I spent last month traversing through various parts of Europe. This leave from work should explain both my recently freed up time to start posting on the blog again and also the fact that each post was a backlog from meals had up to eight months ago. A last minute adjustment to my itinerary afforded me the opportunity to stop over back in Malaysia, even for just a short amount of time. While I’m grateful and incredibly blessed to be able to go home at all, it’s always a little heartbreaking to only get to see my family for a couple of days, to put off catch ups with friends for the umpteenth time and perhaps most dramatically, to have an incredibly limited number of meals before I have to leave.
I tasked it upon my mom to determine our last dinner together. We ended up choosing Dewakan. ‘Dewakan’ is a name comprised of Malay words. ‘Dewa’ which means god and ‘makan’ which means to eat. The intertwining of the two emphasises the restaurant’s philosophy of upholding the local produce we have been blessed with by god.
‘We want to connect the ingredients from our seas, farms, mountains and jungles to a canvas that is our plate, in the most interesting way we know how’ – Dewakan
The last time I had anything close to ‘Malaysian fine dining’ was Restaurant DC which I’d say is more of a loose South East Asian persuasion (I wrote about my experience here, which at the time was very much Thai-inspired). Dewakan, helmed by another Darren (Teoh), rings a lot truer to Malaysian-centric flavours as you will note in each course description. There are two options available for you at Dewakan. A 5 course at RM or a 10 course at RM 240 (roughly AUD 80). For my Australian readers, it is quite a steal compared to our degustations down under.
Another point to note is that the restaurant is located at the KDU College campus in Glenmarie. A slight downside to dinner guests might be the unconventional path to the restaurant which may require you to cross the padang (football field) to get to the entrance. We went on a Saturday night but should you venture on a weekday you might also run into a student or two, up late to get an assignment across the line.
Like any good degustation, the meal began with bread. Two types, a buttery roll not unlike a brioche and a crustier soy bread roll. Both breads were nice and in a country where a decent sourdough is hard to find, rather welcomed. I’m not the biggest fan of the butter provided however which just seems like stock standard supermarket, unsalted and without much of an aroma.
Three snacks precede the actual start of the 10 courses. First up was the choy sum crackers with budu dip. The crackers were made by cooking and pureeing the choy sum before dehydrating it in an oven to give it that crisp texture. The budu dip is incredible, budu being a type of Malaysian fermented fish sauce. It’s briny with a lot of oomph and oh so creamy to boot. This was strongly reminiscent to me of Bar H’s saltbush with aioli but dare I say, even better. I finished up the remaining budu dip by slathering it on bread.
Next was the mango curry, a warm affair with a slightly tangy aftertaste. This particular snack comes with a bit of history to it as Chef Darren has replicated this dish from the memory of eating it during Onam surrounded by friends and family.
Last of the snacks was a tart frozen yogurt served in a roselle leather cup, dusted with candied cumin and smoked cuttlefish. The lightness of the mouthful made it much like a plate cleanser in anticipation of the dishes to come.
Our first starter was the Blue Mackerel consisting of a cured slice of mackerel topped with ulam raja, pomelo and local flowers. I liked how curing the mackerel meant it wasn’t as overpowering as I am usually accustomed to when having it grilled. While the flowers were certainly decorative, it also gave a distinctive Malaysian-vibe, particularly the blue pea flowers which is used extensively in traditional recipes to dye our sticky rice and kuih.
Next is the Roast Mushrooms which featured King Oyster mushrooms as the hero ingredient accompanied by green curry paste, yogurt and dried mackerel flakes. The mushroom was actually prepared four ways, from raw to varying techniques of cooking and you are meant to eat from right to left. Mildly apprehensive about eating raw mushroom (not a favourite of mine although I will eat them cooked by the kilo), I was pleasantly surprised at how well the curry paste was able to mask the normally earthy (read: dirt) taste of a raw mushroom. Progressing down to the rest of the mushroom accompanied by yogurt, the dish only got better and better. Cooked mushroom tends to get meatier and bolder in its flavour and I liked how the yogurt was able to tone it down to be at a consistent level of ‘doneness’ that was determined with the first piece of raw mushroom.
You might notice that mackerel appears again here and you’ll find later on throughout the courses that certain ingredients are carried on to the next course. Despite this, it doesn’t feel repetitive at all as he doesn’t use any one ingredient in the same way. I am hopeful that this actually means a more sustainable kitchen with less waste.
This pretty picture of a dish is the Braised Aubergine, braised in mushroom stock and coated with jackfruit seed and kailan dust, fried dough tendrils, a ginseng leaf and potato glass. The whole cylinder sat in a pool black bean sauce and a smidgen of roasted garlic sauce. If it sounds to you like there’s a lot going on, you’re right. There was no one element that stood out and while I did like the aubergine, I wasn’t entirely sure that the sauces were the right fit. Yet eating it alone could not save it as it had been under seasoned to accommodate for eating with the sauce. Strangely enough, we agreed it was slightly reminiscent of Scandinavian fine dining that we’ve had previously in Stockholm so I do believe it has potential but just hadn’t quite nailed all the elements. I still ate it all but I would probably say this was my least favourite course of the night.
