Most foodies would be familiar with the name Fergus Henderson, the chef and talent behind the famous “nose to tail” London restaurant, St John. A proponent of using as many parts of an animal as possible in cooking, thereby reducing wastage of otherwise unpopular cuts of meat or even offal, Henderson may have made trotter paste on toast and pig’s head pie trendy, but “nose to tail” is also a green and conscious way to consume and, depending on where you eat, a thrifty option too.
However, it was not St John that inspired Chef Isadora Chai of Bistro à Table to come up with her Glorious Garoupa degustation menu but rather, a classic Chinese dish. “Peking Duck uses everything too — first, the skin, then the bones are used for soup, the flesh fried with noodles and so on. It’s the dinner I used to make as a homesick student at university,” she says.
Her new tasting menu is an ode to the garoupa, featuring its tasty and fleshy fillets as well as its skin and scales. A whole tiger dragon garoupa sourced from Lang Biru Fisheries in Langkawi that weighs between 1.5kg and 2kg is used for each two-person order.
Begin with garoupa ceviche accented with yuzu and toasted pearl barley. Slivers of bamboo shoot are added to give the dish extra flavour and texture. Move on to a white chowder made using garoupa head and bones and thickened with potato before being topped with sous vide-prepared garoupa at a temperature of 56.6°C. Do not let the dish’s delicate paleness fool you, though. There are hints of truffle, Pernod, anise and even serrano pepper, the tantalising tingle of which lingers lightly after the last spoonful has been scooped up.
“You can only prepare dishes like these if the fish is super fresh. Here, we really do use every bit of it. After boiling everything down, you only get a tiny portion of stock,” says the chef.
Next is the undeniable crowd favourite of deep-fried garoupa skin served atop a small portion of potato and leek vichyssoise so thick that it is almost a mash. To ensure no one goes home hungry and taking a cue from Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s infamous convolvulus reference, a carbohydrate dish is up next: pappardelle — interestingly, made with kangkung and tossed with mentaiko before being topped with seared scallops and crispy garoupa fish scales. “When it comes to edible scales, you would only think of using the empurau, but I have found that garoupa scales work well too and are smaller and tastier,” Chai points out.
A 59.9°C sous vide-prepared garoupa fillet was the finale of the tasting menu and came bathed in a sauce of tuak-laced beurre blanc, that wonderful butter sauce for which we shall forever be beholden to the French, and topped with a frizzy head of crispy shredded kai lan leaves.
The good thing about this menu is that there is no dessert; ideal if you are avoiding sugar like the plague or, better yet, have been given free rein to pick your own. Bistro à Table’s signature dessert is, of course, the deconstructed apple pie with rum ‘n’ raisin ice cream (said raisins are fabulously bloated with booze). But since you have just eaten so healthily and well, feel free to sneak in even more naughtiness with two orders of pudding. The baked figs with Gula Melaka butterscotch or the Pakistani mango pavlova served with white chocolate and candied bitter lime combine a touch of the East and Far East while paying homage to the preferred Western way of ending a meal. Sounds like the perfect finishing touch to us.
Bistro à Table’s Glorious Garoupa Degustation is priced at RM440+ for two pax. For reservations, call 03 7931 2831. Until end of October.
This article first appeared on Sept 7, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.