This fifth blog post is part of Food Safari Kuala Lumpur 2014 – a series of ten mouth-watering blog posts of the best eats during my 9-day trip to the city.
“Be careful, street food in KL is not what it used to be” The Maestro warns.
“Really?” I ask.
“Many food stalls are operated by foreign workers and the quality has deteriorated” he said. “You don’t want to be ill when you are on vacation” he adds.
“To be honest, my system is so in tuned with Malaysian street food, I’m not sure if street germs can survive inside me” I joked.
I call my dear friend The Maestro because for someone so very gifted at the piano, he is extremely humble, understated and easy going. We exchange ideas about music and piano playing and I am often inspired by his ability and sensitivity to appreciate its finer elements.
And today after almost three years since our previous meal here, we are back at Elegant Inn Hong Kong Cuisine at Menara Hap Seng in Kuala Lumpur.
I recall table service to be top notch and as we walk into the restaurant today, I sense it will be no different from our previous visit.
“Good afternoon Mr. C, how are you today?” the manager greets The Maestro.
It pays to know service staff well and being a regular patron, he receives excellent attention.
The restaurant is renown for its fine dim sum and although our intention is to order a la carte today, we have hoisin and chilli sauce, raw diced garlic and fresh chilli padi on our table.
The dining room at Elegant Inn is very spacious and this sense of good space sets it apart from most Chinese restaurants.
In my dining experience, fine Cantonese restaurants are generally less adventurous when it comes to offering new tastes on its menu, preferring to stick with traditionally tried and tested dishes that appeal to its loyal customer base.
So when Australian baby scallops wrapped with thin slices of bacon are pan seared and then baked, it is a creative deviation that catches my attention. The bacon is nicely caramelized and while it is easy to overcook scallops, these little babies are tender and succulent despite being double-cooked.
Thin slices of deep-fried lotus root are crisp and a chilled bed of cos lettuce and cherry tomato with mild mayonnaise is a refreshing complement.
A derivative of garlic chives, Qing Long Choy with whole garlic cloves is classic Cantonese style stir-fry.
Sliced lengthwise to release more flavour, this vegetable is crisp and its subtle garlic undertone is versatile with delicate seafood or more robust meat dishes.
“The special fried rice is very good here” The Maestro tells me.
Each grain of Elegant Inn Special Fried Rice is firm while small bits of salted fish are subtle yet present. No one ingredient in beans, spring onions, egg or garlic is dominant and yet, they combine beautifully to make this a special dish indeed.
A serve of the Chef’s special XO sauce with its very fine shreds of dried scallops in spicy chilli oil is the quintessential condiment for our special fried rice.
I am not a traditionalist when it comes to Chinese culture but I believe good Chinese fried rice should always be eaten from a rice bowl with chopsticks as opposed to a plate with a fork and spoon.
The challenge of picking up each grain of rice with your chopstick is, in itself, an element of Chinese culture.
Although the dining room is cool and comfortably air-conditioned, I would recommend this icy longan with sea coconut in warm and humid KL weather.
The longan and sea coconut are only gently sweet with the latter’s distinctive jelly-like and crunchy texture. A few thin slices of fresh lime balance the sweetness and give this cold dessert its elegant and refreshing finish.
As we leave, I gaze at a whole heap of dried abalone majestically displayed at the entrance of the restaurant.
Maestro, thanks for lunch yet again. Sydney awaits to reciprocate your kindness.
So dear readers, which is your favourite fine Cantonese restaurant in Kuala Lumpur and what dishes would you recommend?
Here’s some of my tips when planning a food safari in KL:
- Do some basic research on eat streets, hawkers and restaurants which are known for particular Malaysian style dishes to get some idea about whether the food actually suits your tastes.
- Local weather can be warm and humid, so do wear loose and comfortable clothing.
- Comfortable footwear is important if you are planning to walk the streets of KL.
- Carry bottled water and lots of face tissues for those deliciously greasy noodles.
- Pace yourself and avoid snacking on all sorts of foods as calories do add up quickly.
- Be very certain about what’s in your food if you have food allergies.
- Carry medication for diarrhoea and food-poisoning, especially if you are consuming street food for the first time or have even built up resistance.
- Be vigilant on the streets as some areas of KL are notorious for petty crimes such as snatch thieves and pickpockets. Avoid carrying loose handbags, large amounts of cash, important travel documents, credit cards and elaborate jewellery.
Menara Hap Seng 19_07 Jalan P Ramlee
Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Tel: +60 3 2070 9399
Opening hours: Monday to Friday Lunch 12pm to 2.30pm, Dinner 6pm to 10.30pm Saturday & Sunday Lunch 10.30am to 2.30pm, Dinner 6pm to 10.30pm