine dining establishments are sometimes called white-tablecloth restaurants, because they traditionally featured table service by servers, at tables covered by white tablecloths. The tablecloths came to symbolize the experience. The use of white tablecloths eventually became less fashionable, but the service and upscale ambiance remained.”

Parente, Michele (20 October 2016). “Where fine dining is really fine”. San Diego Union Tribune.

Kanter, Beth (2018-11-19). “Beyond the White Tablecloth: Inside the Bold Future of Fine Dining”. Food Newsfeed.

I remembered my first fine dining experience was in 2019 at the One Michelin Star rated Vegetarian restaurant, Dashu Wujie at Bund 22 in Shanghai, China. This was an amazing experience as the locality at the Bund within an old European setting elevated the fine offerings of the menu. Do not forget, this was a vegetarian restaurant. It is not easy to find a Michelin Starred Vegetarian Restaurant in the world. China had 2 and the other was Fu He Hui which was also in Shanghai.

Recently, we wanted to look at the Michelin Starred restaurants in Malaysia. The inaugural list in 2023 last year had 4 names. Do note however, the list was limited to only Kuala Lumpur and Penang. The other states in the Peninsula and regions of Sarawak and Sabah have not yet been evaluated. Perhaps one day we would have a full list for Malaysia.

DewaKan, DC By Darren Chin in Kuala Lumpur as well as Auntie Gaik Lean’s Old School Eatery and Au Jardin in Penang. All of them had one star each. This year, DewaKan was elevated to 2 stars and another name was added as a one-star entry. Beta. Of those, only DC By Darren Chin and Au Jardin specialized in European offers. The rest are Malaysian influenced.

Not too long ago, we had an offer to book Beta but unfortunately, for whatever reason, queries to them stopped abruptly. We had a need for at least one vegetarian menu option without allium, but they somehow disappeared after being attentive in the beginning. Sadly, we had to forgo our first experience at a newly minted one Michelin star restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. Instead, we managed to book for Skillet, which is a Michelin Selected Restaurant. Interestingly, the restaurant belonged to the same KARL’S Group.

The restaurant was nestled on the first floor of Menara Hap Seng 2 which had a pleasant view of the top half of the KLCC twin towers. The small group of 3 of us took the Spring 2024 Degustation Menu. One of them was Vegetarian and without allium. Our host for the night was Faiz who waited on us and introduced us to Chef Eric, a sous chef of Skillet.

The journey began in the open kitchen where we were introduced to the ingredients used for the night’s menu. I remembered sitting by the table looking at a little neatly layered white item on a small plate. After a sprinkle of water by Faiz, I looked at it and just had to ask if that was morsel of food. I was then told that it was a towel! Oh my, that was embarrassing as it really did look like a beautifully layered roll of some root vegetable.

Each dish came with an explanation and the emphasis on not being wasteful for each ingredient. They will attempt to use everything from their ingredients. Peels and shells included. Even the longan bread with truffle butter had a story from the Covid-19 lockdown. It was this dish that was successfully delivered when dine ins were not permitted.

The highlights were nearly everything and even before the main course, we started to feel fulfilled. The vegetarian main course had JICAMA /pomme puree / courgetti blossom / shaoaxin emulsion while the non-vegetarian of us two had the THREADFIN FISH / ramson / shaoxin emulsion and the AGED CHERRY VALLEY DUCK / broccolini  mandarin peel jus. Faiz then also brought us knives for the main course where he explained that each of them were designed by the head chef with a blacksmith in Klang.

We also had some white wine to go with the dinner. The experience was heightened with a break of a palate cleanser made of pineapple and herbs in the form of a sorbet done at our table. The dessert which came after was the STRAWBERRY /rhubarb /pink peppercorn which came in the form of a sphere of liquid nitrogen which you would need to smash ever so lightly with that dainty hammer. Yes, lightly unless you want to be me embarrassing myself again with a tad too hard and creating an explosion of splinters around the parameters of my plate.

Skillet is a European restaurant which championed the use of local ingredients and sourced expertly. Nothing is wasted. The menu is about RM530 per pax excluding the wine which went between RM45 to 55 a glass.

Fine dining is all about the experience, the setting and the comfortable pace between servings. The quality of the explained story from the greeter at the door till the end of the session really makes a difference.

Perhaps the next one would have us try Beta.