5 Memorable Meals Of 2022
Updated: Jan 16
This article originally appeared in The Peak December 2022
Before 2023 arrives, I take a moment to reflect on some of the most memorable meals I've had this year. From a celebrated chef’s new flagship restaurant to an exclusive guest chef dinner at a picturesque luxury island resort, these are the five meals that made 2022 a stellar
moment for me.
Chef Kim Hock Su 18-seater Franco-Asian restaurant has become one of my favourite restaurants in the country. My first visit to Au Jardin one September evening left such an impression on me that I already look forward to my next Georgetown visit to dine at this gem of a place once again.
That month’s La Mosaïque dégustation menu was superb, featuring fantastic dish-by-dish progression, inventive use of local produce, masterfully balanced flavours and a surprise ending that catapulted the whole affair.
My evening in Penang’s gastronomy garden started strong, with a light and elegantly fruity junmai daiginjo that I brought to celebrate a special occasion. The delicious saké paired beautifully with the food, whether keeping the palate fresh in between forkfuls of cognac and hay-aged duck or highlighting the subtle nuances of the restaurant’s fascinating take on two types of Highland cabbages.
Water and rice wine flowed aplenty. Service never skipped a beat, keeping us feeling welcomed throughout the evening. The team were also expertly trained, effortlessly and thoroughly explaining each dish that arrived at our table as if they had cooked it
themselves. Because I sat at the counter, I witnessed the kitchen team in action. It was like peeking into an elaborately adorned grandfather clock, with the team seemingly moving and operating harmoniously like bejewelled pieces.
And just when my meal ended and I was ready to adjourn to a cocktail bar for a nightcap, Au Jardin had one more ace up its sleeve. I was informed that because I ordered the duck, the restaurant had one more surprise for me that came in the form of a “good morning” duck. What’s that, you might ask? It’s a breakfast kit that features two slices of Au Jardin’s dosa bread, tomato chutney butter, a rocket salad, and a whole duck leg that one can easily warm up with hot water and a toaster. This next-level service is definitely worth highlighting.
Amongst the seemingly unending sushi restaurants popping up throughout town, relative newcomer Sushi Masa stands out for its incredibly decadent and authentic omakase course. Edomae sushi is the name of the game here, and I had a fantastic meal at the restaurant thanks to two key factors – excellent food and great company. Let’s start with the food.
Sushi Masa makes a strong debut, beginning with three menus that will see monthly refreshes, the most luxurious of the range being a hefty 13-course dinner omakase menu. The restaurant’s sushi counter seats a few couples, an intimate setting that sometimes manages to conjure brief illusions that seemingly transported me to a Ginza sushiya.
Prized ocean delicacies like monkfish liver monaka, hairy crab croquette, grilled unagi, steamed awabi with karasumi (salted and dried mullet roe) and liver sauce, to name a few, make for a nice break in pacing in between sushi courses. Speaking of which, the sushi here is cleverly divided into three parts throughout the meal to give diners time to savour whatever the chef decides to serve before switching things up with a hot dish. This welcome break gave me the time to appreciate better each sushi that came my way with my dining companions.
Chef Hisaki Yoshinaga’s philosophy of applying the best cooking techniques to enhance an ingredient’s natural qualities resulted in an expertly balanced, well- paced and, most importantly, delicious meal. Despite feeling full at the end, it never felt overwhelming.
As gourmands, we all know that good food is just one part of a fantastic meal. Accompanying me for this meal were four other passionate diners with an appreciation for washoku that made the experience all the sweeter with rousing discussions of sushi and Japanese cuisine, with lots of laughter thrown in for good measure.
The Datai Langkawi – Chef Series 2022, Raymond Tham of Skillet and Beta
Here’s an easy recipe for a winning luxury weekend getaway – a curated culinary experience at an idyllic luxury resort by a celebrated local chef and a liberal dose of sun, sea and cocktails. This year, Chef Raymond Tham of Skillet and Beta treated The Datai Langkawi’s guests to his signature take on modern Malaysian flavours for an unforgettable gastronomic affair bolstered by towering fig trees and nature’s orchestra.
