I Fought The Law And The Law Won
Updated: Mar 24, 2022
For as long as I can remember, I've always liked sushi. I'm pretty sure I have my parents to thank for that, especially my mom, who would often treat my brother and me to sushi whenever she passed by an Isetan. I vividly remember having salmon nigiri, tobikko gunkanmaki, and California hand rolls as a child. Sure there was the occasional tamago, unagi, and tuna, but those three often dominated topped the list.
The exposure I received to high-end sushi during my time as a magazine writer repeatedly brought the words "edomae" and "omakase" to my attention. The term edomae, which refers to sushi made according to the centuries-old techniques (such as ageing) established during Japan's Edo period, would soon come to dominate my understanding of sushi's place in gastronomy. It's not to say that I still didn't enjoy kaitenzushi (conveyer belt sushi) or sushi bought from the supermarket; it's that edomae became the gold standard for me (and everyone else) when it came to enjoying sushi at the highest possible level.
I adored the entire edomae sushi affair, a symphony of increasingly flavourful dishes that entrances, intrigues, and delights the palate for two hours or more. As my love of sushi continued to grow, so too did my dismissal of contemporary luxury sushi – the kind where foreign influences the likes of truffle shavings and edible gold leaves, in my opinion, interrupt the purity of the experience. And so, whenever a new contemporary sushi restaurant would pop up on my radar, I would often dismiss it. Except when a humble and bold new sushi restaurant called Chipta 11A started to catch my attention during the second quarter of 2020.
Chipta 11A Review
Chipta 11A pleasantly surprised me. I first caught wind of the place from peers and buzz surrounding the restaurant on social media thanks to its inventive approach to sushi. For example, Chipta cleverly uses tamarind to flavour the shari instead of traditional rice vinegar. I was intrigued, but it would be a full year before I would eventually make the trip to Chipta 11A due to the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown chaos. I finally managed to have a dine-in experience at the restaurant right before the most recent lockdown spree, and it still remains one of my favourite dining experiences of 2021.
Located in the culinary hotspot that is the Taman Paramount and Sea Park area, Chipta 11A's set-up is clean and straight to the point, with an eight-seater sushi bar and a few tables to accommodate larger parties. The restaurant has a low-key cosy vibe, sports primarily white and grey colours interrupted by the greenness of potted plants, and has semi-modern industrial aesthetics that adds to the charm of the place. The entry price for omakase here is refreshingly affordable, coming in at RM300 per person.
Unfortunately, during my maiden visit to the restaurant, head chef-owner Jack Weldie wasn't present. Chef Michael Yee, a young and talented sushi chef training under Jack, fortunately, was. And to top things off, my dinner companion for the night was Nicholas from Food For Thought.
I was served sourdough with charred leek butter topped with dehydrated spring onions to kickstart the meal. Slightly charred, the ensemble was adequately savoury, smoky and just enough to fan the flames of my appetite.
Next, I was served a Miyagi oyster with Sabahan Lihing wine, bunga kantan (torch ginger flower) and bunga semut (ant flower). The briny and mineral-forward tasting oyster played well with the wine's umami notes and the flower's more herbaceous bite, pairing rather nicely with the Masumi Kaya junmai that we ordered to accompany our meal.
Finally, the sashimi course displayed an opening glimpse into Chipta's prowess with seafood. Five-day aged hamachi nigiri, served with umi budou (sea grapes), fresh wasabi, gremolata, miso, egg yolk, and dianthus, arrived. The taste of the fish itself was surprisingly clean, with just a slight hint of ageing. The gremolata, a green sauce made of chopped parsley, lemon zest and garlic, when mixed with the hearty egg yolk and miso, introduced a lovely umami and citrus combination that never detracted from the fish's inherent flavour.
Many things were going on here, but the level of finesse used to carefully weave the flavours together while still allowing the main ingredient to shine was a recurring motif that continues well into the nigiri section of the meal.
To cleanse the palate, there was jikase tofu, snow crab floss and dashi. The tofu had a pure soy taste, contrasted by the snow crab's sweetness and complemented by the dashi's lightly savoury quality.
