Monday, April 23, 2018

Mankwonwhabap @ Cheras Leisure Mall

By EDKL Writer A.A.

Straight out of Busan, barbecue specialist Mankwonwhabap has been brought into KL by a Korean family, setting up its first Malaysian outpost in Cheras Leisure Mall. The focus is on wholesome Korean food prepared through meticulous techniques, relying on premium meat roasted over kiln-baked charcoal, harmonised with deep-flavoured fermented sauces made in Korea.

The Kim family is passionate about these offerings, hoping that wider numbers of Malaysians will come to enjoy the essence of Korean cooking. The cornerstone of the menu is Whabap, a balanced meal in a bowl, featuring rice topped with meat and vegetables. There's also Ramyeon, Toppokki and Rappokki, available in a la carte orders or in sets with a lively Sutbull Chicken Breast Salad, umami-rich Udongdashi Soup and nutrition-loaded Buckwheat Tea. You can also add on rice, cheese or fried kimchi to these sets.

The meat is cooked in a visible kitchen for a dazzling display of fire, coaxing out the natural flavours of the protein while imbuing an aromatic smokiness to each slice. Pork and chicken are sourced from local farms, while quality beef is imported from the United States, chosen for its juiciness and purer taste.

Mankwonwhabap's Whabap showcases brown rice with a choice of three sauces - soy sauce, gochujang (red pepper paste), or bull sauce (extra spicy barbecue sauce) - layered with your pick of meat: Sutbull (charcoal-cooked) Chicken Bap (A La Carte RM 19.90/Set RM 29.90), Sutbull Bulgogi Bap (RM 26.90/Set RM 34.90), or Sutbull Samgyeop Bap (RM 19.90/Set RM 29.90).

The flavours of the meat prove mighty enjoyable, remaining juicy in every bite, well-infused with sultriness from the charcoal. It's a can't-fail combination, made completely satisfying with the rice and fresh vegetables.

Don't wait too long to bite into the Korean noodles, as the Ramyeon line is best eaten immediately on serving: Here we have two versions of the Sutbull Samgyeop Ramyeon, soupy noodles with tender pork belly (RM 18.90/Set RM 28.90). What differentiates the two is the broth - one a mild, clear-tasting vegetable soup, the other a spicy-sharp, red-hot soup.

If you are in the mood for something punchier and unmistakably Korean, try the range of Toppokki, which includes the Original of stir-fried rice cakes mixed with fish cakes, boiled egg in creamy gochujang-based sauce (RM 13.90/Set RM 24.90).

And finally, the Rappokki series combines both noodles and rice cakes. Cheese enthusiasts will want to check out the Cheese Rappokki, which is irresistibly stretchy, infusing an extra dimension of flavour and texture to the recipe (RM 21.80/Set RM 30.90).

All in all, Mankwonwhabap is a brand that we hope to see in more Malaysian malls in the years ahead. Many thanks to the team here for having us.

L1 46 &47, Cheras Leisure Mall, Kuala Lumpur.
Daily, 10am-10pm. Tel: 017-613-3531

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Grano Pasta Bar @ APW Bangsar

Andiamo! Showing KL the soulful side of Italian cuisine, Grano Pasta Bar reflects the timelessness of traditional pastas, spanning the hand-rolled malloreddus of Sardinia to the ruffle-edged mafaldine named in honour of a princess of Savoy. It's a compelling reminder of how pasta is a meditation on real, honest food, with a rustic simplicity at its heart.

Inspired by the mentorship of Italian chefs, Grano's show-runner Meg Lee is the nonna that our city never had, lovingly turning wheat flour into sustenance for both the stomach and the spirit - this is the perfect companion piece to Proof Pizza + Wine, linked side-by-side in APW Bangsar. The sister restaurants spell out yin-and-yang identities; Grano radiates a gentler charm, weaving together graceful arches that recall Italian cathedral interiors with abstract art that reinterprets pasta's distinct forms.

By banishing KL's carbonara cliches from its kitchen, Grano might not be the pasta bar that some of us want, but it's the pasta bar that we all need. Meg and her team work with a Piedmontese-made La Monferrina machine, complete with its own unique moulds and dies, to meticulously produce Grano's thoughtful selection of fresh pastas.

Start with the reginette - ribbon-shaped, wavy-frilled pasta cooked with white wine, coupled with braised free-range chicken and pancetta (RM36). The essence of comfort food, each forkful promises fulfilling proportions of starchy carbs and tender protein, rounded out with a steaming-hot broth steeped with flavour and fragrance. The pasta for nursing a wounded heart.

Our other top recommendation is the creste di gallo, short pasta curved as a rooster's comb, soaking up the savoury sauciness of spicy Calabrian nduja pork salumi and capers, sweetened with pearl onions and cherry tomatoes (RM37), for a crescendo of robust, full-bodied flavours that persist pleasurably on the palate. The pasta to reinvigorate a jaded spirit.

Grano is omnivorous when its comes to pasta, so you'll find a solid variety concentrated in a compact menu, from Abruzzo-inspired spaghetti alla chitarra, egg pasta presented here with cuttlefish roe, prawns, smoked salmon, fennel and timut peppercorns (RM40), to ravioli stuffed with cured duck breast, mixed mushrooms and ricotta in tomato saffron broth (RM40).

Meat-free recipes include gnocchetti sardi - shell-shaped, ridge-surfaced pastas that look like little gnocchi, mingling with broccoli and semi-dried tomatoes in a moreish herb pesto gravy (RM30). And since most venues that excel in the techniques of pasta serve equally terrific risotto, there's that here too, a rewarding rendition that'll resonate with beetroot devotees, ravishingly textured with roasted beet bits, their unmistakable brightness blending exquisitely with the earthiness of cheeses, Pecorino Romano, scamorza and herbed (RM30).

Through it all, the strength of the Grano team's cooking shines - the pastas and rice convey textures with a firm, beautiful bite, becoming a peerless base for medleys of mouthwatering flavours with substance and character.

Beyond pastas, Grano also offers appetisers and desserts for a thorough dining experience. Don't skip the fried polenta, deliciously accompanied by an aubergine spread, semi-dried tomato pesto and taleggio cheese (RM23), or the Parma ham, flavour bombs wrapped around mascarpone, mozzarella, scamorza and black truffle paste (RM38). Earl Grey lavender panna cotta with berries makes for a satisfactory conclusion, a bit more modernistic than the pastas (RM25).

Grano is in a soft-launch stage through early May 2018, so some of these choices are still being fine-tuned, with several more dishes to emerge in the weeks to come (we'll be back for those!). Nevertheless, the wine list won't be found lacking, including some interesting Italian options to consider.

Ultimately, the restaurant is a revelation in how the Bel Paese's pasta heritage is richly rooted in la cucina povera, evolving from humble countryside homes into a globally admired brand of cooking. We hope that Grano strikes a chord with customers, since it certainly earns a berth as one of KL's eateries to cherish.

Grano Pasta Bar
29, Jalan Riong, APW Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 12pm-3pm, 6pm-1030pm.

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Hotel Esplanada Restaurant @ Dili, Timor-Leste

With a breezy beachside view on Timor-Leste's Avenida da Portugal, Hotel Esplanada Restaurant is a pleasant place to linger in the capital of Dili from morning through sunset - eggs, bacon, sausages, avocados and mushrooms for breakfast, followed by local sabako fish grilled with chillies, herbs and lime or spiced tamarind lamb tukir stew for dinner, accompanied by cocktails and wine.