Innovative modern Malaysian fare


The wagyu beef with beef cheek rendang is a thing of true beauty that pays homage to classic favourites without diluting the beauty of the ingredients. — ABIRAMI DURAI/The Star

Sequestered in the burgeoning dining enclave of Taman Tun Dr Ismail in Kuala Lumpur is a new restaurant called Terra Dining. The eatery’s entrance is unassuming – in fact, there isn’t even a sign. Instead there is a discreet, old-fashioned doorbell which you have to press to be admitted entrance to the inner sanctum of this eatery.

Inside, co-owner Lai Hin Han greets you with a warm, genuine smile. Han, as he is better known, is an eloquent, incredibly well-mannered man with a natural warmth and grace. This is a quality that seems to have been transferred to the entire service team as exemplified by waiter Shafiq Rehman who takes “service with a smile” to a whole new level.

The kitchen is helmed by chef-owner Chong Yu Cheng (better known as YC), a late bloomer in the kitchen whose career has been bookmarked by various twists and turns on the road to where he is now.

An Ipoh, Perak boy, YC actually graduated with a degree in finance and accounting, then worked with a political party for awhile, before taking on editorial roles in unit trust companies and property development entities.

YC (centre) says that he feels it is his duty to highlight the richness of Malaysian ingredients and elevate it further.YC (centre) says that he feels it is his duty to highlight the richness of Malaysian ingredients and elevate it further.

When his sister approached him with the idea of opening a wine bar in Ipoh, YC – a huge wine aficionado – leapt at the chance and that led to the inception of Above Gastrobar.

When he started, YC had no culinary experience and had to learn everything the hard way (at one point, his entire kitchen team resigned en masse). After figuring out the ropes, he even secured an internship at the three-Michelin starred Frantzen in Sweden, which he says was one of the best experiences of his life.

Just before he returned, his sister found a spot in Taman Tun Dr Ismail and asked him if he would like to open a restaurant there.

“I knew I was going to open a restaurant in KL somewhere down the road, but I didn’t think it was going to be two weeks before I came back from Sweden! But again, I guess that’s always been how I approach life. So I took it on and I guess that’s how we ended up here,” he says.

At Terra, which is Latin for “earth”, YC focuses on elevating Malaysian ingredients and cooking styles. It is an interesting approach to cooking that has gained traction since Darren Teoh first introduced his then-revolutionary idea of modern Malaysian cuisine, with Dewakan. But as YC has discovered, there is still plenty of room for competition in this rarefied group.

“My journey in cooking started off with me looking outwards and being really fascinated with French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese cuisine. You start looking outwards and then at the end, you kind of go full circle. I was like, ‘You know what? Now that I’ve seen these things, I think that I have something to contribute to elevating Malaysian cuisine.’

The restaurant's calm, Zen vibe is expressed through earthy tones and an almost Kinsfolk-esque aesthetic. — TERRA DININGThe restaurant's calm, Zen vibe is expressed through earthy tones and an almost Kinsfolk-esque aesthetic. — TERRA DINING

“Not to say that it needs elevating, but towards the fine-dining side, I think everyone would agree that there is still quite a huge gap to be filled. We have a huge treasure trove of ingredients and we are not harnessing it enough. So I feel that as a chef, I have that duty,” he says.

To get a true initiation into what YC is capable of, indulge in the Terra multi-course Overture degustation menu, priced at RM398+ per person with another RM238+ for wine pairing.

The meal begins in the lounge area where guests are meant to decompress and unwind from the stresses of the day.

A trio of tiny little appetisers start the meal off with a bang. The tiger prawn with bambangan and beras rumie is a sure-fire winner. The rice has been cooked with yoghurt, dehydrated and then fried, so it retains a nutty crunchiness that blends incredibly well with the tartness of the bambangan and the plump sweetness of the prawn. This is a one-bite wonder that hits all those requisite high notes.

