“LOWER… lower… ok, that’s it. Stay there. Very good,” instructs the NST photographer as he attempts to coax a rather nervous-looking young chef into the desired position for that ‘golden’ shot. Admittedly, trying to hold that sliver of green for the umpteenth time to accommodate the photographer’s quest for that perfect angle is probably harder than whipping up culinary creations in the kitchen for the 25-year-old chef Shelly Saw, a recent finalist at the 2018 Culinary Challenge organised by Malaysian Chef Bikers and California Milk. Just to the side, the more seasoned older chef and Saw’s mentor of close to three years now, Yenni Law, looks on with a trace of bemusement.
“Ok, that should be fine. Jom let’s go and take the food pictures now,” barks the affable photographer as he weaves his way out of the modest kitchen, the creative epicentre of Law’s Meatology Restaurant in leafy Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL. Behind him, a visibly relieved-looking Saw, now engaged in a light banter with the rest of the restaurant crew, can now get back to the business of what she does best.
OF OLD AND NEW
Back at my regular perch at the front portion of Law’s 15-year-old restaurant, I note the milling of passers-by from my vantage position near the entrance. Occasionally, someone would stop to peruse the menu and make enquiries with the wait staff standing by the doorway. It’s that in-between period of tea-time and almost-dinner and the bustle of diners has yet to descend. A couple of guys, clad in casual corporate and tucking into light bites and drinks, are engaged in animated discussion at their table outside.
My reverie is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a smiling wait staff bearing plates and bowls housing some of the most exquisite-looking dishes, which he proceeds to arrange on the next table for the benefit of my photographer. Have not seen these items on the regular menu before, I muse silently to myself.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Law’s familiar voice wafts over, before her grinning face comes into my periphery. Law, the recent recipient of the Hospitality Asia Platinum Awards (HAPA) in the Most Inspiring Entrepreneur of the Year category, is in buoyant spirit, not only because of that proud achievement, but for having just completed, together with her protége Saw, months of deliberating, brainstorming, experimenting, creating and finally realising Meatology’s much awaited new menu for 2019 and its special festive offerings.
“Here, have a look!” she says, excitedly passing me a colourful new menu to peruse. As I flip open the pages, Law elaborates: “Some of the old favourites are still there. Like the Steak on Fire, which we’ve been offering since Boathouse (Meatology’s former name) days — 13 years! People keep coming back for this item, which is premium cut Australian tenderloin cooked with VSOP Brandy pepper sauce. I think they like the fact that we flame the steak in front of them. It never fails to elicit chatter.”
Other popular items that remain include the delectable foie gras (goose liver), French escargot (French snails in a secret cream), and the tuna, which is seared medium rare and served with a special citrus Ponzu sauce, which the chefs make from scratch. I notice with delight that my personal favourite — the spicy marinated cockles in a bottle — is also available going into 2019.
“The reason I decided to come up with a new menu is so I can add more colour and value for our customers. Especially for our regulars. I want them to have something to look forward to. There’s a ‘prettier’ approach to the new dishes, in terms of presentation and quality of the meats we choose. For example, we’ve added the Sher Wagyu, which is Australia’s delicious award-winning Wagyu beef produced by the Sher family. It’s really tender and juicy.”
What are the new stuff that you have, I ask, as my eyes travel hungrily to the next table, now heaving with all manner of dishes, each one with Law’s refined plating touches. A single large piece of crawfish lobster sitting on a bed of what looks like rice and a veritable assortment of other seafood delights such as prawns, blue mussel, clams, squids and chorizo, has me salivating. My rumbling tummy reminds me that I’d skipped lunch earlier today just so I could leave it well empty for such a feast.
“That’s the Seafood Jambalaya,” says Law, noticing my furtive glance. She brings it over to the table and invites me to try. “Bring the other dishes to this table,” she says, motioning to a waiter who proceeds to now ‘migrate’ everything in front of me. “I have this dish in my recipe book, The Rice Pot. A lot of people who’d seen this dish had requested for me to add it to my menu. It’s not quite your paella, because paella uses Arborio rice, the Italian short-grain rice, and the seafood is cooked along with the rice. With this Jambalaya, we use long grain rice, creole spice, and sometimes we add sausages and other meats, even lamb, plus seafood together. It’s actually lighter while paella is very heavy.”
The humble tempe also makes a star appearance. Together with chick peas. Law must have seen the expression of incredulity etched on my face because she swiftly explains: “Not many people know how to appreciate tempe. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could make tempe more interesting. People normally just coat it with sambal and then fry. What I’ve done here is to mix Guinness and some chilli and use that mix to coat the tempe.”
And the chick peas? Law chuckles before elaborating: “They’re both beans. So I thought by combining the two, it would give a different mouth feel. Chick peas are creamy while tempe has a bit of a pungent note. I sauteed the chick peas with a bit of butter and onions. Meanwhile, the tempe is shallow fried, minus batter first, to give a bit of crunch, and then I coat it with the spicy Guinness sauce.”
