Coquo @ Solaris Dutamas, Outside Publika

April 24, 2016

Chef Toni Valero Ruiz & sommelier Gustavo Arriaga are back: The two men who powered the currently-closed Ohla Tapas have resurfaced at Coquo, a notable new restaurant swathed in sleek shadows, with a menu that measures how a perceptive foreign chef can tailor his craft to fit seamlessly into the local milieu while keeping his culinary style & vision comfortably intact.

Coquo signals a fresh turn for Toni in crucial ways - here, he challenges & stretches himself by relying on an impressive diversity of both Malaysian & imported produce, pushing beyond his original Spanish know-how to incorporate contemporary cooking techniques that transcend national borders. A glance at the menu illustrates Coquo's sense of ambition & adventure: Razor clams cooked in brine infused with Pedro Ximenez sherry (RM21) & squid partnered strikingly with a 'miso sea stone' toast-like creation, seaweed salad & light okra stock (RM32) can be traced easily to Pulau Ketam, while meaty Mediterranean anchovies, pickled with parsley oil (RM4 apiece), & plump Hokkaido scallops, cured with calamansi in a twist on ceviche, made textured & tantalising with aromatic coconut air & piquant black olive crumbs (RM9 apiece), emerge from more distant shores.

Nearly half of Coquo's introductory selection speaks of the ocean: Our personal favourite is the tender octopus with boiled potatoes, saffron foam & Pimenton de La Vera smoked paprika (RM41), though fans of fish might gravitate toward the 55-degree cod with thin, crisp lotus roots on a creamy cushion of cauliflower, daikon & parsnip risotto with vichyssoise (RM36) & the Japanese tuna tataki with Spanish oloroso sherry infusion, Malaysian pucuk paku fern leaves, caramelised onions & sesame oil (RM37). Note that Coquo is in a soft-launch stage (with seats by reservation only this week, & full service to commence May 3), so the kitchen may still be fine-tuning some of its recipes; next month onward should be ideal for visiting.

Meat here is meant for hot-blooded carnivores - the 68-degree, Josper-oven-cooked suckling pig seeks to provoke primal lust, complemented by an herb reduction, yam puree & garlic mayonnaise (RM39), while the Basque County top-tier cecina proves seductive in its resonant depth of flavour, showered with grated Manchego cheese & extra virgin olive oil (RM22). Balance your meal with a Catalonian escalivada of grilled vegetables with garlic oil covered in spinach leaves (RM24) & the marinated mixed olives & pickles in bouquet garni herbs-infused olive oil (RM14; this has been a staple for Toni since Ohla's first week).

Saving the best nearly for last: Iberico tartare, the rare recipe that calls for close-to-raw fresh pork, suffused with a sultry smokiness, made to be mixed with a sweet-sour mango 'yolk' & charcoal mayonnaise (RM41). If Coquo requires a signature dish, this could be it, presented with show-stopping panache, robustly nuanced on the palate.

Desserts are distinctive too: Curry leaf ice cream with Szechuan black pepper, strawberries & jasmine green tea gelatin (RM18) is a genre-bending, mind-boggling concoction that we can't decide whether we like or not. We do love the dark chocolate ice cream though, intensely rich & smooth, with a spicy finish of cili padi, enhanced with mint gelee, green apple compote, oranges & coffee soil (RM17). And with a sommelier like Gustavo, there are lots of thoughtful wine choices to accompany your meal - by the glass, the repertoire ranges from a Spanish sparkling to a Californian rose, an Argentinean white to Chilean & French reds.

D1-G4-6, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-6211-2822
This week by reservation only. Full dinner service daily from May 3, except Mondays.

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