One-year-old De’ Secret Kitchen sees a self-taught & talented young chef, Joe Lee, providing a private dining experience to customers with an adventurous palate. As Penang is better-known for its street/hawker food culture, rather than restaurant or fine dining, we didn’t think of exploring this place till last night. It turned out to be a rather pleasant experience, where earnest service staff made sure we were comfortable, with quietly efficient service, and a train of interesting, inventive creations by owner-chef, Joe Lee, who personally explained each course as they are served.
No menu here - it’s an “omakase” where the chef utilises the freshest ingredients of the day to produce his creations. What we had last night:
These are quite unusually-shaped seasonal nuts from Taiwan, boiled and served at the start of the meal. The meats inside reminds one of chestnuts, and went well with wine. It’s BYO here.
Tiger prawns on pickled cucumber & celery, topped with cucumber sorbet & toasted sesame seeds
The first appetiser course was served chilled and was quite refreshing.
Sous-vide egg with amaranth seeds, roasted mushroom & truffle oil
Brought out in an attractive little Moroccan tagine, this second appetiser course was light, verging almost on the bland side. The amaranth seeds provide crunch, and also lent a nutty flavour to the overall dish.
"Bak kut teh" pork belly with poached egg
The pork belly was also cooked sous-vide, giving it a “firm jelly” texture. I’d have actually preferred the traditional, old-style braised pork method, where the fatty parts of the pork would melt in one’s mouth - but then, it wouldn’t be in keeping with this establishment’s aim to provide a “different” taste experience by re-imagining traditional Penang & Chinese dishes and serve them in new ways.
Soup course: Roasted mushroom, bunga telang & cilantro, before hot chicken-and-mushroom consomme is poured over for the soup course
The hot consomme were served in individual teapots, to be poured tableside onto the bowls flled with roasted mushrooms & other condiments.
Makgeolli (Korean rice wine) served as a palate cleanser between the courses
Makgeolli is a rather strong Korean fermented rice wine, and provides a pleasant change in flavours after the rich soup course earlier.
Threadfin, pan-fried in pork lard, garnished with crisp lardons and served atop braised, julienned turnips, blackened garlic, spicy sambal & oyster mayonnaise
Really enjoyed the fish course, where the threadfin was pan-fried till the skin had crisped perfectly, whilst the meat was still moist and sweet.
Seared beef sirloin, beetroot-Argan oil crumbs, garlic pomme puree, sunflower sprouts, beetroot gel
I’m guessing the sirloin had also undergone a sous vide treatment as, whilst it’s tender to the bite, did not yields the greasy meatiness I’d expected from, say, barbecued or pan-fried sirloin. The garlic pomme puree had a more gluey texture than I’d have liked, whilst the beetroot gel did not pack a flavour punch to lift the meat, which lacked a smokey aroma one would have liked.
Deconstructed Penang asam laksa cheesecake, consisting of mint crumbs, basil-and-pineapple sorbet, a cheese mousse infused with lemongrass-galangal-tamarind, drizzled with “hae koh” (fermented shrimp paste)
For me, this dessert course was the piece de resistance of the meal - inventive, mind-blowing, and with the strong flavours I’d come to expect from a Penang-inspired meal. This dish transcends description and had to be tasted to be understood.
Earnest young owner-chef, Joe Lee, will visit each table to obtain feedback from his customers about his dishes. He’s an admirer of British enfant terrible chef, Heston Blumenthal.
Overall, a very pleasant dining experience where the dinner is carefully paced, and all the diners’ needs are anticipated and met promptly.
De’ Secret Kitchen
163, Jalan Macalister
George Town, 11400 Penang
Contact: Message to their Facebook account
Opening hours: 6pm daily.