November 25, 2018
At 9 p.m. on a recent Saturday, Ember pulses with the lively heartbeat of a restaurant in its promising infancy. Fascinated guests watch chef Gary and his team showcase their knife work and saucing chops across the counter of the open kitchen, while effervescent servers bring out bowls of freshly fried eggplant and roasted cauliflower to the tables.
While Asian inspirations abound here, Ember is the kind of progressive eatery that needs no labels, while its chef is the sort of person who seems born to cook beyond borders. Cold noodles, naturally supple, couple effortlessly with tender duck confit, crisply sliced pear and aromatic four-citrus ponzu enlivened with notes of lime, lemon, grapefruit and calamansi (RM35); Darling Downs MB7 wagyu short-ribs are turned into a kerisik-laced tartare that's a knock-out in its smooth, smoky succulence (RM39; shallots supply slick crunch, though there's more of them than necessary - the flatbread on the side is also a distraction instead of a delight, best partnered perhaps with a dip); and soft-shell prawns make a moreish match with a zesty cucumber salad with earthy-nutty lemongrass dressing (RM31). Order these three for a flying, roaring start.
Potatoes with poached egg are a can't-fail combo for a stomach-stuffer, their Spanish flair accentuated by a red pepper puree (RM25), though the braised mushrooms with polenta exert more eggs-tasy in a delicate dance that sings with the soft, soulful comfort of a lovingly homemade congee (RM25).
The two we'd skip would be the foie gras with chicken jus (RM45) and the lamb skewers marinated with pimenton (RM35) - both the liver and the lamb feel second-tier in quality for texture, and the lamb tastes a little over-seasoned in its savouriness, but even these recipes have notable value, namely in the ulam raja that's an unorthodox pairing for the foie and the watercress showered with goat's cheese that reveals more gumption than the lamb.
Malaysian produce takes centre stage for the final bow, albeit with accompaniments that exhibit the contemporary finesse that Ember strives for. Charcoal-grilled red snapper surfaces in a tangle of local vegetables, given robust depth by the briny-sweet umami of shio kombu butter (RM35), while the free-range, full-bodied fleshiness of kampung chicken is heightened by the spicy-tangy brightness of a yuzu kosho tare (RM37), marrying Malaysian and Japanese sensibilities in harmonious fashion.
Sugary treats may not be Ember's speciality, but the coconut panna cotta with grapefruit jelly and pralines, saturated with santan, evokes nostalgic childhood desserts with sufficient success (RM23). Wine is not available for now, but that's fine; there's potentially a craft beer for every preference here.
Ember Modern Bistro
20, Jalan Wan Kadir 1, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Open Tues-Sat, 530pm-1145pm. Tel: 018-323-2786
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