A couple years ago, Menara Hap Seng was known as MUI Plaza. I used to work here between the years of 2005 – 2007. Back then, it was a run-down building which has seen better days and was very much an eyesore. These days, in place of the once gray and dodgy building is a yuppies heaven with a fountain to boot. The building now houses a few swanky establishments and its very own Starbucks. The reason for revisiting the building was an invitation from Elegant Inn to sample some of its dishes.
The restaurant has an unmistakable air of sophistication about it. The double-layered white tablecloths, the intricate wood paneling decorations, the ornate boudoir chandelier creates the ambiance. It may sound like we just walked into any French restaurant, but it’s the red moiré wallpaper across one side of the dining room that puts one in the mood for an imperial Chinese meal.
As this was an invited review by Marian Eu, we thought we’ll be receiving a nice media kit including comprehensive notes of the dinner. So imagine our surprise faces when we were only given a little A5 menu with nothing more than just 100-words on it. But, we soon find out why.
Our gracious host, Jeannette, is like the grand master character out of The God of Cookery movie franchise. She’s a living and breathing Sik Sun ??. And she lives and breaths to bring you the best ingredients and dishes money can buy. Eating with her is also an utter joy. Imagine having a live commentary of every dish and every flavour you are tasting. She’s somebody who knows her food very well, so don’t you dare cheat her or she’ll have you steamed and fried in her kitchen!
This is my taste of Yee Sang for the year. It’s early I know, however this made up for the slow start I had the previous year. It wasn’t until the seventh day of the Chinese New Year that I managed to savour this auspicious seasonal salad.
Not only was the Yee Sang a generous and properous start to the meal, but the freshness of its ingredients was an indication of what to expect for the rest of the evening. The seafood combo of jelly fish, abalone and salmon accompanied by freshly grated pear, radish, cucumber and carrots gave this dish a refreshing twist of taste, texture and xin mei (fresh taste). The usual questionable psychedelic ingredients were no where to be found on this plate. RM88 for full portion, RM68 for half portion, and RM48 for mini portion. Ours was the half portion, and very substantial for a table of 6-8 pax. What made this particular tossing of yee sang even more special was doing it with all my favourite bloggers on the table: Ah Pa, The Queen and her Bald Eagle and of course, Cumi & Ciki.
The platter of appetizers was beautifully constructed with glass-wares and a dragon-like vermicelli sculpture at its peak. As the host instructed, we all started off with a bite of Salt & Pepper Hong Kong Silver Fish & Homemade Tofu. The fish was perfectly fried with enough crunchiness on its outer skin and retains the chewiness of the fish inside. Next, we washed our palate with the refreshing and tangy Special Chilled Spoon with Fresh Salmon & Crabmeat on a bed of freshly made ramen.
Now that our tongues are sparkly clean, it’s time to graduate to the highlight of the dish, Japanese Kobe cooked in E.I Garlic Style. Yup, Japanese Kobe alright. Nicely seared and melt in your mouth no doubt. I love a cow that has lived a fulfilling life. The platter isn’t exactly cheap, it comes up to about RM70 – RM80 a pax. But as Jeanette explains, it’s about balance, splurge on your superstar and let the rest just be a cheap good meal.
As much as Cantonese cooks pay much attention to the freshness of their primary cooking ingredients, Cantonese cuisine also uses a long list of preserved food items to add a depth of flavour to a dish. This may be an influence from Hakka cuisine. The Signature Pig Stomach with Peppercorn & Salted Vegetable carried on this long tradition by double boiling a combination of dried ingredients like Yunan Ham, dried scallop, peppercorn; with fresh varieties like village chicken thigh & feet, pork ribs & stomach, abalone mushroom and salted vegetables to create a contrast in taste without over-killing the tastebuds. According to our host, one will first taste the sweetness of the ingredients before experiencing a subtle afterburn when you reached the bottom of the bowl.
As expectations begin to rise, the Golden Fried Estuary Garoupa Fillet with Chinese Leek Topping, didn’t temper any grand illusions. Using a frying technique called foong chin (concealed frying), the cook lightly coated the fish with some tapioca flour before frying it in high heat. The result of the fish texture MUST be 70% deep fried on the outside and 30% the tenderness of a steamed fish on the inside. Elegant Inn scored big here.
Just when we thought we were served one fish dish too many, the Steamed Talapia with Ham Yue Fah Lam (salted fish and belly pork) blew us all away. This rather un-luxurious fish is prepared with ginger, salted fish, pork belly and chili. If all these sound too robust a manner to treat a fish, then you’re in for a surprising delight.
The Signature Live Crab with Salted Yolk Style is nothing like the overly battered and deep fried versions we are accustomed to. Cantonese cooking precides that a cook must showcase the xin mei (fresh taste) of the main seafood ingredient rather than mask it. Here, the buttery salted egg gravy is light and fresh. Elegant Inn also prides itself in using the finest locally sourced fresh ingredients like Bentong ginger in this dish.
We also managed to savour two other seasonal dishes that’s akin to the spring celebration. The Queen was waiting patiently all evening for the Clayot Rice with Waxed Meat to be served. She shed tears when our host unveiled the pot to display an array of waxed meat under its cover and filled the room with a wonderful aroma. I have to agree, it’s an amazing sight and awesome to consume. Secondly the 8 Vegetarian Treasures in Chef Sauce is a mix of 4 different flavours and consist of Wanyi imported from Harbin, which will only available for the next two months.
We also had a second helping of rice in the form of Elegant Inn’s Signature Fried Rice, which was cooked with two different kind of rice together with HK ha kon and crab meat. Fluffy and full of wok hei (wok flavour), I bet you they were dancing around in the wok merrily. Even anti-carbs Ciki agreed with it. It’s a miracle.
I am in love with the Signature Bitter Melon with Salted Vegetable, so I’d just go ahead to declare it my favourite dish of the evening. Simple and elegant.
And to finish off the wonderful meal, Elegant Inn’s take on traditional desserts are excellent. The Sweetened Japanese Pumpkin Sago with Green Bean may come across as mango puree at first glance. Dig into into the golden soup and you’ll find little sago beads contrasting its smooth texture and the green bean paste elevates the pumpkin taste to new heights. The steamed Malai Gou was fluffy and light while the Suet Kap (snow jelly) in Ginger Soup was delicately joyful to the taste buds. But nothing beats the Homemade Banana Chinese Pancake and Nutty Sesame Rice Balls. What can I say, monkeys love their bananas and nuts (gosh, that sounded wrong somehow).
Once again, thanks to Marian and Ciki for the invite, and to Jeanette for having us.
Elegant Inn also has some Chinese New Year set menus, from RM788++ per table for dinner, or from RM538++ for lunch. Note to self: make sure to crash AhPa’s reunion dinner if he dines here.