Saturday, 17 March 2012

Plated Perfection at Xenri D'Garden Terrace

Took a while for this to emerge after the actual dinner last month. I was characteristically worried if it would be okay. Seems to happen only when I write about high-end places.

I was so jittery, I had to confirm the names and spellings of the dishes and equipment with online research and the restaurant, while studiously avoiding the dozens of other reviews of the same venue.

Thought it would turn out okay but when the paper came out, oh my seafoodz, isn't that the sea fan mussel carpaccio, not the white trevally one?!

Also, the yuzu sorbet was actually part of the undefined "three-dessert course" that also consisted of a single mochi and two small slices of mango tempura. From this post I trimmed a little bit off the last sentence; Meltique beef is not more expensive than wagyu beef.

...I guess no matter how perfect the dining experience, writers can and will never truly do it justice. But never mind this imperfect piece. Pick a good day to indulge, call the number and make a booking. And check if you have seafood allergies.

All photos in the article and this post are courtesy of Xenri Group.

Plated perfection
Surrender yourself to the kaiseki experience at Xenri D'Garden Terrace and you'll see that Japanese food is more than just sushi and katsudons

first published in The Star, 17 March 2012

One of Melody's contacts had invited her out to lunch one day at Xenri D'Garden Terrace. It must have been some meal; she was virtually singing about it while tormenting me with a smartphone slideshow of the dishes. After hearing Melody ooh and aah over it for weeks, I finally took the leap to see what the fuss was all about, albeit with some misgivings.

We were going for a kaiseki dinner.

"Parfait" of Philadelphia
cream cheese, crabmeat,
tomato and avocado cubes
The word (literally, "gut stones") harkens to the days when Japanese Zen monks staved off hunger by warming their stomachs with heated stones in their robes. Today the name is bestowed to the multi-course dining concept synonymous with the Japanese ryokan experience.

Only the best seasonal ingredients within an inn's vicinity are used to create a series of small dishes. The aromas, flavours and textures of handpicked ingredients are artfully arranged and garnished to give diners a memorable experience.

By "memorable", I mean "expensive".

We arrived for dinner at slightly past 7pm. The public area, where the buffet lines were, was already full. We were ushered into a private nook befitting our "fine dining experience".

Though my companion and I were in no hurry, our orders took a while to arrive. I assumed the chef must have been bending over backwards for us in the kitchen. In Japan, chefs doing kaiseki are reputed to have an unforgivingly perfectionist streak.

Our meal arrived course by course. My appetiser, a single seared scallop, was firm and sweet, but I liked the luxuriously rich and thick sea urchin glaze it sat in even better. The "home made" seaweed caviar and sardine "biscuit" that garnished the scallop provided additional and interesting flavours and textures.

Seared scallop in sea urchin glaze with seaweed
"caviar" and sardine "biscuit"

From its meaty-pink freshness, I could tell that Melody's ocean trout was fine specimen of ocean goodness. Smoked with an apple-wood fire, poached and laid on a bed of asparagus shavings and drizzled with truffle oil, I stole a spoonful, only to be catapulted straight to heaven.

Smoked ocean trout with asparagus shavings,
drizzled with truffle oil

A good start, I thought, impatient for my next order. I didn't have to wait long. My carpaccio of white trevally (or striped jack) was dressed in an appetite-whetting honey vinaigrette. Paired with fresh firm shrimp, buttery avocado and luxuriously rich sea urchin, it was delectable. From the way Melody was wolfing down her sea fan mussel carpaccio, dressed in a tangy home-made apple sauce, I guessed it must have tasted as good as it looked, sitting prettily in the shell with a side of crunchy white fungus.

Braised wild duck confit
After such a stellar start, my expectations were sky high. Alas, my crab bisque, with an egg custard that trapped pieces of crabmeat at the bottom of the bowl, was just so-so; I much preferred the Melody's Pacific clam soup. I crushed one of the little beasts with my teeth and got a mouthful of clam essence - I could have swooned with pleasure. It was only course No. 2, and I was beginning to feel a little full. That was when I began to worry. Would we have enough room between us for what would follow?

My braised wild duck confit and Melody's braised Angus short ribs, dressed in a thick sauce made with Japanese burdock, assured us that we would make room. My slow-braised duck, accompanied by sweet little eggplants and meaty Portobello mushrooms, was so fall-off-the-bone tender, the meat would not stay on the fork.

We were truly stuffed by the time the three-dessert course rolled around. Melody couldn't finish her decadent warm chocolate soufflé, "royal" vanilla ice cream with several halved cherries drenched in a red wine sauce, although it was very good. Neither could I do full justice to my green tea tiramisu and "home made" (do the chefs live at the restaurant?) mango sorbet topped with honey-lemon jelly.

Perhaps the best part of a kaiseki meal is that you can never predict what you're getting. Even if it's a set menu, sometimes the chef throws in surprises. Midway through our meal, the chef impulsively slipped in a few additional items – we had come at a time when they were testing out new dishes, we were told.

We received, gratis, a bowl of firm glassine noodles made of arrowroot flour, kept cool with ice and dressed with the same apple sauce as the mussel carpaccio; a "parfait" consisting of layers of Philadelphia cream cheese, crabmeat, tomato and avocado cubes; and a yuzu sorbet, served with its zest. The tangy citrus with floral notes commonly used in Japanese cuisine was, until my first spoonful, an ingredient I had only read about. For bringing just this flavour across the miles, Xenri has my eternal gratitude.

Time taken? Two hours. Damage? RM238. Satisfaction level? 100%.

In spite of my wallet-conscious dining habits, I am already planning a return and wondering what Xenri's irrepressible chefs will come up with the next. I'm certain they will make the old ryokan chefs proud.

Tip: The adventurous could also try the wagyu beef grill, essentially a hotplate on a hida konro (clay stove). Our waitress rubbed a lump of fatty beef on it, before searing the slices of mid-grade wagyu on it. Xenri plans to use Meltique beef (processed using a variation of the French larding technique) for this dish.

Xenri D'Garden Terrace
Lot No. 2-04, 2nd Floor
Podium Block, Menara Hap Seng
Jalan P Ramlee
50250 Kuala Lumpur


+603-2078 6688

Xenri Group (M) web site


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