Dewakan by Darren Teoh @ KDU University College, Glenmarie

March 2, 2015

The Klang Valley's best new restaurant so far this year is an unassuming venue with an ambitious vision, spilling over with a cascade of culinary surprises that coalesce into an enriching experience to remind guests that with great food comes great joy. If you can only visit one restaurant right now, make it Dewakan, which served the most compelling meal I've had in 18 months.

Come to the Glenmarie campus of KDU University College & take a journey through an epically epicurean 10-course tasting menu that'll require north of two hours. Nibble on crispy edible 'twigs' with mayonnaise made with Terengganu's 'budu' fermented fish sauce - a harbinger of Dewakan's harvest of Malaysian flavours that are rarely thrust into the high-end spotlight.

The menu is fun but not flamboyant, playful without being gimmicky, unconventionally remarkable but perceptively restrained. Cucur-style fritters are showered with kerisik, herbaceous & earthy, laced with slivers of duck, a bravura testament to lecturer-chef Darren Teoh's determination to interpret both familiar & unfamiliar local ingredients through an insightful, inventive lens.

 Teoh's food forms a tapestry of personal stories, reflecting on people, their culture, the past & the future. This mango curry - brimming with simultaneously pure & rich nuances in every spoonful - is a tribute to his grandmother's late Malayalee friend, whose unforgettable cooking managed to turn the meat-loving Teoh into a vegetarian for one meal every year.

 Now, the actual 10 courses after the prelude: First, a vivid ensemble of Pulau Ketam razor clams, sauteed & served chilled with cashew nuts, rose apples, 'tenggek burung' herbs & 'snow.' Teoh's creations are complex, & he likes guests to mix everything up before eating. A symphonic feat of flavour-juggling, ensuring the dynamics on the dish harmonise exuberantly.

 'Dewakan' is a marriage of two Malay words - 'Dewa,' or God, & 'makan,' or eat. Essentially, the restaurant celebrates food from God, embracing the life-affirming bounty of the land & sea, from farms to forests, mountains to the coastline, & paying homage to nature's produce on plates of juicy roast king oysters mushrooms, mackerel flakes, green curry pesto & yoghurt.

Not syphon-brewed coffee - Dewakan captures the headiness of a potent mushroom broth enhanced with mandarin peels, garlic & vegetables through this striking preparation, a pour-over for a congee of glutinous black Forbidden Rice with ox tongue & soft-boiled egg. Nearly every offering here qualifies as a 'signature dish,' but this is one of three that triumphantly stand out.

 It helps that Teoh has assembled a skilled team, from manager Hafriz, who commands the floor, to kitchen maestros like Sarah, Yik Siang & Tristan whose sparkling resumes spark confidence in their mastery of these prawns - prepared partly as a tartare & partly cooked - with fiddlehead ferns & pegaga. Crustacean heads crunchy enough to consume whole, rich with roe.

Love this one: Charcoal fire-roasted chicken, subtly basted with whey, coupled with chicken liver ragout wrapped in kaduk, made captivating with a beautifully robust puree of buah keluak & kailan, its look inspired by Noma, where Teoh fruitfully staged for a fortnight. In a sense, Dewakan might be the closest thing in Malaysia to that Danish restaurant & its philosophies.

 Guests won't find salmon or cod on Teoh's menu, which turns for now to pomfret, elegantly steamed over turmeric leaves; the understated, underrated fish constitutes a clean canvas for a complicated portrait of pleasure, painted with precision, with water chestnuts both whole & as a foam, salted egg yolk, paper-thin sweet potato crisps & puree of chrysanthemum garland. And no surprise, the Pulau Ketam prawns, razor clams & pomfret all come from champion supplier MySeafoodMart.

Confit of lamb breast, perhaps not a part often showcased, fatty & fleshy, full-bodied in flavour, its layers evoking 'siu yok,' served with spring onions & marsala & onion puree. It's the simplest-looking of Dewakan's dining divinities, but it's no less sumptuous. Note that the lamb is one of Dewakan's very, very few ingredients that aren't domestically sourced.

 Dessert devotees will be delighted that Dewakan serves three sweet treats at the close of this odyssey (which totals a very reasonable RM175 from start to finish) - first, Dewakan's version of fro-yo, fluffy & punchy with roselle syrup & daun selom oil.

 This one's a knock-out, capable of haunting customers' dreams: Creamy Gula Melaka marquise with crispy, lightly sour meringue - both brilliant even on their own, but the pulut ice cream makes this transcendent, certain to be of 2015's finest.

 Coming very close behind: Smoked chocolate chantilly & chocolate 'branches' with nutmeg syrup & dill, plus 'pisang goreng' ice cream. Ravishing; customers on a tighter schedule or budget can have a three-course meal with bigger portions for RM75 or four courses for RM125, but if you're able, the RM175 ten-course exploration will prove definitely & definitively worthwhile.

 Housekeeping notes: Dewakan is currently only open for lunch, 12:30 pm-2:30 pm, Mondays through Fridays, but will launch for dinner later this month, including on Saturdays. A la carte orders are not allowed; wine however is expected to be offered soon. The restaurant is on campus, but requires a bit of scouting, since there's no signboard for now.

Lower Ground Floor, KDU University College, Utropolis Glenmarie, Jalan Kontraktor U1/14, Seksyen U1, Shah Alam
Tel: 03-5565-0767

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