There is something to be said for the elemental simplicity of cooking over a wood fire. This is Bonfire Restaurant and Bar’s main appeal, with a large wood stove as the pride of the kitchen.
The restaurant occupies a corner lot of the bright and airy Starling shopping mall, the centrepiece of Damansara Uptown in Petaling Jaya. There is outdoor seating with a view of the gardens and indoor seating with glass panels all around, a tiled, patterned floor and white-topped tables matched with comfortable dark chairs. A whimsical painting occupying one wall adds a bright splash of colour and lightens the mood.
Branding itself as a modern Australian restaurant, Bonfire offers wood-fired-oven meats, which can be ordered in combination sharing platters of two meat choices (RM125) for two persons and three meat choices (RM165) for three to four persons. Meat dishes can also be ordered individually with a variety of sides, starters and à la carte dishes. There is an extensive list of drinks, including wines and whimsically named and conceived cocktails.
Sampling the starters, the Baked Watermelon and Pomelo Salad with Housemade Vinaigrette (RM18) was dominated by the contrast between well-baked watermelon cubes and feta cheese, with a background selection of salad leaves, sprinkled with pomelo and a faintly noticeable vinaigrette.
The Seafood Bouillabaisse (RM26) had fresh mussels and prawns in a thick, dark soup that was pleasingly raw-textured. It carried a seafood flavour that could have been richer and denser for more conviction.
The Deep-fried Soft Shell Crab Pasta (RM28) had no such issues, with a savoury, fried garlic, surprisingly spicy sauce and well-rendered pasta with a good bite, topped with what was once a Blue Swimmer Crab in mid-moult, well and truly deep-fried into a crispy, tasty morsel of accompaniment. I also liked the cracked-finish celadon plate the pasta was served in.
Our main sharing platter for three arrived as a grand statement in a nicely finished ceramic plate, which makes eating more interesting than a dull, generic serving plate. We had a combination of Whole Red Snapper, Pineapple-glazed Short Ribs and Rack of Lamb with Tidman Rock Salt (RM60, RM60 and RM75 respectively, if ordered as individual dishes). Two portions of Pan de Casa (RM8 each) were complimentary with the platter.
The fish was fresh, with a lightly crispy skin and delicate, moist, white meat that was surprisingly bland on its own, especially as it was marinated before baking. An accompanying Coconut Beurre Blanc came to the rescue, but it should not have been needed. A green Mint and Pea Puree accompanied the somewhat, but not alarmingly so, pink Rack of Lamb, although we had asked for a medium doneness. The meat was firm but tender, though, with no trace of gaminess or stringiness, with good texture and a mild disposition, given a fillip of flavour with a thick brown sauce.
My favourite was the beef short ribs, with a fallen-off-the-bone portion of brown meat in a thick sauce and a section of bone for verisimilitude. Beautifully tender and lightly marbled with fat, the meat was loosely textured, yet dense and drenched through with flavour. There was a ring of grilled pineapple (sweet but soggy) and some grilled vegetables, including semi-charred garlic.
The baked house bread was quite good, and even better with the sweet, smooth dried fruit butter. We also ordered Almond-crusted Crispy Onion Rings (RM12), which looked like breaded, deep fried calamari rings. The batter won out over the onion, being light, aromatic and crispy, with a hint of almond flavour.
For dessert, we started with the Caramelised Milk Panna Cotta (RM19), pairing a shaky blob of milky panna cotta with a Nutella cigar and sprinkled edible flowers. The panna cotta was smooth, sweetish and creamy without being cloying; the Nutella cigar providing a convincing counterpoint.
The Alphonso Mango Mousse (RM19), which looked bright and cheerful on a blue plate sprinkled with flowers and cornflake crumbs, was similarly inspired, being smooth with a light mango flavour, while the Pink Guava Granita with Soursop Puree (RM16) was cold, sweet and tart, prettily dressed in a skirt of thin-cut fruit slices.
The restaurant has conceived the main meat dishes with imagination to optimise the effect of wood-baking, with interesting side dishes to round off the menu. The kitchen does not always carry out the promise of the concept, but generally, it succeeds in providing robust, hearty fare with a touch of panache and originality.
Bonfire Restaurant & Bar, Lot G-032, The Starling, Jalan SS21/37, Damansara Utama, PJ. 018 919 8226. Mon-Thu, 11am-11pm; Fri-Sun, 11am-midnight.