At The Height Of His Game
TL:DR In the ever-expanding culinary safari that is KL's dining scene, it's no exaggeration to say that Darren's flagship namesake restaurant continues to reign as an apex predator.
I still remember my first visit to DC Restaurant when I was a young-eyed writer in 2014. Tasting Darren's food made a strong impression on me, and I, like many others, was quick to recognise his modern approach to classic French cuisine as a tour de force in the Malaysian food landscape. With each subsequent visit, the restaurant grew increasingly better, and it became an almost reflex-like easy recommendation whenever someone asked me where to have an good meal in town.
When an invitation to DC arrived last month, I was excited to revisit a restaurant I held in high regard. It has been around four years since I last dined there, so you can guess the enthusiasm I had. Renovations to DC has expanded the restaurant and turned it into a more sophisticated space, with plans of a Louis XIII room currently in the works. After being away for so long, stepping into Darren's temple of fine cuisine felt similar to meeting a good friend after a long separation. I had much to catch up on during my hiatus, and I was eager to reaffirm my assessment for one of Malaysia's top restaurants.
Once More Into The Fray
For my long-awaited return visit, I got to experience DC's six-course Kamoshibito Kuheiji pairing menu (RM798++ per person with a minimum party of two). DC's pairing menus are some of the best in town. Its Kuheiji menu is definitely worth the asking price, especially when put toe to toe with other fine dining establishments that feature degustation menus at RM600-650+ without wine pairing. Sure, it may be a pricey occasion, but what you're paying for is pedigree and a memorable meal.
DC is one of two restaurants in Malaysia that has exclusivity serving Kuheiji sake, a Nagoya-based brewery that adopts French influences to sake making. Such a radical approach to sake displays the brewery's mastery of classic sake-making know-how paired with a contemporary approach, befitting Darren's own take on French cuisine. Kuheiji's wines are incredibly refined, striking a fantastic balance between acidity, bitterness, tartness, and fruitiness for its signature taste.
My dinner party and I were served a trio of "snacks" to start, paired with a Betsu Atsurae junmai daiginjo 2019 (Yamada Nishiki rice polish 35%). Dining together with me that night was Nicholas from Food For Thought, Rachel from Buro 24/7, and Poh Nee from Lifestyle Asia.
Standouts included the mini tartlet of cured mackerel with daikon and lime aioli and the hiramasa kingfish with black sesame, avocado, kumquat, yuzu, and ice plant. These seafood-forward appetisers kickstarted the night swimmingly, more so when sips of Betsu Atsurae with its refined acidity and fresh character bolstered each bite. It really speaks volumes of a restaurant's skill when I can distinguish the beauty of both food and wine so effortlessly, especially when food and wine creates an interplay of flavours that pleases on all levels.
What was undoubtedly the crown jewel of the meal's start was a 50g tin of Miras Co. from Iran, baerii-grade caviar served with pane carasao (Sardinian flatbread) and chive cream. This was a wonderfully briny and slightly mineral-tasting caviar that made a solid impression. Having the caviar with the junmai daiginjo revealed its sweeter side, crisp mild rice-finish, and exceptional balance that never once overpowered the palate, allowing both caviar and wine to shine.
The first course continued the seafood salvo with blue swimmer crab, lemon gel, yoghurt, and avocado coated in aonori. The crab itself had a delightful soft texture, a natural sweetness that really benefited from the slight tartness of the lemon and yoghurt. Roasted nori-coated avocado, which was a brilliant way to add umami to the creamy, somewhat nutty flavour of the fruit, made for a surprisingly palatable pairing with crab.
Kurodasho junmai daiginjo 2019 (Yamada Nishiki rice polish 50%) was this course's partner in crime. With a smooth, crisp texture and a dry sweetness, the fruit flavours found in this sake, which are reminiscent of peach and apricot, lifted the heavier flavours of this crab dish.
