Could this be the best new fine-dining restaurant in KL?


The main dining area is a gorgeous space that has an instant charm. — Photos: POTAGER

There are restaurants and then there are gastronomic experiences. The former entices your appetite and plays its role dutifully but the latter invigorates your soul, inspires your imagination and whisks your palate away on an unforgettable, nirvanic odyssey.

The spanking new Potager in Bamboo Hills in Kuala Lumpur is one of those rare transformative dining experiences. Arguably the most talked about restaurant since its opening in September, it isn’t hard to see why and how it has built such a lauded reputation in such a short span of time.

As soon you walk into Potager, which is hidden in a quiet corner of the dining enclave of Bamboo Hills, you’ll quickly realise this is no ordinary restaurant. The entrance is serene and unobtrusive but this leads to a rustic central courtyard hemmed in by glass all-round. This picturesque palette allows sunlight from dusky evenings to spool in and takes the eyes through a wondrous journey before the epicurean odyssey has even begun.

The main dining area is equally breathtaking and begins with a huge open kitchen (probably one of the largest you’re likely to see in KL) where diners have the privilege of seeing an army of chefs in action, all doing their bit to put together the various moving parts that make up the entire menu.

The courtyard just outside Potager's main dining area makes for an enchanting, beguiling sample of the beauty of what's to come at the restaurant. The courtyard just outside Potager's main dining area makes for an enchanting, beguiling sample of the beauty of what's to come at the restaurant.

Every other element in the dining area has been carefully calibrated to offer an unmatched experience that promises some degree of bustle from the kitchen whilst also celebrating a meal that enables rapturous enjoyment without too much emphasis on decorum.

Dotted around the main dining area are hidden private dining spaces, a test kitchen (where plans are afoot to invite some of the best chefs in the world to come and cook) as well as a lounge bar, which is where over 1,000 bottles of French-focused wine are secreted, as chosen by group sommelier Dennis Chong.

The kitchen is helmed by seasoned Japanese executive chef Masashi Horiuchi (who also runs the kitchen at Entier French Dining) and head chef De Wet Visser. Horiuchi has been working in European restaurant kitchens since he was 19 years old (he is now 50) and was the sous chef at the two Michelin-starred L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London. His French culinary acumen means that he has applied a groundswell of French techniques at Potager.

Interestingly, Potager means “kitchen garden” and was once used to reference gardens built around French castles to feed the kings and queens of yore. Horiuchi has adapted this concept to embrace the local terroir, which in turn means 70% of the ingredients on the menu have been sourced locally, from T’lur caviar made in Perak to guinea fowl from Semenyih (Selangor) and chocolate from artisanal brand Chocolate Concierge, which has cocoa farms in Pahang.

At Potager, Horiuchi aims to harness the French techniques he has amassed over the years against the backdrop of Malaysian produce.At Potager, Horiuchi aims to harness the French techniques he has amassed over the years against the backdrop of Malaysian produce.

Horiuchi says he owes a lot of this ethos to his best friend, fellow chef Darren Teoh of famed two Michelin-starred modern Malaysian eatery Dewakan.

“I have never seen a chef as passionate as Darren, he is my best friend and has really inspired me to see the beauty of what’s local.

“Good food always begins with good ingredients. Guided by that simple rule, we have created a concept that celebrates this very root of all things delicious – exceptional produce. We hope to showcase the best producers and share the stories of their labours of love through Potager,” he adds.

To run a restaurant of this calibre and ambition, a total of 50 back-end and front-end staff have been recruited (mind you, the restaurant’s seating capacity is 32) and Horiuchi says this is nowhere near enough people, which is why Potager is only taking limited reservations right now.

The restaurant's show kitchen offers diners an unbeatable view of the inner workings of a top-end restaurant.The restaurant's show kitchen offers diners an unbeatable view of the inner workings of a top-end restaurant.

“When people ask me ‘Why do you need so many people?’ I am like, ‘Why don’t you go to Noma?’ Because Noma only seats 16 people but has a much bigger pool of staff.

