Updated: Oct 24, 2022
Akâr has been on my radar since it opened and I’ve always heard fascinating things about the food there but never had the chance to dine there. Until recently, that is when its founder/head chef Aidan Low reached out and invited me to experience the restaurant’s current menu. And so I paid the modern Malaysian restaurant a visit one late weekday evening, eager to taste and learn what a team of Malaysians creates to broaden our already diverse culinary landscape.
The restaurant, tucked away in a sleepy street in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, bears a minimalist facade. Inside hides a modest dining room emphasising warm, low lighting, dark tones and wooden elements – nothing too lavish and overly simplistic.
I sat right at the kitchen counter for maximum engagement with Aidan and his kitchen team, ready for one of my favourite parts of the meal – that blissful moment when you don’t know what to expect with only the menu to act as a guide. So far, so good.
The Ride Up
Dinner started with a flavourful trio – a tartlette, a croquette, and an intriguing fermented guava dish.
I'm a fan of mung bean, and I think its infrequent use in fine dining territory so far stems from a lack of interest despite it being commonplace in Chinese cooking. Akâr then manages to take the mung bean, turn it into a purée and combine it with miso beef and banana ketchup (a nod to Filipino cuisine) a la croquette to create a delicious opening snack.
The flavour salvo continued with a tartlette featuring Eastern Malaysian fare – Losun vegetables, kapitan-spiced liver mousse and dabai. Intensely flavourful yet brimming with green characteristics, the spice and textural inconsistency creates an exciting mouthful that ties together nicely in a neat little spice finish.
The more powerful "guava flash pickle", as the restaurant calls it, was reserved at the end due to its more fermented flavour profile. Fishing up rings of guava flesh soaked in a solution of rose and golden bambangan oil is a delight to the senses. Tartness arrives first but quickly fades to reveal light floral and herbal notes with gusto.
The first course to arrive – Akkeshi oysters, baerii caviar, bambangan gel, kesum (Vietnamese coriander) oil, and chayote milk – is visually brimming with light, earthy greenness. Which isn't something you often see. While the oyster remains the star, the delicate and milky chayote that attempts to balance the flavours of the sea with a floral-herbaceous tang comes with a slightly bitter bite at the end. This, to me, steals too much focus from the oyster. Bambangan gel, which one can think of as wild mango often used in Borneo, adds a dash of sweetness to the mix. The use of baerii caviar here wasn't particularly needed, in my opinion, for it adds visual variation to the dish and does little to steer the overall green-forward dish back from green to sea due to its milder taste.
The next dish was sublime. Entitled "terroir" on the menu, the dish featured various vegetables that represent the current Malaysian harvest cooked in differing methods and completed with Malaccan cincalok cream and garlic potato soil. It's quite a medley, there's pucuk paku, basil, four angle bean, pegaga, ulam raja, roasted baby corn, black garlic purée, and pucuk labu, from what I can recall.
Diners will enjoy the sharp, tangy cincalok sauce reminiscent of cheese. The numerous greens, cooked according to different methods, harmoniously riffed off one another. While a lot is happening on the plate and the palate, every element is so well-balanced that it never feels overwhelming. Instead, it manages to peak at the highest flavour point possible and remains there until the dish ends. Lovely.
A deceptively plain broth soon arrived. A one smoked fish broth, to be precise. Although it looked simple, it smelled invitingly savoury, resulting from laborious efforts to break down lizard fish, duck, termite mushrooms and asam.
There's a whiff of game and fish on the nose – the same wispy sensation one gets when having nourishing double-boiled Chinese soups. Taking a sip revealed a deliciously savoury yet nutritious stock that tastes like the homemade soups your grandmother used to make when you visited her for dinners as a kid. It's comforting, with the taste of goji berries lingering at the end for a touch of sweetness.
I'm told by Aidan that one cup contains at least half a duck's worth of goodness. And I believe him. I only wished he offered a small serving of somen on the side.
Getting To The Climax
Wild bamboo takes the spotlight next, with an ensemble of scallop mousse, pine leaf oil, sakura ebi and bamboo and chicken foam to back it up. Light and bright, with heft coming from the salty sakura ebi and slightly meaty foam, this was pleasant to eat. Not the best thing on the menu, but a progression executed well nonetheless. The young wild bamboo itself was delectable, a feat, given that I have no positive or negative sentiments towards the vegetable.
This dish, unfortunately, was a fumble for me. I'm a fan of lamb as the next guy, but the saddle had a slightly distasteful, gamey quality that marred the dish's other redeeming qualities. I thought the use of kedondong kosho was a brilliant condiment! So much so that I'd go out of my way to say that it helped mask that unpleasant gamey sensation as best as it could. The florals broke up the colour monotony of the dish, but whatever flavours present fade once that boldly flavoured mole hits your palate.
Welcome to flavour town. Pronounced flavours take precedence in a dish that I consider to be the climax of the meal. Would you disagree? I believe you wouldn't. Especially after you find out that it's Aidan's personal favourite.
There's clay pot koshihikari rice from Nagano cooked with duck stock, two-week house-aged Cherry Valley duck from Penang, cheeky starfruit sambal and duck leg serunding (floss). The rice was incredibly fluffy with a highly satisfying chew, the tender duck breast added wonderful meatiness, and the bright flavours of chives and apple sorrel helped to take the edge off the rich, gamey taste of duck. The gentle, slight heat of the starfruit sambal introduced spice, keeping the dish's flavours engaging, while the serunding added a dry, spiced and meaty saltiness to the mix.
Aidan's personal favourite has, in turn, become my favourite on this menu.
Riding That Wave
When the first of the two desserts were served, a bambangan and asam jawa tart, I remember a mental pause when the words "fish roe" were mentioned to describe a specific part of the dish. It turned out that Chinese herring roe was indeed used to form the bottom layer, which intrigued me even further. Thankfully, the rest of the ingredient list seemed tame compared to fish roe – coconut, bunga kantan (torch ginger flower), pink guava and kaffir lime.
A lovely assortment of flavours here tended to lean on lightness, a good call after such a heavy dish. The dominant tastes for me, however, were the coconut and kaffir lime, a low-key sweet and sour combo that gets propped up by the slightly salty fish roe pastry at the bottom. The guava and bambangan add elegant sweetness to the mix, making for a rather delicious dish.
The second dessert – a chocolate and coffee-focused dish currently being beta-tested – was even more ambitious. A dense chocolate cake, blackened banana, and coffee ice cream sat on a plate. The ambitious part came in the form of chocolate consommé infused with coffee, which then gets poured on top of the dessert.
Saltiness, sweetness and bitterness form the fundamental tastes here, and I enjoyed every element of the dish. While the consommé sounds and tastes as awesome as it was, it started to break down the dessert halfway through the dish, separating the elements with each mouthful to undesired effects.
The restaurant's final act, the petit fours, closed the meal on a solid note. Diners are advised to start with the mulberry sphere topped with curry leaf before moving on to engkabang sugar in edible paper and finishing with a delicious pineapple and jackfruit nougat.
My first visit to Akâr was an overall positive experience. I enjoyed getting to know the young team, learning more about their ambitious culinary creations and indulging in some delectable modern Malaysian fare. For RM380++ (per person), diners will experience local ingredients in new and exciting ways, discover ingredients they may have never tasted or heard of before and taste food from one of the stalwarts of the growing modern Malaysian scene.
As a last note, the menu featured here was unfortunately at the end of its life cycle when I tried it, so readers wishing to have the same experience should take note. Except for the two desserts that I had, which I was told would be making an appearance in the new (now current) menu. There's also a vegetarian menu option available at the same price as the main menu that requires a two-day advance.