A refined take on oh chien, the Penang oysters with breadfruit are so good, you’ll want to eat more! — Photos: Terra DiningA refined take on oh chien, the Penang oysters with breadfruit are so good, you’ll want to eat more! — Photos: Terra Dining

Another highlight is the Penang oyster with breadfruit and sambal mayo. This is a tiny little bauble that is intended to bear a resemblance to oh chien. In this iteration, the concoction is put together in a Takoyaki mould, with the breadfruit taking on the starch component. It’s a very clever idea which has been executed so well, you’ll want to eat 10 more of these addictive little babies in one sitting!

After this, the meal moves to the main dining area where you will be treated to the next course, which is composed of sturgeon (from the T’lur caviar farm), roselle and mempelam masam with a dollop of T’lur oscetra caviar to round it off.

The fish has been dry-aged for 14 days and then lightly charred with charcoal, so it has an undulating smoky quality to it and this is offset by the astringency of the roselle kombucha which laces the base of the plate. The caviar adds rich, opulent nuances to this meal which is an incredible, unbeatable winner from the get-go.

Wine pairings at Terra are thoughtful and curated by Han. Paired with the fish is the Domaine Andre Lorentz Grand Cru Pinot Gris from the Alsace region – a fun, lightly sweet wine that matches the playfulness of the fish.

The tilapia with masak lemak beurre blanc and charred chayote leaves is probably the masterstroke in YC's entire meal. — TERRA DININGThe tilapia with masak lemak beurre blanc and charred chayote leaves is probably the masterstroke in YC's entire meal. — TERRA DINING

The next dish is tilapia which is configured with a masak lemak beurre blanc and charred chayote leaves. This marks a triumphant note in YC’s menu. The fish has a lovely charred outer skin that segues into tender flesh within and the masak lemak beurre blanc evokes memories of masak lemak without interfering too much with the flavours of the fish. Perhaps the surprise sleeper hit in this constellation is the chayote leaves, which add a lovely crunchy, peaty note to the meal that permeates throughout in an unforgettable way.

Next is the only starch component of the night – tiny little flatbreads paired with a sensationally good asam pedas butter. The bread has a light outer crust and is fluffy to the touch and the butter has spicy, tangy undertones that just melts into all this goodness. Honestly, it is so euphorically fabulous that YC might as well open a bakery devoted to just these two staples.

The main is a wagyu picanha with rendang beef cheek, carrot, Thai basil and palak (+RM150). The wagyu has been cooked to perfection and still retains a meaty countenance but has a tenderness running through it. But it is the rendang beef cheek that is the stand-out here, evoking all those memories and flavours of hearty rendangs cooked with tender, loving care. It is a meal that draws from nostalgia and childhood favourites without stepping on the toes of the other ingredients here.

The flatbread and assam pedas butter is truly, truly addictively good. — TERRA DININGThe flatbread and assam pedas butter is truly, truly addictively good. — TERRA DINING

For the wine pairing, a standout companion to the beef is the Thistledown Wines She’s Electric Grenache from McLaren Vale in South Australia. According to Han, the wine is so named because a bird hit an electric line at this 70-year-old vineyard and dragged the whole line down.

This is a robust red wine, with hints of fruitiness and a little bit of spice. There is intensity to it but also lightness in how it cuts through the richness of the meat.

For a sweet, sweet ending, indulge in the masala chai mung bean cake with caramelised coconut ice-cream and mango. The coconut ice cream is a labour of love that takes a whole day and about two litres of coconut cream to make. It shows in the final result – the ice-cream is rich and hedonistically good and this tropical delight makes for the perfect bedfellow with the masala chai cake which has hints and nuances of the Indian sub-continent without going overboard.

Overall, a meal at Terra shows careful consideration on every front – the ingredients are showcased in respectful, innovative ways that still make sense on the plate. That says a lot about how far YC is able to take modern Malaysian food and put it together on a plate in a way that gives it shine and lustre without dulling its roots.

Terra Dining

91 Jalan Aminuddin Baki

Taman Tun Dr Ismail

60000 Kuala Lumpur

Tel: 011 7072 7777

Open Wednesday to Sunday: 6pm onwards

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Terra Dining , YC , modern Malaysian food

   

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