Tucked in a corner of Fraser Place, Skillet at 163 is one of those places you walk into and think, “Wait, am I still in KL?” The crazy traffic, blare of horns, dust and grime – all of it melts away as soon as you sit yourself down.
This is a place for dreamers and fantasy-seekers, a place where imagination soars. Sunlight streams in from wide, large windows, high ceilings give the illusion of limitless space and in the tiny little shaded eating area outside, potted plants flourish.
In the kitchen is Raymond Tham, the friendly young executive chef director of the restaurant, who started Skillet with five friends – pleasure-seekers who love eating and travelling.
A seasoned pastry chef, Tham won a scholarship to study patisserie at the prestigious Westminster Kingsway College, which counts chefs like Jamie Oliver as alumni. His culinary resume is eclectic and telling of the various influences he has picked up over the years: he has worked as a chef in England and Bermuda, as a lecturer at KDU University College and was even hired as a chocolate consultant for two years.
In Skillet, he has found his niche, melding his European training with local flavours to glorious effect. “When I lived abroad, I found that my tastebuds changed and became more European. But I grew up here, so I love Malaysian flavours and I feel that people go back to the flavours they’re used to. Which is why I use a modern European touch but very Asian flavours,” he said.
Tham’s team is made up of many of his former students from KDU. When I ask if he picked the best students from his class, he grins and says, “Whoever wanted to work with me, came lah!”
Tham’s love affair with fusion and attention to detail is evident on the plate. This often translates into complex, beautifully plated dishes with components and layers that don’t seem amiable, but end up fitting somewhere in his culinary jigsaw.
Like the Duck Foie Gras (RM59), which has a veritable mouthful of ingredients apart from pan-seared foie gras – prune and cardamom compote, curry leaf tempura, homemade brioche and salted caramel macadamia nuts. The foie gras is a velvet wonder – supple and melt-in-the-mouth and the salted caramel macadamias offer a sweetly-salty crunch. But the real eye-opener here is the curry leaves, which seem so out of place – like a fork being paired with a toothbrush – but in the end, bind everything together beautifully. This is the sort of dish that makes you think – and see – food differently.
You’ll notice this in the understated Soft Shell Prawn (RM42) too, where a slab of compressed watermelon forms the soft mattress on which prawn, lychee jelly, balsamic caviar and a Parmesan crisp rest gently against. This particular offering was so popular on Tham’s Christmas menu that he has now decided to make it a permanent feature.
These next few months, Tham’s menu pays homage to his native Chinese cuisine, in anticipation of the upcoming CNY festivities. It isn’t anything you’re likely to find in your neighbourhood Chinese restaurant, but there are subtle touches which bring to mind traditional favourites.
Take, for instance, the Pan-Seared Duck Breast (RM75). The duck is marinated in Chinese five-spice and complemented by a taro (yam) croquette, braised chestnut in Shaoxing wine, garlic cream and chilli crumble.
The duck skin is crisp with meat that is pink and flush (although a tad tough to bite through). The chestnuts and croquette are an ode to the broths and dim sum offerings you’re likely to find in local eateries, but the garlic cream is a totally left field addition that adds wonders to the depths and textures of the dish.
Then there is the 36 Hours Wagyu Beef Cheek (RM85), where the beef cheeks have been given the VIP treatment – marinated in nam yu (fermented Chinese bean curd) and then cooked sous vide for 36 hours. The cheeks are tender and bursting with flavour and must be mopped up with the delicious soy sauce reduction on the side. The overall taste is akin to char siew, but with a far superior, pliant piece of meat. The only letdown is the ginger soil, which is so-so and a bit hard to bite into.
Although Tham’s savoury courses show glimpses of brilliance, it is his sweet concoctions that are truly gasp-inducing. Like the aptly named Macadamia Dream (RM35), where chocolate sponge, salted caramel macadamias, and dark and milk chocolate flakes steal the show. This is one of those chocolatey offerings that are revelatory, like the soulmate you’ve been searching for your whole life.
The Texture of Love (RM68), available on Skillet’s Valentine’s Day menu is another sweet offering which plays heavily on theatrics. This beautiful dessert first arrives whole – a red sphere with white polka dots, filled with kalamansi and assam boi popcorn resting on top of chocolate soil and candied citrus peel.
Then it’s filled with liquid nitrogen, which causes the popcorn to crackle. Diners are given a hammer to break the sphere apart. When that rather painful exercise is over (who wants to break such a perfect thing?), the chef pours a steady stream of warm chocolate over the whole dessert. There is a method to this madness because in the end, the dish tastes pretty spectacular.
Skillet’s multi-sensory experience also includes the expertise of mixologist Shaun Ong, another one of Tham’s KDU proteges, who whips up a steady stream of refreshing cocktails. The most complex of them all is the Spicy Tom Yum (RM40), composed of rum, ginger ale, chilli, kaffir lime and lemongrass designed to mimic the classic tom yum soup. The drink is fresh and fragrant with Asian herbs but has a pungency and spiciness that throws your senses into overdrive and kicks in when you least expect it.
Having dined at Skillet, you end up getting this sense of being in a mad scientist’s lab, one where experimentation is a running theme. Tham agrees that Skillet is a creative womb of sorts, that constantly gives birth to unique fusion fare.
“There’s always a lot of experimentation going on in the kitchen. We come up with some crazy pairings,” he said.
And that in an essence, encapsulates Skillet perfectly.
Skillet at 163
50450 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2181 2426
Open Monday to Saturday, 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 11pm
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