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Hainanese food in all its glory

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EYE-OPENER: A restaurant goes all out to prove that Hainanese cuisine is more than chicken rice

KUALA LUMPUR: WHEN you mention Hainanese cuisine, most will think of chicken rice.

However, a fine dining restaurant in Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur is promoting the cuisine in all its variety until this Sunday.

The Lai Po Heen restaurant is showcasesing a selection of the best dishes from Hainan, an island off mainland China, which is whipped up by  chef Leung Po Lam from Mandarin Oriental Sanya in China.

Leung, 55, was specially flown in to helm the promotion.

The Hong Kong-born chef brought along with him the ingredients and utensils   necessary to maintain the authenticity of Hainanese food.

Cooking has been Leung’s passion for 37 years now. He started at the age of 18 with the famed Furama Restaurant in the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong.

And he has no desire to retire anytime soon.

This is  his first overseas posting.

Leung has been with Mandarin Oriental for the past one and a half-years. Prior  to this, he was with Four Seasons Macau.

Seafood dominates Hainanese cuisine. In addition, the dishes offered by Lai Po Heen  are said to cater to the fairer sex, with food that is good for health and the skin’s complexion.

Several items from the a la carte menu were previewed at a recent food-tasting session.

It kicked off with the soy and coriander marinated baby carrots, and white soy sauce, vinegar and chilli-pickled white turnip with deep-fried Hainanese peanuts and black vinegar.

The sweet, sour and salty tastes gelled well together to whet the appetite, which was further stoked by the double-boiled kung fu soup with fish maw and cordyceps. The fish maw and cordyceps came in a cup, and the soup in a pot, requiring one  to pour the soup into a receptacle.

“As we wanted to do something different and special, we came up with this  novel idea.

“The pot is normally used to brew kung fu tea,” said Leung, adding that the utensils and ingredients were shipped to Kuala Lumpur earlier from Sanya.

Gimmicks aside, the soup packed a wallop, albeit it was a tad peppery and tinged with herbal stock.

Then came the steamed baby abalone and king scallop with glass noodles and black bean sauce.

It was succulent and savoury with every mouthwatering bite.

The poached Tanniu Wenchang chicken with young ginger sauce was next.

Although the flesh was soft and springy, there was nothing memorable until one dipped it into the ginger sauce, which gave it a spectacularly piquant flavour.

“Tanniu Wenchang is a district in Hainan,  where free-range chickens roam freely in the mountains for six months.

“It’s the most famous poultry in China,” explained Leung.

The next offering of homemade tow foo in superior sauce, bamboo pith, bird’s nest and asparagus was rather forgettable, devoid of any distinctively delectable delight.

However, it was soft to the bite.

This was followed by the Lotus Lake sauteed vegetables (so-named because of their origin from a famous lake in Hainan) with sliced cuttlefish.

The cuttlefish was springy, scrumptious and crunchy, although it bordered on the   oily side.

The second-last offering of fried rice with salmon and scallops was a letdown.

It tasted rather dry, plain and bland, possibly stemming from the uneven blending of the ingredients.

However, proving to be a fitting finale was the dessert of creamy almond tea with egg white and deep-fried coconut milk sphere.

It was indeed a sweet surprise.

It was a delight as a bite exposed the coconut milk swirling inside — which made for a pleasing juxtaposition between the crusty morsels and yummy concoction.

It had one clamouring for more.

The Hainanese cuisine menu is available for lunch and dinner, priced from RM32++  per item.

For details, call 03-2380 8888, or email mokullpoheen@mohg.com.  The dishes are also available at the Mandarin Oriental Sanya.

Cooking has been Leung Po Lam’s passion for 37 years now. Pic by Ricky Yap


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