EUROFILE BY CHOI TUCK WO
WHEN Malaysian Bernard Yeoh takes part in the SEA Games shooting event in the Philippines next week, his aim is definitely to crack a record.
No doubt, the Penang-born restaurateur will go for gold for his team in the Olympic trap shotgun event, after having bagged a bronze medal in the last games in Vietnam.
And should he hit the bull’s-eye, that would yet be another feather in the cap for the 36-year-old barrister within a month.
For Yeoh’s Kai Mayfair Restaurant in central London (www.kaimayfair.co.uk) has just clinched the world record for producing the most expensive soup costing a mind-boggling £108 (RM734 at 6.8 exchange rate).
Even by London’s standards, it may be a little too steep to pay for a bowl of Buddha Jumps Over The Wall – touted as the world’s most expensive soup of the day.
Mind you, it’s essentially a starter, not a main dish, and has to be booked five days in advance.
No, the sharks are not circling in the water. Instead, you’ll get a succulent chunk of shark’s fin worth £25 (RM170), £30 (RM204) worth of abalone and other exquisite ingredients.
As incredible as it may seem, this has to be the most tantalising concoction fit for an emperor.
According to a Chinese myth, the soup got its name when Buddha hopped over a garden wall to check out its aroma emerging from a house.
Thus, no one should lightly dismiss this ancient dish although each customer gets only 20 mouthfuls from their bowl – equivalent to nearly £5.50 pounds (RM37) per slurp!
Yeoh, however, insists it’s good value for money as “we use only the best ingredients cooked strictly to the recipe”.
“Strangely enough, the cost of the soup is very close to what we’re charging,” he said of the dish which secured a place in the Guinness World Records for “The Most Expensive Bowl of Soup Commercially Available”.
Yeoh explains that the soup was introduced as a service to customers from the Far East who missed out on it back home.
Once an order is received, the restaurant gets cracking immediately with the purchase of the ingredients, which will be marinated, steamed, boiled and simmered for several hours. The abalone itself takes three days to prepare.
He says the dish would taste great for first-timers and different for someone who had tried it elsewhere.
“We never went out of our way to create a world record as the soup has been around for 12 years,” he said.
Indeed, he chanced upon the feat by accident while browsing through a copy of the Guinness World Records about two months ago.
His curiosity aroused, Yeoh submitted his entry and was surprised to receive a letter last week confirming that the soup had secured a world record.
But he is not about to let it go to his head, knowing very well that the accomplishment is a world away from other record-breaking feats.
Yet who could fail to be impressed by Kai Mayfair’s string of awards – the latest being the highest score for Best Chinese Restaurant in Europe (Zagat Food Guide 2004/05 edition).
Yeoh has come a long way since taking over the restaurant from the previous owners in 1993.
It all began when he and his father were seated at the restaurant reading a menu which had on its cover the words: A truly fine meal is enjoyed not once but three times – in anticipation, in consumption and in remembrance.
“It summarised in just a few words all our expectations of the dining-out experience. To our delight, that restaurant was for sale,” he recalled.
The rest, as they say, is history. But it involved a lot of hard work as Yeoh practically had no restaurant experience.
“I had to put myself as a customer to get things done the way a customer would like.
“In a way, the lack of experience helped a lot because I was not restricted to doing things in a particular way.”
By and large, Yeoh was pretty much on his own, but he dedicated the restaurant’s success to his 30-member staff, which includes about 10 Malaysians.
For instance, he reckoned the staff, including fellow Malaysian Alex Chow, who is the head chef, as a team just like “a bus needs the driver and vice-versa”.
Despite bagging a string of awards, including Zagat’s Top Chinese Restaurant in London for three years (2003/2004/2005), Yeoh is far from satisfied.
“My greatest achievement would be to clinch the Best Overall Restaurant Award in Britain,” he declared.
In the real world, the truth is that hardly any Oriental restaurant in London has grabbed the top award, which usually goes to English, French or Italian outlets.
Not surprisingly, Chinese restaurants are not taken seriously as most of them serve practically the same food with little sense of originality.
With Yeoh constantly pushing the boundary to improve Oriental exotic cuisine, he may just set the precedent for more Chinese restaurants to get top rankings in Britain.
Did you find this article insightful?