Saturday, 18 April 2015

Review of DC Restaurant by Darren Chin, TTDI - Is This Malaysia's Game Changer?

Is 36 year-old Darren Chin, the French-trained wunderkind heralded as Malaysia's hottest emerging cooking talent, the shot in the arm that Malaysia's moribund fine dining scene so badly needed?


Darren (I refer to him by his first name because his father Dave Chin, the owner of Dave's Bistro and the Dave's Deli chain, is a well-known industry personality in his own right) emerged on my radar more than two years ago.  Then a Grand Diplôme student at Le Cordon Bleu (LCB) Paris, he commented on a not particularly flattering piece that I wrote on Malaysia's failure to make an impression on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list.  He laid out a laundry list of problems with the industry, structural and otherwise, openly said that he was aiming for a place on the list once he opened his new restaurant in KL, and gave me a standing invitation to dinner when I was next in town.  Some two years later, I finally had the chance to dine at DC Restaurant, in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, west of KL.

Disclaimer: I didn't pay for this meal.  I also helped Darren (gratis, albeit) re-write his restaurant's website prior to the official opening.

I get to TTDI after a 45-minute taxi ride in the rain.  DC's lower-floor "Le Comptoir" (the Counter) casual eatery is not yet open for business, so the kitchen focuses its efforts on its second floor fine diner, "La Salle" (The Room).  Just to give you an idea of the effort that has gone into this, La Salle seats twenty at full capacity, although tonight there are only eleven diners.  On a full-time basis, the restaurant has six cooks (plus Darren), and five front-of-house staff.  

Bread Basket with Pamplie Butter

 

Guests are greeted with a basket of breads (a mix of in-house breads and some sourced from artisan baker Christophe Gros) and a snooker ball of unpasteurised Pamplie Charentais butter.  This is the second time in three weeks (and in my entire life) that I have been served a croissant at dinner; waves of nausea overwhelm me, as if I'm entering a parallel universe in which people drink port for breakfast.  Luckily, the breads are excellent, properly crusty and substantial as they would be in France, and the salted butter is something special.

Amuse-Bouche Platter: Buckwheat Crepe Roll with Smoked Petuna Ocean Trout and Philly Cream Cheese; Sago Crisps and Lime-Honey Hollandaise; Cheese Gougerès with Basil Cream;  Fourme d'Ambert Gratin with Candied Fruit


A pleasant start.  I'm not particularly enamoured of any of them, but neither are they offensive.

First Entrée: Country Duck Terrine, Marinated Yellowfin Tuna, Foie Gras Ganache


Because DC is a "no pork no lard" restaurant (it does not qualify for the more stringent halal certification as it serves alcohol), Darren tells me that he preserved the terrine using chicken fat.  The terrine itself is decent but unexciting, but I like the combination with the tuna, which is marinated in charcoal-smoked olive oil.  Little toasts sandwiching foie gras ganache are playful and add much-needed crispiness, while a mustard sauce cuts through the myriad layers of richness.

I should mention that Darren personally brought this dish to my table.  He does the same for at least half the dishes on every table.  This is not so much a chef-driven restaurant as much as it is a Darren-driven restaurant.

Second Entrée: Tomato Tartare, Marinated Seabass, Oyster Leaf


A riff on the now-ubiquitous tomato tartare of El Bulli, Darren dehydrates Roma tomatoes for the tartare and throws in a few nubbins of seabass for good measure and makes a sorbet from beefsteak tomatoes.  There is too much sorbet relative to the tartare, and the sorbet also contains a few crunchy ice crystals which detract from the experience, but the presentation is immaculate and the flavours are very good.

Third Entrée: Lightly Poached Premium Irish Oysters, Mille-Feuille of Butternut Pumpkin, Poached Kampung Egg, Iranian Saffron Foam


Let's get the good stuff out of the way first.  After sampling the saffron emulsion-poached Irish oysters", I immediately scribbled in my notebook "insanely, obscenely delicious".

Now the not-so-good.  The local kampung egg, while poached with precision, does not have enough flavour to make this dish really hum.  I appreciate that Darren is trying to promote the local produce, but certain products are just not as good as others.  I would much rather he used a rich New Zealand organic egg for this dish, just like how Julien Royer does at Jaan with his egg with rosemary smoke.  And as for the avruga "caviar"...well...

First Main Course: DC Signature Seafood Medley - Fillet of Line-Caught Kurau from Pulau Ketam, Seared Hokkaido Scallops, Slipper Lobster in Squid Ink Tempura, Green Asparagus, Watercress and Champagne Emulsion


Excellent.  The kurau is the clear hero of this dish, perfectly moist and flavoursome, perhaps the best-prepared piece of fish I have had all year.  The Hokkaido scallops are decent, although I would have liked a bit more of a sear on them, and the local slipper lobster enveloped in a squid ink-based batter adds a nice textural contrast.  This dish actually reminds me a lot of Restaurant André's South, although Darren is obviously using more local (as opposed to Mediterranean) seafood.

Second Main Course: Supreme of Corn-Fed Organic Chicken, Celeriac Cream, Fregola tossed in Jus, Roasted Eryngii Mushroom and Porcini Foam


Another superb dish.  Stylistically, this reminds me of some of Alain Soliveres' better work at Taillevent, very good protein perfectly handled, a little Mediterranean flourish with the fregola, all bound together with a smoother-than-a-baby's-bottom celeriac puree and a classic jus.  The porcini foam on the more neutral eryngii mushroom adds the finishing touch.

