Ordering in: A young chef started selling meat during the pandemic but has now made a successful restaurant out of it

The tomahawk steak is cooked to absolute perfection and features pink slices that are buttery soft and incredibly succulent. — Photos: HONEST BUTCHER

Nicholas Thang may only be 30, but he’s already accomplished more than many people twice his age. The exuberant young chef has worked in a number of five-star hotels in Malaysia, had a stint in Singapore, opened his own snack food business and a burger restaurant, and now runs a food consultancy business with his wife.

Under the auspices of the consultancy business, he has helped open 69 restaurants (some of which he owns and runs). A few months before the movement control order started in March 2020, Thang opened a bar, but when the Covid-19 pandemic first began, he decided to cut his losses and shut down the business.

“We knew the bar was not going to last in that climate, so we just called it quits. We brought the fridges from the bar back to my kitchen showroom and we had some premium meats in the fridge.

“We just wanted to sell it off online, close shop and stay at home. But we sold all the meat within the first week and everyone kept calling and asking for more,” says Thang.

Thang started selling premium meat during the pandemic and has since developed a thriving business out of it.Thang started selling premium meat during the pandemic and has since developed a thriving business out of it.

Realising there was an opportunity in the premium meat space, Thang looked for suppliers (many of whom wanted to get rid of their premium produce at the time). During the day, he cut all the meat and in the evening, he sent it out for deliveries.

“Everyone was stuck at home and they couldn’t do anything, so people were buying expensive steaks like wagyu and we provided videos on how to cook the meat. I think we were one of the first few to start doing this,” explains Thang.

And that is how Thang’s brand Honest Butcher started. The brand identity has since evolved slightly as there is a dine-in space in the eatery in Sungai Buloh, Selangor as well as a more extensive Japanese-centric menu. Thang, however, has stuck to his guns and has limited both his deliveries and dine-ins to 10 orders each for lunch and dinner respectively.

“How we keep ourselves special is that I have a really strong chef background so we only take 10 to 15 diners per session (for dine-in) and about 20 delivery orders a day (based on pre-orders) because I don’t want to overwork the staff.

“I really believe in love as the best ingredient to put in food and if I make my staff work too hard, customers won’t be able to taste that love,” he says with conviction.

The menu alludes to Thang’s Japanophile streak, which is why you will discover nods to the land of the rising sun throughout.

If you’re looking to go big, definitely start with a steak of some sort. Honest Butcher has a range of premium beef in the ilk of Japanese A5 wagyu, Australia wagyu MB9 and Argentina black Angus (120 days, corn-fed). You can opt to order your meats raw and cook them yourselves at home or get them sent to you cooked according to Thang’s exacting standards.

The grilled eggplant may seem deceptively simple, but don’t be fooled, because it packs a punch in the flavour department.The grilled eggplant may seem deceptively simple, but don’t be fooled, because it packs a punch in the flavour department.

For ultimate satisfaction, try the Argentine black Angus tomahawk steak (price based on weight; roughly RM300 onwards once cooked by Thang). The meat is cooked on a grill that the inventive Thang designed himself (he drew the design on a piece of paper and had a friend custom-make it for him!).

The steak is massive and delivers the sort of carnivorous satisfaction that will fulfil every single meat-laden fantasy you’ve ever had. The meat is a blushing pink once sliced through and very, very juicy. Each slice is melt-in-the-mouth tender with fat that is putty soft – this silken quality also means that each slice seems to glide gracefully down your gullet, with mastication almost seeming optional. This is a steak that truly deserves both an honorary moment of silence as well as a round of applause upon completion.

While that steak is a tough act to beat, Thang has plenty of other equally salivating concoctions up his sleeves. His steak pairing side dish of Nasa Dengkaku (RM16 for a small portion; RM47 for a large) for example, features fat slices of grilled eggplant with a white miso glaze.

The dish might look simple and unassuming, but flavours don’t lie and this eggplant is a winner from the very first bite. Each slice is corpulent and has a solid bite, yet yields gently upon contact with your teeth. The vegetable has been grilled extremely well and boasts a slight char that is further accentuated by the umami notes peppered via the miso glaze. It is in fact so addictive that you’ll be reaching for slice after slice because clearly, one simply isn’t enough.

From the mains on offer, definitely try the Cold Capellini (RM128). This hedonistic delight features Hokkaido scallops, whole botan ebi (premium prawns), crabmeat, ikura, salted kombu, truffle ponzu sauce and a creamy seafood dashi.

The cold capellini will take you on a wonderful aquatic odyssey that is worth the dent in your wallet.The cold capellini will take you on a wonderful aquatic odyssey that is worth the dent in your wallet.

This is the sort of meal that will mark the start of a feverish, fervent obsession. Because there are few things in life better than this sea-faring epicurean escapade that juxtaposes slippery smooth scallops; a single, luscious, velvety prawn; umami-rich ikura and prawn roe against a backdrop of cold strands of capellini, all swimming in a sauce that is just begging to lapped up to the very last drop.

On a hot, sunny, day, this meal offers a luxurious shot of escapism and a fantasy beach getaway experienced entirely through your palate.

For a luxurious pork-free take on the traditional char siew pork, definitely try the Char Gyu Rice (RM48). Here, you will discover Mizayaki A5 beef char gyu, an aged soy glaze, signature chilli sauce, fried egg and sweet pickles. It’s a more upscale version of the humble char siew rice, but one where every component hits that requisite high note.

The beef is an interesting riff on tradition and has lots of flavour embedded in every fibre and pore. This is complemented by fluffy rice and a chilli sauce that is fiery, thick and so intoxicatingly good, you’ll want to buy bottlefuls of the stuff to keep at home.

The char gyu rice is a sophisticated take on a classic dish that is a winner from start to finish. The char gyu rice is a sophisticated take on a classic dish that is a winner from start to finish.

Moving forward, Thang says he is already hard at work on expansion plans and will be moving the eatery to an expansive 697sq m space in Kota Damansara in a few weeks. Curiously, despite having a much larger area to work with, he says he will probably continue to keep daily delivery orders and diners to 10 for each session.

“We want to keep it super-exclusive for diners and delivery orders. We are also planning to do omakase-only dinners at the new location. Our idea is for people to come for the good food and have it be sort of an educational food adventure.

“That’s why we will still cap our dine-ins and daily orders because we want the quality to be good. It’s not about making money, because I believe that if we do the right thing, the money will come later,” says Thang earnestly.

Order (pre-order only) from Honest Butcher by calling 012-628 6804.

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