6 ways to have a meal in the clouds

  • Eating Out
  • Thursday, 03 Nov 2016

Pineapple fried rice from Chopstix at the Best Western Premier Genting Ion Delemen. Photos: The Star/Yap Chee Hong

At the end of a winding uphill drive – the tail-end swathed in mysterious mists – an oasis of sorts looms suddenly out of a wall of white.

Perched above Genting’s Resorts World in Pahang – and at the end of the country’s longest cable car line – the Best Western Premier Genting Ion Delemen is a brand-new upscale hotel, putting visitors quite literally on top of things. It’s the second upscale hotel in Peninsular Malaysia under the company, with the first being the Best Western Premier The Haven Ipoh.

Two large retail malls will be opening soon, and the nearby 20th Century Fox theme park is scheduled to make its debut next year.

When the rainy season hits the lowlands, a holiday in the highlands – 6,000 feet above sea level – is like being encased in the heart of a cloud bank. The drier season, though, sees sweeping views of the surrounding valleys, enjoyed from a bird’s eye perch. Either way, the always-cool temperatures make for a refreshing break.

And they make you hungry.

Which is probably why each of the 300 rooms – ranging from studios to three-bedroom suites – has an adjoining kitchenette, although there are no cooking facilities. It’s also why executive chef Victor You has created six dining options for guests.

Siti Arini Darsom, assistant executive chef and chef de cuisine with executive chef Victor You.
Siti Arini Darsom, assistant executive chef and chef de cuisine with executive chef Victor You.

There’s Chopstix, where Asian cuisine holds court, and the adjoining Hugo’s in the Sky, which focuses on Mediterranean food, tapas and cocktails – the thin, crisp-crusted pizzas are a hit here.

Seven Lounge, where jazz is on the menu with canapes and tapas, and Beanz Cafe near the lobby – because a hot coffee in these temperatures is a necessity. Built around the heated indoor pool there is the Oasis Pool Bar, and Kembali Kitchen is the all-day dining area. Almost all have floor-to-ceiling windows to capitalise on that fabled view.

“I specialise in both Asian cuisine – especially Cantonese, with its clean, focused flavours and Sichuan’s chilli-rich nuances – and Mediterranean,” says You.

His style tends to be classic dishes, carefully executed – ranging from fork-tender lamb shank on couscous studded with vegetables and perfectly-seared scallops with a creamy, thick puree of peppers, zucchini and eggplant from Hugo’s, to tender peppery beef at Chopstix.

Nasi Lemak di Awan, a favourite at Kembali Kitchen.
Chopstix's intensely savoury, peppery beef.

At Kembali Kitchen, the Nasi Lemak di Awan (RM24) has proved a hot favourite – literally, since the cool temperatures mean that You has to ensure the plates are warmed to 180°C in the kitchen, so that they reach the table warm. A large platter of santan-spiked rice with spice-fried chicken, prawn, sambal petai, and fried tempeh, this also comes with the usual condiments of hard-boiled egg, cucumber, peanuts and ikan bilis.

He has over 25 years of experience in the kitchen; from his home town of Malacca, he moved to other states in the country and then on to the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai.

“That’s where I learned more about north Indian and Arabic cuisine, incuding the grilled meats or shawarma, and how to weave spice notes into my cooking,” he says. You then moved back to this region; his last posting was at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

...and lamb shank with couscous and vegetables from Hugo's.
Seared scallops with escalivada...

Observant diners will notice terroir-centric touches to the menu, allowing a sampling of the surrounding areas – both within the surrounding areas and in the larger state.

The altitude and low temperatures of the highlands mean that it’s wonderfully suited to certain produce – strawberries and salads among them.

“I visit the nearby farms every week to hand-pick my produce, like salads and strawberries, and herbs like rosemary and dill,” says You.

Durian pancake made with D24 from Bentong, at Chopstix.
Chocolate mousse with a spicy edge of chilli from Hugo's.

The sang har meen at Chopstix is made with local freshwater prawns.
The sang har meen at Chopstix is made with local freshwater prawns.

He’s so enamoured of the produce here that he is planning both his own, more extensive kitchen garden, and one for guests, on the terrace outside Chopstix.

“When guests can pick their own fruits and herbs, it will really introduce them to the area and it’s a great experience,” he says.

If you order his signature sang har meen, the crisp noodles swimming in a gingery, eggy gravy are topped with huge freshwater prawns from the state.

“We also use patin or silver catfish from Pahang, it’s a signature dish here – steamed in the Cantonese style,” he says. You uses the round-mouthed patin, because he says that it has a fresher, sweeter taste, with less fat. And the pride and joy of Chopstix’s dessert menu is the durian pancake, made with fresh cream and D24 durians from Bentong.

“We will be introducing traditional Malay dishes from Pahang, such as masak tempoyak (cooked with fermented durian) soon. The menu is still in flux, as we are very new,” he says.

Because of the large number of families who come to stay at the hotel, You is intent on keeping his prices affordable. The sang har meen at Chopstix, for instance, is RM58, and most dim sum offerings are RM12 a plate.

It’s all part of You’s plan to showcase a microcosm of Pahang’s terroir, and reach new altitudes with a menu of classics with wide appeal.

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