Dinner took place at the resort’s Dining Room, which is set beside a calming adults-only pool. As the sun set, contemporary cuisine and wine made their debut. Paying respect to the surrounding bounty, Raymond and his team utilised ingredients, herbs and spices locally sourced from the surrounding Andaman Sea or the resort’s permaculture garden.
A semi-cold dish featuring guava, kaffir lime, ulam raja, mini pegaga, and The Datai Gin in a sashimi-style striped jack dish was particularly refreshing given the al fresco dining situation.
Two of Raymond’s signature dishes, an egg custard riff on the classic chilli crab and koji lamb rack, also made appearances. For the latter, he and his team used local Andaman crab, along with various herbs, spices and toasted quinoa, to make for a rich melange of seafood-
forward flavours layered on top of silky-smooth egg custard. On the other hand, the lamb rack was marinated with shio koji for a whole day to heighten the presence of umami on the palate, creating a naturally deep and bold- tasting lamb rack.
After such a grand meal, there was only one thing left to do. Let the blissful resort, surrounded by a 10-million- year-old rainforest and blanketed by night full of stars, work its charm.
There’s a lot to like at Akâr and its take on modern Malaysian flavours. The restaurant takes residence on a sleepy street in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, where its founder and head chef Aidan Low and his team of current generation cooks deliver inventive local gastronomical creations.
My initial experience at Akâr was equal parts intrigue and wonder. I sat right at the kitchen counter, giving me a clear view of the magic unfurling before my eyes. The team exuded a certain sense of conviviality that made me feel at ease despite it being my first visit. Questions were answered with enthusiasm, dishes meticulously explained, and the overall experience felt solid and rewarding.
The dish entitled “terroir”, which featured various vegetables representing the Malaysian harvest at the time cooked via differing methods and completed with Malaccan cincalok cream and garlic potato soil, was executed so perfectly that it still haunts me.
The chef ’s favourite dish on the menu, a clay pot koshihikari rice from Nagano cooked with duck stock, two-week house-aged Cherry Valley duck from Penang, starfruit sambal, and duck leg serunding (floss), also become my favourite.
Akâr’s desserts are similarly bold, featuring ingredients such as Chinese herring roe as the base of a delectable bambangan, asam jawa, coconut, bunga kantan, pink guava and kaffir lime tart. The second dessert also pushed the envelope with chocolate consommé infused with coffee, a dense chocolate cake, blackened banana and coffee ice cream to play with saltiness, sweetness and bitterness on the palate.
James Won’s latest restaurant is a new expression of his approach to gastronomy, playing with modern French techniques to put Japanese yōshoku heritage front and centre. There’s a delightful mix of Japanese, French and Malaysian elements at his new flagship, which is a very James thing if you’ve been following his culinary career as I have for eight years now.
At this modern laboratory to all things gastronomic, which spans 2,700 sq ft at LaLaport Bukit Bintang City Centre, you’ll find a lounge, caviar bar, the main dining kappo room and a private Krug room. My inaugural dining experience at Shin’Labo sometime in the middle of the year, where I indulged in the more plentiful of the two kappo menus – Kikumaru – still remains fresh in my memory.
In the beautifully adorned kappo room, everyone dines at the counter and sits in on the action. With James being a Krug ambassador, my dinner naturally started with a glass of the maison’s signature Grande Cuvée, which immediately turned the occasion into a celebratory affair. A masterful pairing of champagne and two phenomenal saké to match the meal, IWA 5 and Tanaka 1789 x Chartier Blend 001, made the experience all the more divine.
Stellar standouts from Shin’Labo’s debut menu include the scallop and caviar, a dish that playfully incorporates goose fat, cocoa nibs, uni butter, cilantro oil, togarashi and sevruga caviar to deliver a flavour punch that belies its appearance. Dishes made with the bincho grill were also delicious – a blue prawn served with two types of butter (uni and lemon) and duck à l’orange with a Japanese twist featuring ikura, duck powder and pickled radish.
Shin’Labo serves food and drink that spares no expense. Dishes are well designed, thoughtfully executed and paced perfectly to facilitate a seamless flow from course to course, dish to dish, and even glass to glass.