June 3, 2018
It's a case of Stockholm syndrome at Stoked: Head chef Toraik 'T.C.' Chua is back in Malaysia after a two-month stint at Frantzen, which recently became Sweden's first-ever restaurant to earn three Michelin stars. Still in his twenties, T.C. has built a formidable resume, having earlier worked for 14 months at Copenhagen's Noma; now returning to Stoked, his home-base restaurant in Medan Damansara, T.C. and his entire team are taking KL's top modern steakhouse to ever-escalating heights.
For three evenings only this month, Stoked is set to serve a very special degustation menu that's a luminous culinary tapestry of Asian and Scandinavian influences. Our preview of what's poised to be three extremely enjoyable nights was nothing short of our favourite meal of recent weeks.
T.C. kicks off the occasion with his take on a flagship Frantzen starter, a modernised rendition of Swedish 'raraka' hash browns - for this dinner, it's transformed further: shredded potatoes, brined, crispy-fried, and topped with salmon trout roe, come tinged with curry powder and curry leaf crumbs, for that perfect, pop-in-the-mouth burst of punchy flavours and textures, presented on a tangled nest of traditional dried Chinese herbs for ravishingly rustic visual allure.
The menu reflects a fresh pinnacle in the cross-pollination between T.C.'s Malaysian roots and his months of Nordic training. Every time we encounter his work, it has increasingly blossomed with rightful confidence, more maturity and savvy.
The result is recipes that surprise and seduce with uncommon sense and sensuality - oysters are pureed into a silky, mayonnaise-like emulsion, conveying the full-bodied flavour of the mollusk but in an completely unexpected state of matter, craftily concealed within crunchy spring roll skin, enveloped in nuances of fennel, diced and in the form of seeds and leaves, propped amid an outcrop of bare oyster shells, like a precious pearl patiently waiting to be discovered.
The through line of these courses is the reshaping of familiar flavours from both West and East into boundary-bending forms. This steamed egg custard is one for the record books, lusciously smooth and lingeringly savoury, its umami richness intensified by a dollop of caviar, swathed in the fragrant earthiness of a fermented mushroom broth, a sprinkling of chives slicing through the luxuriance. It's deeply, determinedly comforting, evoking elements of classic Japanese and Chinese fare but emerging as a contemporary creation on its own clear merits, deserving of becoming a permanent staple on Stoke's menu.
This is the point where the bread serving surfaces, its delayed gratification another nod to certain Scandi-eatery quirks. Baked on-site, these Parker House rolls with caramelised onions are relatively dense and recognisably sweet, pleasurably partnered with sumptuous garlic-and-pumpkin-seed butter.
T.C. says his time at Frantzen throughout March and April reinforced his commitment to relying on phenomenal ingredients and respecting their purity of character, a testament to Frantzen's synthesis of Swedish, French and Japanese philosophies. He also took home a newfound regard for guest-driven experiences, compelling kitchens to focus on customer satisfaction as their ultimate mission.
Those tenets inform these intricately conceived offerings: Meaty-fleshed tiger grouper to represent Malaysian seafood, complemented by maitake mushrooms and miso-infused hot sauce, comparable to a spicy chilli fish dish; Iberico pork rib, glazed in mushroom syrup, garnished with uplifting seeds, leaves and flowers (cardamom, mint and marigold respectively); brioche laced with stewed onions, layered with raw wagyu beef mingled with shrimp-spiked, house-made XO sauce, inspired conceptually by sushi; and Hong Kong pigeon, slow-grilled in Stoked's Bertha charcoal oven, slicked up in coconut milk foam with notes of lengkuas, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves that subtly acknowledge Thai tom yum, their inherent complexities harmonised with a spiced apple puree.
Watermelon with pickled plums, lime zest and edible flowers; soulful strawberry and cherry compote, slow-cooked like vegetables, made with no extra sugar, rounded out with basil-strawberry sorbet, basil oil and Balinese pepper; and bonbons that marry the sweet and the salty close the curtain on the menu.
Guests for the upcoming dinners will also enjoy several other planned courses that were not yet available for this preview, including a carrot-and-liver parfait and cocoa pork chicharrones.
The menu is priced at RM315+ (or RM400+ with a well-recommended wine pairing that spotlights Sicily's Donnafugata label, which champions regional Italian grape varieties).
Tables for the degustation dinner are currently still available for Wednesday, 6 June, and Sunday, 10 June. The menu will also be served on Thursday, 7 June, but that evening is already fully booked.
Many thanks to Stoked for this exceptional preview.
120-122, Jalan Kasah, Medan Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel: 03-2096-1645