Pushing a plate of what looks like scallops in a blanket of creamy sauce, Law motions for me to try. And I do, gently spearing a piece with my fork before hungrily putting it all in my mouth. I’m startled by the burst of textures — firm, crunchy and creamy — exploding on my tongue. Law chuckles at what I assume to be my show of utter uncouthness!
Good-naturedly, she continues: “We had a scallop and prawn pasta in the previous menu. I noticed that a lot of people love scallops. This one I’ve infused with jelly fish and topped it with Hollandaise, so you get a combination of tangy and creamy taste. The jellyfish gives it that nice crunch. Jellyfish is widely used in Japanese cooking while scallops are widely used in French cooking so I thought marrying the two together would be quite interesting.”
Slowly, another plate is pushed in front of me. It’s the popular Salted Egg Fish Skin, an item I’d sampled before. Here at Meatology, they make their own fish skin with salted egg. The fish skin, which could be from the patin fish or even salmon, is first dried and then deep fried. “I make salted egg yolk sauce and coat the skin with it. It’s a great item to munch on while having drinks,” says Law.
Then there’s also the house-cured duck breast in the new spread too. Enthusiastically, Law shares: “This duck we brine and smoke inhouse. It’s very tender. If you were to taste from skin to meat, you’ll notice that there’s a subtle smoky aroma. And there’s a bit of red wine taste in there as well.”
Excitedly, Law tells me that she and her team have also concocted some special dishes especially for the upcoming festive period. Although the traditional Christmas staple of turkey is still available — for dine-ins or take away where you can order a whole bird and get some extra stuffing thrown in along with giblet sauce, cranberry sauce, veggies, potatoes AND a RM30 dining voucher — there are some exquisite alternatives too.
Like the Garoupa Fillet, which is local fish but infused with Western flavours. I spoon a little into my mouth and am startled with the familiarity of the taste. Now why do I feel like I’ve tasted this before, I muse aloud. My remark elicits a hearty chuckle from the chef. “McDonalds fish fillet ah?” she asks, grinning broadly. Bingo!
“Maybe it’s the capers,” volunteers Law, her laughter subsiding. “I sauteed some onions, baby tomatoes, and capers together with butter on very low heat. And we used a bit of lemon juice too which adds that nice tanginess. The capers serve to cut off the ‘fishiness’.
On a roll with her seafood notes, Law introduces me to another lobster dish. Served with deep fried chips! “I consider lobster an indulgent, festive offering. Instead of the usual Lobster Thermidor (a French dish consisting of a creamy mixture of cooked lobster meat, egg yolks and brandy, stuffed into a lobster shell), I’ve actually created this special gravy, which tastes both creamy and spicy. And instead of bread, which will make you full fast, we offer you chips to dip into the gravy.”
SMELL OF SUCCESS
From the wonders of culinary creations, we move on to the topic of Law’s recent achievements at HAPA, which recognises and rewards outstanding establishments and individuals from the industry. It’s no mean feat, I remind her. And Law, an industry veteran of 23 years, smiles gratefully before confiding that she hadn’t expected to land the award. “I’ve been running Meatology for 15 years. The award was rather fitting because it really has been an entrepreneur’s journey.”
Is recognition important to her? Law pauses before replying softly: “In many ways, it is important. It fuels your sense of belief that whatever you’ve been going through, whatever you’re doing, it’s what you’re meant to do. Every day I ask myself what else can I do to improve, or how else can I do things differently? Sometimes you don’t know. Because there’s no manual to tell you whether you’re on the right path or not. But you just keep going.”
Her expression earnest, the 43-year-old continues: “I’ve made many mistakes. And I’ve also done some things which are right. Getting this award is really meaningful for me and also very humbling. It reinforces my belief that I’m on the right track.”
Having been in the industry for so long, Law has seen familiar landscapes changing. With each passing year, the industry becomes ever more competitive. Says Law: “There are thousands of restaurants out there. So why would the customer choose you? It’s because they’re giving you the opportunity to prove yourself. So you mustn’t screw it up. That’s why I continue to innovate, evolve and make our customers happy. When they leave the restaurant and tell you that they really enjoyed their dining experience, it makes it all worthwhile.”
Gingerly spooning the last piece of scallop into my mouth, I ask Law, who has two cookbooks to her name, how she wants people to remember her, say, 20 years from now. Brows furrowing, she replies: “I want people to remember me as a very passionate chef and entrepreneur. How you do one thing is how you should do everything. If there’s no fire or passion, you’ll just be an ordinary person. I want people to remember me as someone who’s NOT ordinary.”
Meatology, 16, Lorong Rahim Kajai 14, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL
Enquiries, call 03-7727 4426