Sunday, 23 December 2012

Pleasure In Pain

first published in The Malaysian Insider, 23 December 2012

Melody was meeting a Frenchman in Bangsar at the ungodly hour of eight in the morning, so I had to get the car ready. "This had better be worth it," I grumbled through a mouthful of toothpaste.

Yeast Bistronomy sign
Look for this sign

After coffee, the next hot artisanal thing to hit our shores seems to be bread. Melody had been on one of her food hunts and, that morning saw us at Yeast Bistronomy in Bangsar.

Located several doors down the Kiwi-style Antipodean café, Yeast is a boulangerie, bistro and wine bar that aims to bring its patrons the time-tested homespun tastes of (mostly) traditional French breads, pastries and bistro fare.

Bread basket: croissants and white chocolate bread
Croissants and white chocolate bread

Lunches are light, with mostly sandwiches, salads, quiches and savoury tarts, but expect big dinners with such treats as poulet rôti (roast chicken), steak au poivre (steak with pepper sauce) and boeuf bourguignon (braised beef short ribs with red wine sauce).

The term "bistronomy" is said to echo the desires of some French chefs in the 1990s to serve fine yet affordable cuisine in a more open, friendly atmosphere.

That's what it feels like at Yeast, as French café music plays in the background. Features of its décor: yellow walls and signage, black-and-white chequered floor tiles, framed mirrors and blackboards, we're told, are common in similar establishments in Paris.

French start-up
Yeast founder Christophe Chatron-Michaud spent 28 years developing and running high-end restaurants in Europe and the US before he decided to settle here with his Malaysian wife and now managing director of Yeast, Lissan Teh.

Almond-and-berries brioche
The almond and berries brioche... a refreshing
change from the jammy stuff

Yeast was not just set up by more than the need for bread from home. "Malaysians are becoming more open to try new things," says Chatron-Michaud. "So we feel that it's time to bring them our kind of food." Nor was it difficult to set up the place, given the couple's experience in the F&B industry.

Yeast Bistronomy cultivates its own yeast, the key ingredient in the secret recipes for its various pre-ferments or starters (levain) that give its breads ― particularly sourdough loaves ― a more complex taste. This trait is unique to bona fide artisanal bakeries. The ovens are also proper boulangerie equipment; we're told that some of the ovens used here are more for things such as pizza, rather than bread.

Like its pre-ferments, the leading talents in Yeast's kitchen are all home-grown. Hailing from Lyon, artisanal boulanger (baker) Christophe Gros learned the trade from his dad and had worked with Michaud before. The chef in charge of the bistro part did her rounds in France, New York and Scotland.

Yeast's oeufs cocotte
Oeufs cocotte ... a very satisfying way to start the day

Besides bringing a slice of Paris to our shores, Chatron-Michaud also hopes to educate the locals on the finer points of artisanal European bread. For instance: What does one do with a baguette or a pain de campagne (French-style sourdough bread)?

"Most people do not know what to do with our breads," he reveals. "So we're planning a series of spreads: basic things such as olive and balsamic to something meat-based, perhaps, to give an idea of the things that can be done with bread." He's also not above pairing curry-based fillings with baguettes ― how progressive.

And what an education we had.

Bowled over
Generally, traditionally baked artisanal breads tend to have a thicker, harder crust and a more chewy, harder-to tear-away insides. Chatron-Michaud admits that it's hard to tear Malaysians away from notions that all breads are soft and smell and taste sweet, but Yeast has something for that. The pain au chocolat blanc (white chocolate bread) was a revelation: a small white-choc-studded loaf that would make a great dessert bread.

Yeast's oeufs cocotte
Bread, runny yolk and smoked duck ... yummy

Melody found the plain and Valrhona chocolate-filled croissants "too pretty to dismantle." Fortunately, I have no such compunctions, so we had some of the best croissants this side of the Klang Valley: crispy and flaky outside, chewy and smooth inside. Moistened by the rich, creamy, unsalted Lescure butter from France's Charentes region, our tongues itch to roll off the menu items in French, many of which I'd only read in books or seen on TV.

One bite of the other croissant explained why Yeast also uses Valrhona chocolate in other pastries such as the equally crispy-outside-yummy-inside chocolate pain aux raisins. The brioche aux amandes et fruits rouges (almond-and-berries brioche), an island of chopped berries in the middle of a pastry crust studded with almond slices, was a refreshing change from the usual sticky, sweet jammy stuff.

The bread with smoked duck and Gruyère cheese was heavenly, as anything with smoked duck is wont to taste. Yeast uses smoked duck instead of bacon in other items such as the oeufs cocotte: eggs baked in a ramekin. Breaking through the layer of Gruyère on top, we spooned the eggs, seasoned with bits of smoked duck, onto the buttered, toasted farmer's bread and bit down. For someone deprived of duck for months, c'est divin! Served with a side of mesclun salad, this was Yeast's answer to the kopitiam tan chi, right down to the runny yolks.

A jar of chocolate sablés (a kind of shortbread) was brought to our table ― oh, the, heady, heavy aroma! Sadly, near-full bellies prevented us from furthering our "studies".

Before leaving, we managed to say bon jour and merci to Gros, who was making chaussons aux pommes (apple turnovers) in the kitchen. Practised hands moved with precision and swiftness as the dough is rolled, filled with apple compote and apple slices cooked with vanilla, folded, sealed and swept onto a tray, ready for baking.

Okay, this was worth getting up on Sunday at 7am. Sated we may have been, we felt that our "education" wasn't complete. We'd only had a fraction of what their menu had. With the faint presence of smooth Lescure Beurre des Charentes in my mouth, the words began echoing again ... confit de canard, frisée aux lardons, gratin dauphinoise...

We have to come back. We have to bring our friends (so we can order more). We might even start learning French. Because for the life of me I can't bring myself to call this place a "bakery".

Yeast Bistronomy
24G, Jalan Telawi 2
Bangsar Baru
59100 Kuala Lumpur


Tue-Sun: 8am till late

Closed on Mondays

+603-2282 0118

Web site | Facebook page


Post a Comment

Got something to say? Great! Rant away!