The first of the nigiri to arrive was shima aji aged two days with kani miso and yuzu skin. Light and fresh, the use of yuzu and tamarind resulted in delightful hints of citrus in the mouth to go alongside the fish's buttery quality. The lingering flavours of the miso and fish became even more pronounced with a sip of nihonshu.
Hokkaido scallop, marinated with shoyuzuke and served with pickled wasabi, nitsuke lemon zest and Szechuan peppercorn oil, was another hit. The gentle heat from the wasabi and peppercorn really shines through the scallop's sweetness, accentuated by the hint of lemon that rounds out the entire mouthful.
A personal favourite of mine was the aged hamachi belly with grilled tomato, coriander, basil, shoyu and balsamic reduction. The fish's fattiness was bolstered by the tomato's acidity and the herbal freshness of the basil and coriander before the complexities of the balsamic vinegar and shoyu hit. Italian elements may seem out of place on paper, but they work beautifully with their Japanese counterparts to create a truly memorable piece of sushi.
The complexity of Chipta's sushi went up a notch with the masaba (blue mackerel), which is salted, cured in pink peppercorn vinegar, 13 types of Chinese herbs, smoked with cherry wood three times in 30-minute intervals, layered with balsamic vinegar and soy and topped with Bornean wild ginger and mustard sprout. The mackerel's natural oiliness and flavour were somewhat subdued by the heavy use of ingredients and smoked, but it still managed to strike a unique flavour composition.
Otoro, with dehydrated kale powder for smokiness, spinach purée and basil sprouts, was slightly torched to draw out and caramelise the tuna belly's fatty properties, offsetting the intense richness of the fish before the herbaceous aftertaste of the greens came into play. This was absolutely fascinating to eat, a fresh take on the usual otoro I absolutely adore at an edomae sushiya.
On that high note, steamed ankimo (monkfish liver) arrived in attempts to one-up the richness of the last serving, with shio kombu rice and green apple compote for balance. Cherry wood smoke was once again used. Although delicious, the ankimo's fishiness was somewhat overpowering despite using green apple to dial it down, which I think maybe a put off for some. While I love how smoke can imbue a wonderfully sultry element to a dish, it felt lost and unneeded here for something already so flavourful.
Spanish mackerel, lightly fried and served with moringa leaves and pickled onion in a white curry sauce with black garlic oil was tasty yet slightly lacking in excitement after eating such an impressive lineup of sushi. Twelve-day dry-aged Cherry Valley duck was served right after, with red cabbage purée and duck just to accompany it. While technically fine, again, the dish suffered from a lacked something that would turn it from good to great. I adore Cherry Valley duck and its increasing use in restaurants around the Klang Valley, but Skillet at 163's incredible use of the bird remains undefeated for me.
Things veered back into exciting territory with the restaurant's take on the rice part of the omakase experience. Chipta's anago, chopped toro, bafun uni, ikura, engage and bunga kantan dashi risotto was rather clever, although I must confess that I still prefer the more traditional don version. It's undoubtedly a flavourful dish, pure pleasure on a plate. Still, I personally felt that the risotto and the way it was cooked was somewhat insufficient at soaking up the richness of the luxurious ingredients put forth. With that being said, I enjoyed every bite.
At last, dessert. Roasted mango sorbet, cinnamon crumbs, and borage flower. It's a tart treat, softened by the faint sweetness of the mango and borage flower and spiked by the spice of cinnamon. It wasn't a spectacular finish but rather a graceful and sufficient ending to an impressive meal.
Chipta 11A challenged my silly personal bias towards contemporary sushi and won. It's clear that chef Jack and his team has a deep appreciation and respect for edomae sushi and are talented enough to own the basics to build a new and exciting way to enjoy what is essentially fish and rice. While the latter part of the meal was the weakest link, in my opinion, I do not doubt that with time Chipta 11A will continue to refine and elevate the experience.
Should you give Chipta 11A a try? I would encourage you to do so. Whether you're a sushi purist or looking to curiously venture past the walled zen garden that is edomae sushi, the restaurant's inventive spin on this beloved Japanese food is sure to spark conversation. I walked in a sceptic and walked out a fan.
While the restaurant isn't accepting dine-ins at the moment (thanks, Covid), I recommend that you make a booking for when its doors open again. Or, if you're impatient, order one of their rice bowls from the link below.