The earth-meets-sea theme marched on with our second course, highlighting a plump Scottish diver scallop served with corn velouté, haricot verts, and clam jus. The perfectly-seared scallop had both its natural sweetness and salinity further heightened by the sweet and creamy corn velouté and briny clam jus. Charred bits of haricot verts provided a smoky, green counterbalance to the salinity present.
Kuheiji's Voyage junmai ginjo 2019 (Yamada Nishiki rice polish 55%) was selected to pair with this delicious follow-up. This fresh-tasting, slightly sweet sake resonated with the scallops and corn's own natural qualities. Even on its own, this is a fantastic junmai ginjo with a neutral rice flavour that I can see easily pairing with many other dishes.
For a mainly euro-centric restaurant, I was surprised to see the third course lean heavily towards Japanese cuisine. Perhaps this was DC's tribute to Kuheiji, although I must say it was indeed a fitting salute to the winemaker's home cuisine that didn't feel out of place. The magic of the dish occurs when the shaved truffles' fresh and light earthy notes linger at the forefront before the shiitake's robustness takes over. The dashi itself had a warm, savoury lull, echoing that of the parsnip purée. This predominately earthy dish was balanced by two elements – the slightly sharp and bitter taste of turnip and the dashi's complexity.
The exact wine served for the previous course was once again selected for this dish, leveraging the sake's versatility. This dish really benefited from the sake's umami notes, with the wine succesffully expanding on each and every element present on the plate.
It would be borderline criminal to come to DC, first time or otherwise, and not have their signature cold capellini. This is undoubtedly one of the restaurant’s ace cards, which has evolved over time through multiple refinements. This latest iteration was completely seafood dominant, appropriately called “echo of the sea”, and featured a hearty mix of Bafun uni, Alaskan king crab, and cured amaebi in a flavour-packed seafood sabayon.
The bouquet of aromas emanating from the dish was intoxicating on the nose, giving off whiffs of butter-like indulgence and multi-faceted notes of the ocean. In the mouth, the capellini’s gentle texture and the king crab’s sweetness mellows out the richness of the uni and the amaebi’s salty-sweet flavour. Such a luxurious flavour was cleverly controlled by portioning and the use of Kuheiji's Human junmai daiginjo 2019 (Yamada Nishiki rice polish 45%). The sake enriched the palate with an impactful, creamy sweetness that was big on flavour but light in body.
Full disclaimer, for our main course we were offered a choice of either duck, king crab, Miyazaki A5 wagyu tenderloin or Chilean sea bass for the main course. This, however, is not the case for the normal menu, which instead serves live sea king tiger prawns as its main course.
I naturally gravitated towards the duck. DC uses a premium Irish-bred duck from Silver Hill, master producers since 1962. The duck came herb encrusted and was served with sides of pommes anna (sliced, layered potatoes), pistachio-crusted eggplant, a baby carrot with microgreens and toasted quinoa, and cumin yoghurt.
The duck was excellent, perfectly cooked and tender with a crisp skin to accentuate the duck's flavourful layer of fat. Grounding such opulence was the nutty eggplant, multi-textured roasted carrot, and refreshing cumin yoghurt.
Binding all these flavours together was a brilliant choice of sake – The Wild Omachi junmai daiginjo 2019 (Omachi rice polish 50%). The wine, according to Kuheiji, pays deep respect to the rice used by using a higher-temperature fermentation to extract all of the Omachi rice's primary aromas. With a heady earthiness on the nose, mild sweetness of summer fruit, and a somewhat strong koji finish, this wine had enough character in the glass to stand shoulder to shoulder with the intense flavours presented on the plate.
It was a toss-up between rum and raisin, milk and honey, and a cheese platter for dessert. I opted for the middle, which showcased wildflower honey from Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, parfait glacé, apple cider gel, caramel streusel, and milk ice cream. The honey was superb with an intensely sweet yet satisfying quality softened by the custard-like parfait glacé creaminess, the apple cider's tartness, the caramel streusel's toffee notes, and the ice-cream milkiness. The sweetness in this dish comes from natural sources, which explains why my typically "sensitive to refined sugar" palate revelled in this beautiful bookend to a fantastic meal.