The open kitchen at Jing Ze Contemporary Asian Restaurant bustles with activity as a swarm of people man the grills, blenders and stove tops in the space. There is a sizzle of optimism in the air, fuelled by the collective youth of the team and the wily, acrobatic way they work companionably together without stepping on each other’s toes.
In a corner, chef-owner Nicholas Scorpion Jing Ze is in deep discussion with one of his sous chefs, concentration etched all over their faces. An unassuming observer might intuit that they are talking about heavyweight stuff like global warming or world politics, when in actual fact, the two are debating the merits of adding onions and mustard seeds to a dish. But such is the attention Jing and his team devote to the food they serve day after day.
If you haven’t already guessed, Jing is the man behind the eponymous restaurant. A Singaporean national, he has worked in restaurants since he was 15 years old, starting out as a humble waiter before climbing his way to the top, cutting his teeth at restaurants like Singapore’s famed 2am Dessert Bar and Tippling Club and staging (doing work experience) at famed eateries around the world like the one-Michelin starred El Coq in Italy.
Jing was also at the helm of restaurants like Singapore’s Oxwell & Co and the highly-rated Kiln in Bali.
With the inception of Jing Ze, the talented young chef finally has a place to call his own.
“The concept is a celebration of South-East Asian flavours. Jing Ze is actually my Mandarin name and the reason why I chose it is because I used to be in a lot more Western kitchens so no one said my Chinese name and neither did I tell people my Chinese name.
“So I thought now that I am opening my own restaurant it’s kind of apt to use it, to be proud of my name and my Asian heritage,” he says.
Nearly everything at Jing Ze is carefully curated from scratch, from the sauces to the pickles and the pastries and there is a strong focus on local produce, gleaned from organic farmers like A Little Farm on the Hill.
There is plenty to whet the interest and appetite at Jing Ze, but you would do well to start with the crispy corn with traditional peanut sauce (RM12 for four pieces), a dish that began its life as a staff meal fashioned out of leftovers.
“I was frying up some leftover corn kernels at Oxwell and my director tasted it as he walked by and he was like, ‘That tastes really good!’ We put it on the menu and it did really well. We sold so many of it that when we opened Kiln, I brought it over. So this has been on the menu wherever I’ve gone since and at Jing Ze, I’ve given it a bit of an Indonesian twist, so it has evolved,” he says.
The corn fritters are really yummy – a crisp outer layer yields to an interior bursting with corn kernels, shallots and mint. This textural odyssey is accentuated by the realisation that the concoction bears a strong kinship with Indian delights like bhaji and pakora.
Up next, try the stuffed wings with basa genap, palm caramel and roasted spices (RM12 for two pieces). In Bali, basa genap is a revered spice mix used in literally everything. According to Jing, it can be made with up to 27 different herbs and spices but often includes ingredients like ginger, turmeric and galangal.
In this iteration, a mix of chicken off-cuts like liver and mince are seasoned with basa genap and stuffed into deboned chicken wings. The wings are then grilled before being served.
Perhaps because the surface area of the chicken wing (only the mid-wing is used) is relatively small, you only get a glimmer
of the potency of the basa genap – it lurks in the shadows rather than in the spotlight. So while the chicken itself is pretty good, you’re left with a distinct feeling of wanting more.
Next, try the tuna gohu with citrus kosho, kemangi (lemon basil), snake beans, mustard sorbet and peanuts (RM35) – a wonderful display of confident mastery. Incidentally, gohu is an Indonesian version of ceviche, the raw fish dish cured with citrus elements.
In this configuration, the flavours are lively, fresh and underscored by an assertively fiery underbelly. It’s the sort of meal that is akin to watching the members of a rock band come together to perform a raucous, energetic new rendition of a well-loved song.
The beef tartare with chilli oil, caviar, pickled mustard and egg cream on sourdough (RM40) is another delicate thing of beauty. The beef is velvety soft and very, very fresh but it is the pickled mustard that adds an inspired nose-tickling, tongue-tingling element to the meal.
If you’re after a purely vegetarian offering, definitely look at ordering the charred leeks with rendang curry, brown butter and fermented chilli (RM35). The leeks have been done extraordinarily well here – still crunchy but pliant in the mouth. Pair the leeks with the fabulously creamy (yet suprisingly light) rendang curry that layers the bottom of the plate and submit yourself to the waves of nirvanic bliss that will ensue.
The wagyu rump cap with green sauce, burnt onion broth, grilled leeks and crispy garlic (RM120) shows off the restaurant’s devotion to more unusual cuts of meat. The beef is cooked very well here and still retains a florid pink middle. Texturally, it is silken soft, tender and very easy to polish off. Perhaps the only question mark in this equation is the crispy garlic which seems a little lost in this amalgamation.
The smoked black grouper with sambal kecombrang, pickled shallots and okra (RM70) is pure, unadulterated goodness. “This is actually derived from a traditional Indonesian dish called pindang kecombrang – which is smoked mackarel with ginger torch bud. So we smoke the fish and then make a beautiful sauce out of the kecombrang (ginger torch). So it’s just a modern interpretation of a dish that isn’t traditionally very pretty to look at,” says Jing.
And what a fabulous job they have done with this little piece of fish, which is plump, very fresh and packed with flavour. In fact, it’s so incredibly easy to eat that you are highly likely to be swatting off the hands of trespassing dinner companions angling for a taste, having seen the giveaway smile of pleasure adorning your face.
To end your meal here on a sweet euphoria-laced note, indulge in the dessert of pineapple, coconut sago, yogurt sorbet, milk meringue and wood sorrel (RM25). This gentle concoction is light and delicate with tropical nuances and a whimsical quality to it.
If you want to keep the party going, order up a nightcap in the form of the unapologetically bold coconut espresso martini (RM35). Made with coconut rum and kahlua, this black beauty is a caffeine-laced offering that will seduce from the very first sip.
Ultimately, Jing says he hopes that people who come to his restaurant just end up having a good time. “The message people should get is about a fun, relaxed, vibrant atmosphere that’s not a million percent food-focused. Like you wouldn’t go to a place and just focus on the food. If the service and ambience is crap, that’s a lot to consider. I think it’s about ticking all these boxes and making sure everything is on an even playing field,” he says.