A bit of a wait between courses allows me to have a closer look at my avian dining companions


Third Main Course: A9 Australian Wagyu Rump Cap, Potato Purée, Onion Tarte, "Overnight" Jus


This is very classic, very correct, very delicious.  Darren has done an old LCB trick by using a pastry component as a textural contrast against the meat and puree.  Try as I might, I cannot fault this dish, and it is a definite contender for the best beef preparation I have had in 2015.  Experimental foodies might find this a bit boring, but what I think of experimental foodies cannot be published in a PG-15 blog.

Cheese: Fresh and Matured Cheeses from Jean-Yves Bordier


DC sources its cheese from Jean-Yves Bordier, who is far more famous for his Normandy butter.  I make my selection (Valençay, bleu d'auvergne, Tomme de Savoie and a couple of others I don't recollect), which is served with more of Gros' bread, a mixed salad and some preserved kumquat.  Good, but based on this single experience, Bordier's cheese is not quite in the league of the elite affineurs such as Antony and Philippe Olivier.


Pre-Dessert: Water Lily Mango Sherbet, Coconut Cream, Candied Kumquat and Speculoos Crumble


Decent, but I must say that after the supreme quality of the mains, and judging all of the desserts in retrospect, this was a bit of a let-down.

First Dessert: Eclairs - Araguani (100% Venezuela) Chocolate and Raspberry, Rose, and Lychee 


A reminder that Darren also earned his stripes in the sweet arts, this is understated, yet none the less effective for it.  I like the contrast between the Araguani chocolate and vanilla bean creme patissiere. The choux is a little chewier than the regular, but I actually enjoy the more substantial texture.

Second Dessert: Green Tea Crème Catalan: Soy Milk Crème Anglaise, Almond Tuile, Black Jelly


Excellent.  Beneath the paper-thin tuile is a spoonful of grass jelly, or leong fun as the Cantonese-speakers would know it,  It adds a refreshing yet light salty bite, which combined with the slight bitterness of the green tea, prevents the crema and tuile from overwhelming the palate.  

Conclusion

There is a lot to love about DC Restaurant, not least its ambition.  It is clearly aiming to provide a dining experience rarely encountered in Malaysia.  Even its service, which is knowledgeable, correct and unfailingly polite if not exactly shining with X-factor, is a refreshing change from the KL standard, which typically ranges somewhere between Fawlty Towers and Hotel Babylon.

The same goes for what's on the plate.  I love Darren's work with main courses and pastry.  The entrees seem to be more from the Parisian bistronomique school of thought, which I suspect is in no small part due to the influence of Darren's mentor Pierre Sang-Boyer.  What Darren achieves with top-quality meat and seafood is simply outstanding, and he readily admits over a post-work beer that that is where is culinary heart is.  But this is not to say that Darren is merely reproducing the LCB syllabus; from my experience of LCB dinners (including dinners cooked by the LCB Paris instructors), Darren appears to have surpassed his erstwhile masters.

For a restaurant that is not even a year old, what DC has achieved has been very impressive, although there is a still a fair amount of tinkering needed.  In particular, the wine selection does Darren's food an injustice.  Darren's cooking, especially the main courses, is perfect wine pairing food, and it is a shame there is not a single vintage on the list which is up to the task.  Thankfully, diners may BYO alcohol for a reasonable corkage fee (RM50 per bottle of wine, RM80 for hard liquor).  I also understand that Darren will soon be overhauling his wine selection.

There has been a lot of talk in the Malaysian press about Darren and DC Restaurant potentially being Malaysia's champion in trying to achieve a spot on the Asia's 50 Best Restaurants list.  The politics and machinations of that list are byzantine beyond imagining, as evidenced by some of the less comprehensible entries on that list throughout the years.  On a quality basis alone, which we need to accept is NOT the yardstick of qualification, in my opinion, DC Restaurant would not look out of place on Asia's 50 Best.

DC RESTAURANT BY DARREN CHIN
No. 44 Persiaran Za'aba
Taman Tun Dr Ismail
60000 Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia
Tel: +603 7731 0502
www.restaurant-dc.com
BYO Policy: RM75++ per 750mL bottle of wine, RM80 per bottle of hard liquor.  Please click here for a list of BYO restaurants in KL and the Klang Valley, and their corkage policies.
Reservations highly recommended.  Set menus for RM298+ and RM 368+, excluding drinks.

5 comments:

  1. great timing! i'm heading back to KL this weekend and will try to drop by DC. Going to keep expectations low but I have to say, this post has stirred quite a flutter in my heart and stomache ... hoping it will finally erase the nightmare that was bistro a'table ...

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    1. Hi Calvin, sorry for the very late response. Did you manage to try DC?

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    2. PS I was planning on visiting and doing a review of Bistro a Table, but a friend told me that "Isadora would eat you up for breakfast". With the prospect of such a welcome, I have steered well clear of the place!!!

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  2. Good report, enjoyed the thoughtful and considered comments. Good to know about the sad wines, I'll be going there soon with some bottles and friends and hope to have a good blog about it myself! Cheers!

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    1. Hi Brian,

      Many thanks for the kind feedback, greatly appreciated.

      I also very much enjoyed reading your post on DC Restaurant at http://klfoodandwine.blogspot.sg/2015/07/dc-restaurant-seriously-good.html

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