The chic and new N.I.C.E bistro in PJ focuses on flavours from South of France

The all-day restaurant is set up by the talents behind Chateau Dionne and bakery Doux Doux.

Since it is still new, expect tweaks in the menu as time goes by; for now, however, the choices are adequate and authentic (All photos: Diana Khoo/ The Edge Malaysia)


When it comes to diversity, there is no disputing France’s mettle. From the Loire Valley’s tarte Tatin, the upside-down caramelised apple tart designed to make dessert lovers swoon, to the persnickety and temperamental soufflé, whose existence, as local lore has it, is due to the genius of mid-1800s chef par excellence Marie-Antoine Carême, and the humble but solid Castelnaudary staple of cassoulet, any gourmet headed to the country is guaranteed to be spoilt for choice.

And while beef cheeks melting in red wine reduction or hearty steaks served with a veritable mountain of shoestring potato chips and a generous dollop of creamy Bernaise sound well and good, the diabolically hot weather of late all across Malaysia demands fresher flavours. Thankfully, the cuisine of the South of France comes to the rescue. The Côte d’Azur’s proximity to Italy (a short hop from Nice is the perfect little town of Ventimiglia, whose weekend markets and gelato shops are a delight) means that its food is blessed both ways. The Italians, with their Mediterranean influences, lighten the heaviness of traditional French cooking while the home country weaves its natural elegance and finesse into everything presented on the table.

It was this duality that prompted the talents behind Chateau Dionne in Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur and bijou bakery Doux Doux in Petaling Jaya’s Section 17 to set up an all-day bistro dedicated to this lively, glamorous region. Named N.I.C.E (it is not an acronym for anything but just a way to ensure it is not carelessly and constantly mispronounced as “nice”), the 45-seater space is overseen by the highly regarded executive chef Andy Choy and Jackie Tan is tasked with ensuring operations run flawlessly.


N.I.C.E focuses on dishes that are lighter and healthier but no less delicious

Opened for business on April 18, it has already attracted a steady stream of customers: loyal patrons from their other outlets and curious residents who want something different besides the area’s justifiably famous char kway teow and wantan mee. “We wanted to offer something different to give a broader appeal,” says founder David Lim. “Chateau Dionne has been and will always be about fine dining and the best, most luxurious ingredients. So, with N.I.C.E, we wanted something lighter, healthier but no less delicious. Less cream, more olive oil. No goose or duck liver, but more fresh fish and seafood.”

Since it is still new, expect tweaks in the menu as time goes by; for now, however, the choices are adequate and authentic. There is freshly baked focaccia to start with, accompanied by extra virgin olive oil and tapenade (RM20), as well as Scallop Carpaccio with umibudo (RM45), French fish soup with rouille (RM40) and burrata, served with a Figs and Hazelnut Crumble (RM32).

Ratatouille — whose etymology stems from the French word “to toss” and is, simply put, a celebration of summer vegetables softened and stewed (RM45) — is a star of the main dishes, along with the Saltimbocca (RM60), but with chicken in lieu of veal. The French Riviera is, of course, the mythical motherland of Salad Nicoise — an elegant medley of raw vegetables, tuna, anchovies, black olives and capers lightly drizzled in vinaigrette — and N.I.C.E.’s version is well worth a try. If you are chummy with the owners, call ahead to ensure they send down some sourdough from Doux Doux, their sister bakery upstairs, so you can make Pan Bagnat out of leftovers.


The 45-seater space is overseen by the highly regarded executive chef Andy Choy

There are three types of pasta dishes available, all homemade, and those who adore chittara, a staple of Abruzzo but which somehow has managed to wend its way into N.I.C.E.’s repertoire, will be delighted. Have it with combinations of stracciatella and tomato (RM36), wild mushroom (RM48) or tiger prawns in crustacean sauce (RM62). If you simply cannot do without rice, there is also a Saffron Risotto (RM48) lashed with Parmigiano-Reggiano.

If you are well familiar with Chateau Dionne and Doux Doux’s prowess with canelés, a word of advice: It does not feature in the menu at all. But, again, if you are friendly with the staff, you can always pre-order some. The lovely little rum-tinged treat from Bordeaux is absent, but the team at N.I.C.E. (in a nod to the perceptible Italian influence) offers Dark Chocolate and Mandarin Orange Cannoli (RM18 for two pieces) instead.

Oh, and since it is Harumanis mango season until end-May, expect to see some special desserts du jour using the prized Perlis fruit as well. Another plus point is that nothing is exorbitantly priced. What makes N.I.C.E. more approachable is the introductory prix fixe menu, which offers bread, salad, arancini, pasta, mains of halibut and duck leg confit, and two desserts for just RM150+ per pax.

939, Jalan 17/38, PJ. Daily, 11am-11pm. For reservations, call (012) 579 9309.

This article first appeared on Apr 29, 2024 in The Edge Malaysia.

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