Kikubari: Chef Sean Thu takes DC Mall's French-Japanese restaurant on a new protein-powered path

September 22, 2022

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Change has come to Kikubari this year, with its new Malaysian head chef who is charting a distinctly different path for this modern French-Japanese venue in DC Mall.
At 34, chef Sean Thu retains a youthful sense of inventive exuberance, tempered by a decade's worth of diligent experience, from nurturing his craft at Mandarin Oriental and Nobu KL to running a Mexican restaurant to lecturing at the Academy of Pastry & Culinary Arts Malaysia.
Sean has embraced more protein in Kikubari's menu, with a wider range of seafood and meat, sourced from Japan and France with a focus on seasonality. 

At the peak of summer, Japanese ayu and French vegetables surged to the fore; as autumn approaches, other fish like shima-aji and hirame take their natural turn in the limelight, with chestnuts to come. 
This evolution of Kikubari fits the restaurant - it's elegant and enjoyable, as smooth and unforced as the march of the seasons that its chefs honour. 

For seekers of some of KL's most refined cooking, Kikubari is ripe for rediscovery.






Sean leads a small but fiercely passionate and tight-knit team, including Kikubari's long-serving Rui Ying, the demi chef responsible for desserts, sending guests out on a decadent high. Chef de partie Alex puts his own flourish on recommendations like duck confit, while commis Jeremy ensures the quality of each dish is irreproachable.

Watching them work seamlessly is a highlight of the counter seats. But Kikubari's main dining space has remained magnetically irresistible since 2017, with tables perched over the timeless mystique of a zen garden's raked sand ripples.



Kikubari's latest creations blend a bold, striking look with rich flavours and nuanced textures, infusing an ingenious spin into familiar Japanese elements.

Ikura Sponge (RM20) makes a memorably fun starter, presented like part of a black pebble beach, centred on house-baked charcoal sponge stuffed with ikura and wasabi cream, for briny bursts in each mouthful of fluffy lusciousness. A little sweet, lightly spicy, lovably sumptuous.


The Uni Biscuit (RM60) is another attraction that breathes invigorating life into classic compositions. Deep-water Bafun uni, with its intense flavour, is thickly laid on nori crackers for a compelling contrast of creamy over crunchy, a confident change from uni served on sushi or in hand rolls, while preserving the peerless interplay between sea urchin and seaweed.


The Hamachi Ceviche (RM80) represents produce at its prime - the fish, pure and pristine, would be pleasurably fleshy as a simple sashimi, but Kikubari conjures a more profound culinary magic with its curing of of avocado, apple granita, buttermilk and mint oil, bolstering the butteriness of the Japanese amberjack, brightening its inherent clean-tasting sweetness. 



Delving deeper into Kikubari's menu, the flavours become increasingly resonant, flaring up through a gastronomic journey of ambition and adventure - the Botan Ebi Capellini (RM95) heaps sublime, succulent shrimp on bitingly firm capellini, lashed with jungle garlic dressing that's aromatically earthy, a union of sea and land with masterfully mouthwatering effects.


For admirers of patient, painstaking techniques, the intricacy of Kikubari's work takes further leaps here, particularly in seasonal off-menu specials that merit exploration.

Dashizuke is reinterpreted in a bowl of anago, poured over with a subtle green tea broth pounded with brown rice and simmered with the conger eel's bones for an immersive umami, mingling melodiously with white rice and wakame. 

Above it all, the anago crackles with a captivating char - some kitchens might fear barbecuing anago, since it's leaner than unagi, but Kikubari takes the risk, letting the eel's existing fat bubble over the binchotan grill without destroying its delicateness. It evokes soulful tradition but is like nothing we'd find exactly in a Japanese eatery. 


Patagonian toothfish takes up the mantle for gindara, full-bodied and flaky, brined with houjicha and bonito for three hours for new dimensions of flavour, air-dried and seared with olive oil and butter till beautifully browned. A preparation this thoughtful deserves exquisite embellishments - risotto enriched with seaweed butter and Japanese turnips, sprinkled with lemon and Parmigiano Reggiano, soaked with bouillabaisse-inspired espuma that concentrates the crustacean comfort of local lobster and mud crabs. 



With its binchotan charcoal grill all fired up every evening, Kikubari is worth visiting even if you only order its grilled specialities, spanning poultry, lamb, beef, seafood and vegetables.

This is no conventional duck confit - the leg is potently cured with yuzu and yukari spice, yielding ravishingly crisp skin that harbours the juiciest flesh, splashed with teriyaki-tinged jus, complete with American cherries for ripe sweetness, kai lan and bok choy.

Could this be our current favourite duck dish in KL? It certainly ranks way up there. 



Beef is an equally engaging experience - pan-seared MB6/7 Australian wagyu ribeye (100 grams for RM180) showcases the perfect red-meat pinkness, rounded out with an ensemble of the earth's vibrant harvest, from fruity, butterscotch-fragrant nameko mushrooms to a pearl of black garlic aioli to endomame puree with charcoal-smoked beni nagomi, elevating what could have been a rudimentary steak platter into a remarkable accomplishment.



Desserts take each encounter with Kikubari to its logical conclusion, harnessing Japanese influences for sumptuous treats like this lovingly layered matcha and sakura panna cotta with house-made matcha ice cream (RM35) - milky, silky, an indulgence that's gloriously guilty.


If you're all for temptations that pack a punch, the Yuzu Tartlet (RM25) hits the irresistible spot - baked bliss, bursting with the persistently citrusy uplift of yuzu curd, paired with a spectacularly lush sorbet that uniquely blends strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. 

While some things change, some things stay resolutely the same - Kikubari continues to be a sanctuary of sake, wine and much more, a place to find your next favourite bottle. 

It's been five fantastic years of feasting here - we look forward to what the next five will bring!

L3-01A, Damansara City Mall, Jalan Damanlela, 50490 Kuala Lumpur. 
Open Monday-Saturday, 12pm-2:30pm, 5pm-10:30pm. Tel: 013-362-4546 
For reservations: www.kikubarikl.com

Kikubari is a member of the Cinnamon Group of Restaurants.