February 28, 2019
Seated at the chef's table facing Jing Ze's open kitchen, we peer up from our plates to see the restaurant's founding chef Nicholas Scorpion slicing through a tomahawk steak, scarcely three feet in front of us. On Scorpion's left, his right-hand man David Tay puts the final flourishes on a duck dish that'll soon be dispatched to delighted diners. Beside and behind them, it takes a village to run this kitchen, with other brigade members busy torching, roasting, boiling, baking and braising.
This table might promise the best seats in the house, with its up-close-and-personal proximity to the chefs and intimate insights into their craft of cooking, but a look around the rest of the restaurant shows that everyone else is clearly enjoying the evening too, especially those of us trying out Jing Ze's new tasting menu, which sums up the core of this contemporary Asian venue in seven captivating courses, illustrating a natural but no less impressive sense of evolution less than six months after it opened.
Start with a beautiful union of bread and butter - Jing Ze's own sourdough offers a confidently luscious chew complemented by the silkiest house-smoked butter, defiantly decadent - before diving for Irish oysters, distinctively dressed in lacto-fermented cucumber water (a byproduct of the restaurant's fermentation program that it conducts upstairs) to add a dimension of acidity that snaps into focus beyond a plain lemon; the result is a punchy, piquant brininess with a finely calibrated hint of chilli oil heat that brings it all home in the end, perfect for patrons seeking a reinvigorating way to make oysters your world.
Our favourite courses of this tasting menu emerge early - firm-fleshed hiramasa is aged for a deeper character of flavour, seasoned with kelp oil for a subtle oceanic uplift, richly rounded out by burnt cream and a mustard sorbet that melts into this ensemble for an earthy-tangy fattiness - an unorthodox but revelatory approach to yellowtail kingfish, proving that there are still plot twists to savour in the secrets of sashimi.
Chef Scorpion has served up beef tartare at every one of his restaurants - when we first visited Jing Ze in October, the beef tartare with a Balinese basa genep spice mix was one of our most memorable highlights. That tradition of trope-smashing tartares is maintained with his latest take, mixed with fermented shiitake mushrooms and a tinge of truffles, buried beneath a garden's garnishing of wood sorrels and spring onions, once again offering a fresh perspective on a familiar recipe. Ancho-tossed chips on the side hail from an English Sunday-roast preparation that Scorpion brings from his home city of Singapore, evoking steak frites in this beef-with-potatoes duet.
The menu reflects Scorpion's diverse experiences, spanning Southeast Asia and farther afield. Court-bouillon cabbage hearts are lightly slow-grilled over coal for a caramel char, thinly veiled with pink pickled daikon to cut through a crowd-rousing sauce that pays homage to the coconut milk soups that accompany lontong, perfumed with Vietnamese coriander and partnered with fluffy turmeric pancakes, for a forward-looking interpretation of heritage ingredients.
Mulard duck is next (a hybrid of muscovy and Pekin ducks), fowl that feels nearly like steak with a red-meat robustness, complemented by charred leeks and 14-day lacto-fermented red cabbage; all pretty tasty, but the sauce steals the show, a French-style adaptation of Surabaya's rawon beef black soup, aromatically thickened with our much-beloved buah keluak.
We also fell head over fins for the piscine pleasures of Penang-farmed pearl garoupa - once more, the produce is taken to greater heights with enhancements that simultaneously reflect and revamp what many of us grew up eating, in this case an assam-esque sauce, fragrant with both galangal and olive oil.
This might be one of those meals that we wish would never end, but an intriguingly potent palate cleanser of coconut sorbet, cooled and warmed with a granita of lime and chilli, heralds the final course, a tribute to the tiny but energy-rich packets of glutinous rice and mashed-up pumpkin that Scorpion savoured during his two years in Bali, sold particularly at before-sunrise markets during the festival of Galungan, Bali's equivalent of Diwali.
That inspiration is woven into the dessert of classic glutinous rice laced with palm sugar, brightened with a whipped sabayon of coconut and desiccated fresh coconut, crowned with three textures of pumpkin - roasted pumpkin seeds, a tempura of pumpkin, and an ice cream of pumpkin that represents Bali's reviving island breeze. A terrific, thoughtfully executed finish.
Many thanks to the Jing Ze team for hosting us for the food component of this meal; the tasting menu is currently priced at RM180, a very reasonable bargain for creations of this calibre (a la carte options are also offered for larger portions). Lively, lovely wines and cocktails are also available to accompany the occasion.
Jing Ze Contemporary Asian Restaurant
22A, Jalan 17/54, Section 17, Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Tel: 03-7931-4801
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