Fine dining in Malaysia, are you having a laugh?
Street food in Malaysia is still king. If someone asked me where to go for fine dining in Malaysia five years ago, I probably would have laughed and couldn’t tell them where to go because fine dining in Malaysia, simply put it – SUCKS. But how things have changed in recent years, albeit there is still only a handful of them. During my last visit a month ago, I paid DEWAKAN restaurant a visit and surprisingly it has surpassed my somewhat low expectations and we thoroughly enjoyed our dining experience that evening.
Since opening in March 2016, Dewakan sure has left its mark and became one of the most raved about fine dining restaurants in Malaysia. Location plays an important role for a restaurant but obviously not this one. The restaurant is far from town centre, hidden away within the complex of KDU University’s Shah Alam campus. Its secluded location doesn’t deter hardcore foodies from sniffing all the way to the restaurant for something new. Dewakan restaurant is an educational entrepreneurial effort of KDU University College, led by Chef Darren Teoh, a molecular gastronomy lecturer at the college. Previously Teoh was an apprentice at Michelin stars restaurants including Noma in Copenhagen and Amador in Germany.
First question I asked, is the restaurant part of the hospitality training for the students at the college? Apparently no. Yes, a few of them were KDU alumnus but they are all full time professionals with years of hospitality experience, there are only two apprentices in the kitchen. The service was top notch and we felt welcomed as soon as we walked in. The restaurant was only one-third full with our booking at 7.30pm, but eventually it filled up by 8.30pm with only one empty table.
There is no a-la-carte menu at Dewakan but only 5-course or 10-course tasting menus at RM180 (AUD$60) and RM240 (AUD$80) respectively. We opted for the 10-course with half pairing wine (4 glasses in total) at RM75 extra. A parcel of house baked warm bread arrived at the table, followed by an array of amuse bouche. You just knew they were having fun in the kitchen creating whimsical edible art to impress the guests. The kailan crisps reminded me of Japanese ikebana, the wafer thin green sheets dangled on the twigs were delicately light and crispy, accompanied by salty mayo dip made with budu fermented fish sauce. The beef tendon crackers were all kind of fun to eat, picked it up like prawn crackers and gobbled it down in one bite and let the chilli padi slowly warmed up the palate. The last appetiser was fresh organic tomato grapes picked from the northern part of Malaysia, they popped with a zingy tartness lingered in the mouth.
First course was cured blue mackerel, garnished with a colourful bouquet that consists of local herbs and edible flowers; drops of medicinal Ulam Raja sauce was a balance to the salty cured fish. Next, king oyster mushroom (also known as King Brown here in Australia) were lightly grilled so that the meaty flesh was still tender. The mushroom flavour was highlighted with green curry paste, ginger torch, wild fennel flower and dried mackerel flakes.
Missing the mark was the braised aubergine, the flavour was subtle, coated in green crumbs made from jackfruit seed which was a little gritty in the mouth. The fourth course of homemade noodles was delightful, served with sweet chunks of steamed ming prawns doused in cold prawn broth. The noodle dish was surprisingly packed with some feisty chilli heat punch.
My favourite dish of the evening, the pike conger was a big warm hug in a bowl. The meaty eel was smokey served with the smoothest egg custard chawanmushi, in contrast with the crunch from fermented long beans relish and roasted okra. It was comfort food done well.
The game was strong when we came to our last two meaty main courses – roast duck breast and also roasted quail. The duck was pan seared then finished off in the oven which left us a nice brittle tile of crispy duck skin but the meat had a ham-like texture which I am not accustomed to. The confit duck leg was turned into rillettes, carefully wrapped inside dehydrated beetroot sheets, the dish was presented with a dramatic splatter of ‘duck blood’, a concoction of foie gras, beet root and all the trimmings. An Indian-flavoured roasted quail was cooked beautifully, spiced up with masala and beef floss ‘serunding’, shaves of candlenut and century egg added a nutty profile to the dish.
The final three courses were desserts, kicked off with simple yet refreshing mulberries, beautifully presented on a clear glass case filled with a terrarium of dried flowers and wood chips. The mulberries were reconstructed into jam and granita, paired with cardamom ganache, cashew brittles and pucuk gajus, the cashew leaves which has distinctive minty nutty flavour.
The Gula Melaka is one of their signature desserts, hidden underneath the gula melaka marquise were two tiny cubes of date sponge cake, then crowned with tear drops of sour meringue and petals of bunga telam. It was a nice combo between the sour meringue and the sweet gula melaka, served with a scoop of pulut glutinous rice ice cream which was too subtle against the strong flavours.
The decadent chocolate tart was the last course to conclude our meal. The slightly warm tart was topped with a layer of caramelised jackfruit and served with gandum sweet wheat ice cream. I love a hot bowl of ‘mak jook’ sweet wheat soup but somehow it didn’t translate well as ice cream which had a slimy texture from the gluten that I am not fond of. We finished our evening with icicle pops as palate cleanser. My friend preferred the fruity pineapple and mango flavour while I went for the sour tamarind.
I have noticed that they have recently changed their trading times from lunch & dinner to “dinner only”. Dewakan has definitely proved to us that fine dining is possible in Malaysia but to sustain the business is another question. Only time will tell.
Lower Ground Floor
KDU University College, Utropolis Glenmarie
Jalan Kontraktor U1/14, Seksyen U1,
40150 Shah Alam, Selangor, Malaysia
Opening hours :
Dinner: Mon to Sat – 6:30pm to 10pm
Lunch available for events & private functions.
Closed on Sundays and certain public holidays.