We couldn’t resist going back to Gēn, this time for dinner, last night, as it was the eve of Malaysia’s next phase of relaxation of COVID restrictions. Inter-state travel within Malaysia will be allowed from Wed, June 10 onwards. So, we reckoned that we’d better hit the more popular restaurants before the inter-state crowds return (or maybe we were being too optimistic with regards to people wanting to resume their dining out activities).
Anyhoo, we were the only table yesterday evening, so I could actually indulge myself with a bit of photo-taking, which I’m very loath to do if there had been a single other customer in the restaurant (I know how “annoying” photo-taking can be to some people, which see it as quite distracting)
Gēn’s more “formal” degustation dinner menu featured smaller, more refined, and very aesthetically-pleasing plates - definitely plated with more finesse than its lunch-time offerings. First, some bubbly Spanish cava to accompany a trio of "bunga kantan" (torch ginger)-inflected comestibles which made up our Amuse-geule 1.
"Bunga kantan" (torch ginger flower)-scented fish floss:
"Bunga kantan" -flavoured crackers sandwiching pickled watermelon jam:
"Bunga-kantan"-flavoured fish broth with Vietnamese coriander leaf oil:
We then progressed to the Amuse-geule 2 - Boneless chicken wing with fried rice stuffing. This was delicious: delicately deboned chicken wing - the morsel was a just mouthful, but packed big flavours. Very prettily-presented, too, capped with a nasturtium leaves and tiny edible blooms.
Amuse-geule 3 was egg-white roti prata, drizzled with salted duck’s egg yolk curry sauce. it was more-rish, though I thought it looked far prettier than its taste.
Appetiser 1: Blimbi custard with jicama discs and kaffir lime. “Bilimbi” is a small, tangy fruit often used in this part of the world as a souring agent. I’d always found “bilimbi” to be too extreme for my taste: imagine puckered lips at the taste of a mere drop of it. But here, Chef Johnson Wong expertly balanced the extreme sourness of the “bilimbi” with the milky richness of the custard. The wafer-thin, round jicama discs provided a textural crunch to the dish, and the kaffir lime leaf’s citrusy scent rounded off the dish perfectly. It was ethereally light - my favourite item for the evening:
Next up, Appetiser 2: Ulam with condiments (clockwise from top-left): budu (fermented anchovy sauce), kerisik (toasted, dessicated coconut), calamansi lime, chili-soy sauce, anchovy-mayo, and tamarind:
“Ulam” is a Malay-style fresh, raw salad, which can be a collection of whatever seasonal or available vegetables available. The one we had this evening consisted of cashew leaves, pea eggplant, wingbean, long bean, “ulam raja” (a fragrant local herb) and various edible flowers. This was accompanied by batons of grilled threadfin fish fillets. Very traditional Malay-style of serving.
Of the condiments offered, the most striking inclusion must be the “budu”, a noxious-smelling, salty fermented anchovy sauce originating from the northeastern Malaysian state of Kelantan. Kelantan used to be part of the Cham Empire, which also covered Cambodia. Kelantan “budu” shares the same origins as Cambodian “prahok”, which has been known to send foreigners into death throes upon an unfortunate whiff of it.
The Appetiser 3: Durian and crab with Chinese dough stick was prettily-presented - two beige orbs filled with durian sambal (just a faint hint) and topped with sun-dried tomato paste and crisp-fried crabstick “noodles”.
At this juncture, we were informed that the mains would be served next. Oh wow, I was getting a bit full from the procession of tapas-like dishes served to us.
Main 1: Threadfin and grated daikon with fermented cabbage broth, sawtooth coriander oil - this was very nice: thick, fresh threadfin fillet bathed in a savoury- sourish broth, reminiscent of Filipino sinigang. Copious amounts of finely-grated, almost vermicelli-like daikon, provided a pleasant crunch.
Main 2: Tempoyak baked fish - threadfin seemed to be the order of the day. Here, the fish steak was covered with “tempoyak”, which is, get this, fermented durian.
To foreigners who deemed durian as nature’s answer to mustard gas warfare, “tempoyak” is where ethnic Malays (not the Chinese-Malaysians or Indian-Malaysians) would ferment leftover durians, for use as a condiment. The fermentation process dulls the extraordinary smell of the durian (so your neighbours won’t think you have a leaking gas pipe in your house and spark an evacuation of the neighbourhood), but the sour-ish fermented “tempoyak” has a dull, bitter-sour note which the Malays love.
I actually have a phobia for anything with “tempoyak” in it, having tasted this condiment twice in 7 years whilst I was living in Kuala Lumpur - both times, I thought I was poisoned . So, I was absolutely amazed to find a main dish containing “tempoyak” in a restaurant like Gen, which serves cutting-edge modern cuisine. So, curious cat that I am, I decided to give it a try.
Verdict?: It’s not too bad at all. I won’t go back specifically for it, but it’s subtly flavoured, like all the dishes which Chef Johnson and his team produce, and looked almost too pretty to eat.
Main 3: Shredded duck wrapped in crepe, topped with mushrooms, in a Sarawak peppercorn sauce - this is almost like an reinterpretation of Peking duck, but where pulled duck confit was wrapped in a gossamer-thin crepe with the resilience of Vietnamese rice paper-wrapper, topped with a scale-patterned arrangement of thinly-sliced braised mushrooms. Sarawak, the East Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, is well-known for the quality of its pepper. The peppercorn sauce, in this case, was actually the star, and lifted what would have been an ordinary duck crepe dish to the sublime.
The duck-bones were used to prepare a deeply-flavoured duck broth, served with crosnes, white mushrooms and crisp-fried enoki mushrooms.
We did feel quite sated by then. The dessert courses came next.
Dessert 1: Pineapple sorbet, atop chopped pineapples with soy sauce and chili - it was cold, sweet and spicy. Pretty interesting combination, and surprisingly refreshing, though my tongue was tingling for a few minutes afterwards from the habanero pepper used!
Dessert 2: Plum-mango pudding, topped with mandarin orange segments & marigold petals, served with cinnamon-scented “Boh” chai - it was delish: the creamy pudding provided a nice foil to the sharp flavours from the mandarin orange. The cinnamon-scented chilled tea complemented the other components very well. Edible marigold petals dot the mandarin segments.
Dinner closed with the petit four: 3 types of chilled truffles with rather local flavours: guava-sour plum, rose-scented, and deep-fried truffle with pandan-scented filling. These were served in a three-tiered box on separate drawers:
Lovely dining experience. Very glad we decided to do this yesterday evening.