The last of our starters is the Home Made Noodles with steamed Ming Prawns, brined radish, dried vegetables and cold prawn broth. If you’re a fan of cold soba noodles, you’d likely enjoy this. Having a cold broth meant it didn’t come across as a heavy noodle soup dish. I’m not sure what the noodles are made of but they had a really springy texture like that belonging to konjac noodles or slightly undercooked glass noodles. I do think they were a tad too liberal with the dried vegetables which in itself kind of reminded me of the dehydrated ‘vegetables’ you would get in instant noodle packs. It’s not overpowering in flavour but too many flakes did give a feeling like you were swallowing a whole heap of tea leaves.
Thus far, all starters and snacks have been on the smaller end of portions and rightfully so considering how many plates we would be going through. I was starting to get hungry though and it seems like Chef Darren anticipated this because our first main course is huge. This is Pike Conger, consisting of smoked pike on top of a smooth egg custard with a fermented long bean relish, roasted okra and clam foam. The foam is a nice little element of mystery, like a cloud shrouding a kingdom beneath. I loved the conger which when smoked gives it a meatier and flakier texture (like fish) as opposed to fatty flesh that we’re accustomed to when having the other type of eel, typically as unagi kabayaki. It complements the custard which is really a thin layer of chawanmushi and even goes with the okra. This is probably the first and only time I’ve eaten all the okra in a dish.
The duck breast is often talked about in conversations about Dewakan. Particularly for my family members who do not eat pork, the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the duck meat combined with a supremely crispy skin was their answer to siu yuk (Chinese roasted pork with pork crackling). Duck lived up to its hearsay and I adored the plating which had the ‘blood’ sauce (a combination of beetroot juice and duck flavours) splattered across like a crime scene. The duck leg rillette left a lot to be desired for me, for some reason the texture was quite flakey (think canned tuna) although I liked the thin slices of beetroot which encased it.
The last main is my favourite dish overall. Quail features a roasted quail with Masala spice, Beef serunding, candlenut and century egg dust. The poultry was cooked to absolute perfection, the perfect level of doneness that showcased extremely succulent meat that was the slightest shade of pink. However, it was the ground up spices and bits of everything that I can’t even possibly name or identify (except for the pronounced century egg) that was so moreish and decadent with the quail. Another famous Australian dish that this reminds me of is the chicken wing at Rockpool (now Eleven Bridge) which sees tiny pieces of chicken on a bone that you essentially just dunk into a bowl soft truffle butter before scoffing it down. Sinful deliciousness.
Now in dessert territory, we have Mulberries up first, a mix of mulberry jam, cardamom ganache, cashew brittle, pucuk gajus and mulberry snow. Note the serving plate which is a kind of disc-shaped contained filled with dried herbs and flowers. I’m not sure if there was an aroma from it that was meant to accentuate the dish but it did make it look pretty. The brittle reminded me of the kind of cookies we had at Chinese New Year (different to your Western variety as ours are a tad salty but just as irresistible) and having it with mulberries lightened it up.
Number two is the Gula Melaka, which consisted of Gula Melaka marquise, sour meringue and pulut (sticky rice) ice cream. This was absolutely kick ass and my favourite dessert of the night. Not just visually stunning but a great interplay of lightness in the teardrop shaped meringue and heaviness in the Gula Melaka encased within. The pulut ice cream is not sweet at all but has a hint of saltiness. This might sound like a silly statement but it also really tastes like sticky rice, so you have one of those mind-boggling moments where it looks like you’re eating one thing but your tastebuds and brain are processing something different entirely. Inside the Gula Melaka is caramelised and within it are little nubbins of biscuit to keep the texture play going. This dessert is brilliant and it would be a crime to understate this. Every element screams classic Malaysian dessert but reinvented for a modern audience.
The Chocolate Tart is made from an incredibly rich chocolate accompanied by caramelised nangka (jackfruit) and gandum ice cream. Once you get over the initial weirdness in the first bite that says jackfruit and chocolate should not mix, it’s actually quite a pleasant marriage. Gandum is wheat and is another mild tasting ice cream that takes you back to your childhood of gandum-based Tiger biscuits (or bis-kuat if you remember the packaging). Overall it is nice enough and would probably be very nice even if it didn’t have such a tough act to follow.
The finale is little balls of longan juice, emulsified in olive oil then frozen with liquid nitrogen. This was perfect touch of sweetness to end the night as you could taste the purity of the juice, no additions at all.
I tend to labour on a lot in my reviews on quirky Malaysian restaurants but it’s often because I am surprised as each time I go back, everything has changed. I also feel a need to reiterate that Malaysian food boleh. While our street food cuisine in its tried, true and traditional form continues to be popular across the globe we’re still taking baby steps in terms of changing things up. It’s important to acknowledge this in light of this year’s increasing conversations (read here and here) about dispelling the perception that Asian food can only ever be cheap. I recommend Dewakan to Malaysians and travellers alike because just when you think you know all there is about Malaysian produce, Chef Darren and his team will confound you, in a good way of course.