Malaysia’s best food can traditionally be found at our hawker centres and in the form of street food but the tide is most certainly turning with the rise in modern dining.
I’ve written about Dewakan in the past, a hero – by way of being the first Malaysian restaurant to Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, that deserves to be sung about all the more loudly. Kikubari although arguably is very Japanese, boasts Malaysian talent Jun Wong, who brings her worldly experience back home through a progressive dining theme. DC Restaurant too has always been a firm favourite in my family and on this particular journey home, we head to Bref, sister outpost to Chef Darren Chin’s namesake restaurant.
Growing up, TTDI was just the address of my childhood best friend’s home. Today it seems to be a cool kids neighbourhood, sprawling with bars, late-night cafes and restaurants fit for an under 35 clientele. Bref certainly looks the part with a sleek and minimal entrance, giving way to a very cosy interior. On this night, we’re at the bar counter. Not the best for setting for conversations within a dining party but we’ve opted for anti-social social behaviour in exchange for a peek into the kitchen.
At Bref’s helm is Chef Han, Darren’s right-hand man who’s earned his stripes at DC and now runs this kitchen brigade as his own. Unlike DC Restaurant’s more formal degustation-style menu, Bref is totally freestyle. We’re encouraged to order anything and everything, including picking apart their set menu should we so wish. The waiter greets my parents like an old friend, even chiding my stepfather for ordering the same noodle dish (“but you have it every time!”) and supports him in trying something new.
The complimentary starter is a huge hit with everyone at dinner tonight, it helps that there seems to be something for everyone. Crusty levain bread consumption duties by Emi, giant mammuth olive testing by me, and a bit of everything else by my parents. The only thing that is sorely missed by my parents is the little croissants which they swear are the best they’ve ever had in Malaysia.
Italian Burrata from Puglia
A burrata dish made more indulgent with the inclusion of Hollandaise sauce. It’s borderline too rich but the sharpness from mandarin plus the salty hit of sardine, round it up to be more balanced.
Duo of 12-month Air-Dried Spanish Beef Cecina & Cured Italian Turkey Ham
Curiously, even though this is listed as a “duo” on the menu, we received three types, with the waiter confirming that the third charcuterie as a beef salami. As a non-pork eater, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to eat cured meats again but I wouldn’t know how this would hold up against the more mainstream styles of meat. Take note that the portion is huge, personally would only order if I had three or more people to a party as it can take up a lot of stomach space.
Clear Porcini Broth
Even before dairy-free days, I was always hesitant to order mushroom soups because restaurants tend to err on the side of excess with how much cream they add to it. I was a big fan of this porcine broth which has none of that, plus the consistency of Chinese clear soups with a substantial, earthy flavour.
Wild Atlantic Premium Irish Oysters
Oysters to my mom are an unmissable addition to any meal. I didn’t have this but no complaints were heard from that end of the table, plus how pretty do they look!
Rougie” Magret de Canard
Come to Bref and you can have your famous-by—DC “ duck and eat it too. Chef Darren certainly knows not to disappoint his hardcore fans. It’s even better than I remember, with a nice and tender meat a la Western-style cooking and a shatteringly crunchy skin a la Eastern/Cantonese-style roast meats.
Ben’s Seasonal Garden Salad
We ordered this salad as a palate cleanser of sorts so that we could have a nice break from our other starter-sized dishes that were much heavier. On the menu, it’s also listed as a medley of vegetables sourced from organic farms around Malaysia. I’ll be honest, I found the taste of this salad was a little forgettable. But I appreciate the freshness and the reliance on local produce.
In contrast, this vegetable dish was able to hold its own. The smoked salted egg yolk emulsion could have been a dish or a dip of its own, and having already overdosed on the beef cecina in the starters, I welcomed another portion of it. Ordering both might be a bit same-y for some people though.
DC’s Signature – Cold Somen
Another one from nearby is this pretty looking somen. I wasn’t able to try the noodles but inhaled the bafun uni which I can confirm was briny with just a bit of bounce, the way sea urchin should be.
Stanbroke Wagyu Oyster Blade Steak
I almost never order red meat as my main dish but when I do, I’m glad it’s as delicious as what they presented. The steak was prepared medium-rare, as all steaks should be really, tender with just enough bite and flavour that came through from the meat itself rather than through any sauces or flavoured kinds of butter. The vegetables were a nice accompaniment as was the potato dauphinoise which was crispy at the edges and creamy perfection in the middle. Overall, the portion was really generous and I ended up giving at least half to my parents and Emi because I really wouldn’t have been able to finish otherwise.
Slow-roasted Two-bone Rack of Lamb
The lamb is mom’s choice for a main course which she shared a bite of in exchange for my wagyu. It’s fragrant and well-cooked for sure but I felt the herb crust overpowered the taste of the lamb.
Fresh Egg Tagliatelle
For my stepdad, he orders the egg tagliatelle which comes with turkey ham and pecorino.. except he also does a Dragonball-esque fusion and adds in some Hokkaido scallops, which are from the first course of the prix-fixe menu. Adding a bit more protein to a dish might not sound like much. But the flexibility of Bref in allowing him to basically customise his own pasta without compromising on their dish, definitely adds to the personalised touch here. Creating a dish that is quite literally just for you.
Despite being adequately satiated at this point, I was adamant about making us all uncomfortably full by ordering a couple of desserts. My parents raved the Double Chocolate Tart made from 38% cacao ganache and a 100% Sicilian (1000% silky smooth) pistachio ice cream, making it a must order. We loved how velvet-smooth it was without any cloying sweetness.
My stubbornness of wanting to stay “local” saw us ordering the Jackfruit Tart as dessert No 2. This was super tangy with a nice, crumbly base plus dots of fruit gel for that extra tropical punch.
Once upon a time, fine dining and course menus were put on a pedestal. That fairytale is now over, and consumers want to eat what they want and in what manner they choose. Bref combines the comfort of a casual restaurant with chef techniques of precision and high-quality ingredients that you can at least pronounce without feeling like a wanker. Thrilled to see more and more restaurants pushing the envelope of modern cuisine in my home country.