Chez Gaston by Rendez-Vous: A Brittany-born chef's French foray in Bangsar

April 10, 2021

It's barely 12pm on a Tuesday afternoon, but a small crowd of white-collar colleagues and a family with toddlers are trickling into Chez Gaston, welcomed by the restaurant's chef-founder Florian Nigen.

Fans of French fare in Bangsar and beyond have been familiar with Florian for years - in 2014, he launched the now-closed Rendez-Vous in this neighbourhood with a fellow Frenchman, earning a reputation for rustic Gallic specialities scarcely seen in KL.

In 2018, Florian opened Chez Gaston, but his lineage in French cuisine stretches back decades further - Florian is a second-generation chef whose father still runs a respected restaurant in their home region of Brittany, the birthplace of everything from shellfish stews to the Breton butter cake of kouign-amann.

Florian has now lived in Malaysia for 12 years and stays dedicated to French classics, a relative rarity at a time when KL's other venues pursue contemporary French-inspired fine-dining or lucratively popular French pastries like croissants and canelés.

While Italian pizzas and pastas are ubiquitous in Malaysia, bouillabaisse and beef bourguignon remain few and far between. But whether you're seeking a reliable introduction to the traditional French cookbook or searching for the flavours that floored you while exploring France's brasseries and bistros, Chez Gaston by Rendez-Vous is the place where timeless cooking truly is the lifeblood of the kitchen.

From the start, Chez Gaston's repertoire dives deep into familiar French comforts, from roasted onion soup cooked with bacon and white wine to a brie salad tossed with walnuts and honey mustard vinaigrette.

For some, our earliest encounters with French menus often featured snails - those memories are pleasantly revived with Chez Gaston's Escargots Bourguignon (RM27), a bestseller of mouthwatering molluscs baked out of their shells in a fragrant French pesto of parsley and garlic, served sizzling on ceramic trays. 

These are snails at their most satisfying, with a firm, full-bodied bite and tender, flavoursome chew, far from rubbery or bland. The pesto is perfect too, uplifting the escargots with aromatic herbaceousness.

Whenever we think of chef Florian, we recall his house-made rillettes and pates, a mainstay of his menus since the beginning, easily the gold standard for French forcemeat in Malaysia.

The Charcuterie Platter (RM119; more than sufficient for four persons) provides all that protein-packed Parisian pleasure, from fleshy-textured duck rillettes to thick-and-chunky pork rillettes, creamy-smooth duck liver mousse to truffle-tinged chicken liver pate, plus cold cuts of Parma ham, salami and chorizo from elsewhere in Europe, a butcher's bounty made complete with cornichons, olives and shallot jam.

A two-person portion is also available for RM64. Chez Gaston's pates and rillettes should soon be available online too, at thelittlemart.com - a budding platform for French groceries in Malaysia.

Chez Gaston is a casual eatery where everyone can feel at ease, without dress codes or draconian decorum. Tucked nearly out of sight from the main street, it's like a hideaway that transports customers out of the clamour of Bangsar, with the voices of Édith Piaf and Michel Berger wafting from the speakers.

The heat and humidity remind us that we remain rooted in KL, but Chez Gaston's Foie Gras Terrine (RM65) is every ounce as divine as what you'd find in a French delicatessen, a buttery slab of duck liver foie gras terrine that's devilishly decadent to the final forkful, with a potently pronounced foie flavour.

Brittany might be more than 1,000 kilometres from Marseille, but both are coastal territories with a centuries-long legacy of seafood. Though KL is landlocked, Chez Gaston strives to do justice to Marseille's best-known culinary import, the Bouillabaisse (RM68), bringing it close to the luxurious texture of a bisque, a Provence-loving bowl of fish, prawns and mussels rounded out with saffron-scented rouille croutons for the most robust seafood soup on this side of the city.

All of Chez Gaston's dishes are for the heartiest appetites - its main courses even come with generous side dishes of the day, such as beautifully roasted potatoes and carrots.

Chez Gaston's Boeuf Bourguignon (RM68) is as quintessentially French as it gets, gloriously gelatinous beef cheeks slow-braised in red wine sauce for eight hours till they're magically soft and meltingly sinful, tasting home-cooked like something straight out of Grand-mère's pot. Pair it with a bottle of Burgundy. 

Hunting for duck confit is tough, with too many dried-out, stringy renditions in KL. Mercifully, Chez Gaston's Canard Confit (RM57) is everything we hope for - duck leg with crisply well-browned skin concealing savoury, succulent flesh and fat. If you haven't met the duck confit of your dreams, this could be it. Sautéed potatoes and bacon make the entire ensemble a devastating diet destroyer.

If you feel extra indulgent, have the Poelon de Raclette (RM76), with gooey-stretchy cheese served with potatoes on a hot plate, rounded out with saucisson, Jambon Blanc ham, Parma ham, gherkins and salad, a fun order for families to share, with produce that brings a bit of France, Switzerland and Italy together.

There's more to try, from the beef buff's entrecôte to the lamb lover's thyme-crusted roast lamb, pork tenderloin with mustard sauce to red mullet en papillote. Chez Gaston is also one of only a handful of spots in the Klang Valley for boudin noir, French pork blood sausage, served with caramelised apples.

We thought we had no stomach space left for dessert after all that, but Chez Gaston's Chocolate Mousse (RM17) and Hazelnut Creme Brulee (RM19) should prove irresistible and irreproachable to everyone. 

Besides French wine, liqueurs are abundant here, with the aniseed-flavoured aperitif of Ricard pastis de Marseille as a potential acquired taste.

Patrons can call for cocktails too, from a refreshingly spirited classic Kir to a contemporary coffee-laced concoction. We're also happy to travel south of the border, from France to Spain for a pitcher of sangria to keep the mood bright and buoyant.

It's encouraging to see Chez Gaston thriving, a little corner of the city where la vie est belle holds true. Many thanks to chef Florian for having us back.

Chez Gaston by Rendez-vous

12G, Jalan Bangsar Utama 9, Bangsar, 59000 Kuala Lumpur.
Open Tuesday-Sunday, 12pm-2pm, 6pm-1030pm. Tel: 011-3993-0036