“So if you compare Potager to a restaurant with two or three Michelin stars with a similar service and sequence, we should have around 80 staff. So for now, we take a limited amount of reservations, then we close it because there is so much preparation involved for the menu and we have to make sure our quality remains high,” says the ever-smiling chef.

There is only one menu at Potager, simply called the Potager menu, priced at RM770 per person (RM380 extra with five wine pairings). A vegetarian option is also possible.

So what can you expect of a meal at Potager? Well, one thing’s for sure. Expect to be blown away.

There are so many remarkable bookmarks and memorable pit-stops on the journey through the Potager menu, but highlights include a Green Pea and Caviar Tart, which features the covert, earthy qualities of peas alongside the more overt, gregarious nature of the T’lur caviar (a recurring ingredient in many of Horiuchi’s dishes). It’s a marvellous opener to the meal that showcases both restraint and regality.

Then there is Corn, which utilises every part of a Cameron Highlands corn to produce a dish made up of corntastic elements that include corn velouté, corn tuille, corn jelly and cornbread. It’s a dish that will make you wonder out loud, “Good Lord, how has corn become so sexy?”

Because this is sensational stuff – the corn chowder is rich and corny, the tuille adds a layer of texture, the corn jelly and caviar offer elegance and opulence and the cornbread serves to draw the mind to the wonders of life’s simple pleasures. It’s a thought-provoking, delightful ensemble designed around an unassumingly humble ingredient.

Green pea and caviar make for wonderfully amiable bedfellows in this mouth-watering configuration.Green pea and caviar make for wonderfully amiable bedfellows in this mouth-watering configuration.

Perhaps the show-stopper of the entire meal is the game fowl, sourced from a farm in Semenyih. There is a bit of theatrics involved in this dish as an entire guinea fowl – feathers and all – is presented to diners on a pretty platter to ooh and aah over and get the requisite picture-taking out of the way. This is then followed by the presentation of the dish itself, which is essentially guinea fowl breast with jus, mushroom carpaccio and parsnips.

The guinea fowl has been slaughtered when it is seven months old, so it is the prime age in terms of meat desirability and this shows in the final result, which yields meat so tender and succulent, it virtually sashays down your gullet like a catwalk queen. The mushrooms offer a lovely woody quality to the meal, but the true scene stealer here is the fowl, which is a thing of true, pure beauty.

If you’re a wine aficionado, Potager’s impressive wine selection is not a thing to be sniffed at. Choong makes thoughtful choices that bounce off the food’s strengths and also – in a departure from the norm – attempts to include as many female winemakers as he can in his selections.

From the wine pairing options, you might be treated to something like the delightful Cotes du Jura 2016 Domaine Macle, a nutty, honeyed white wine that has a pleasant astringency that also cleanses and refreshes the palate beautifully.

Locally sourced guinea fowl combines beautifully with the mushroom carpaccio in a showcase of nature’s earthy bounty.Locally sourced guinea fowl combines beautifully with the mushroom carpaccio in a showcase of nature’s earthy bounty.

Ultimately, what a meal at Potager feels like is an immersive nomadic plunge through the wonders of Malaysian ingredients, harnessed by the pull and allure of French techniques. It is this – and the impeccable service team – who are virtually faultless – that work seamlessly towards catapulting Potager to the top of any diner’s must-go list in the city.

So could this be Klang Valley’s best fine-dining restaurant this year? Well, it certainly is the one to beat.

The jovial Horiuchi believes that all the hard work that has been put into Potager will pay off in the end – in more ways than one.

“First we have to make sure our quality is good then of course we are targeting to make Potager a Michelin-starred restaurant, hopefully by next year,” says Horiuchi, crossing his fingers – that trademark grin spread across his face.

Potager

Unit P11, Bamboo Hills

Taman Bamboo, Segambut

51200 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 012-623 3152 (dining by reservation only)

Open Wednesday to Monday: 6pm to 10pm

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