REFINED BY FIRE
It is not the easiest spot at which to score a seat, but it is almost certainly the case that every foodie in town has already been to Atelier Binchotan, the bijou Japanese-style grill run by KaHong Lau and his wife, Celine. Its simple moniker pays tribute to the preferred type of charcoal used in Japanese cooking. Repeat visits by its growing legion of fervent fans are common, as the duo is known for constantly refreshing and updating their menu, with recent experiments using European seafood proving deliciously successful while plans include making their own salami, charcuterie and sausage.
The restaurant’s success story was not so obvious from the get-go, despite the couple’s culinary pedigree. They first met and worked together at Joël Robuchon in Singapore before moving on to other equally esteemed establishments, including Tetsuya Wakuda’s Waku Ghin and Andre Chiang’s fine dining room. Opening Atelier Binchotan on March 9, exactly a week before the Movement Control Order was enforced nationwide, proved to be a shaky start. Having ploughed all their savings into the business and welcoming a new baby to the equation, “challenging” barely describes the restaurant’s beginnings. It reopened for business only on May 9. Still, as the couple positively put it, “2020 is the year filled with challenges as well as happiness”.
It was KaHong’s stint at Le Bon Funk in Singapore, however, that introduced him to the possibilities of charcoal in cooking, and the flavour profiles that arise merely by keeping things simple and minimalist — but based, of course, on a foundation of fine, fresh produce. The number of items on the menu is almost equal the number of concrete seats (12) curved around the open-concept grill — and you would want to sample them all. Start light and easy with vegetables — garlic shoots (RM12), a salad of heirloom tomatoes (RM25) and a superlative sweet potato (RM20) — before moving on to the more-ish items such as carabinero prawns (RM85), Iberico pork collar (RM55) and A3 Japanese wagyu (RM150). The tiny but mighty charm of Atelier Binchotan’s mini burgers (RM12) are also not to be missed.
Despite Celine’s oenological experience, having worked as a sommelier at La Dame de Pic in Singapore’s grand dame Raffles Hotel, she has kept corkage rates astonishingly affordable, at just RM20 a bottle — a kindness not often practised in Malaysia, having just witnessed a friend get burnt by a RM250 charge on a single bottle of BYO champagne in a city restaurant. But it is Atelier Binchotan’s casual warmth and delicious food that keep the foodie brigade hogging their reservations hotline every first of the month, which is when it accepts bookings for the month after — the prices and corkage are mere bonuses. As KaHong himself mused: “I want people to be able to taste my cuisine without hurting their wallets so much.” You had better hurry, though. Rumour has it that Atelier Binchotan has opened booking slots until Dec 31, 2021 already, with all slots already filled till March.
Atelier Binchotan, 28 Jalan 2/109e, Desa Business Park, Off Old Klang Road, KL. 017 788 9096. Fri-Sun, noon-3pm; Wed-Sun, 6-10pm.
MIGNON MAKAN SPOT
Yet another fine bud to blossom in the increasingly foodie enclave of Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Delia Wines & Bistro joins the township’s belly-pleasing brigade that includes DC, Bref, Akar Dining, La Moon and Ember. Perched midway on the same road that is anchored on one end by the popular Little Rimba family café, Delia, named after the moon goddess, is more for grownups, a place to enjoy a taste of France ... and, once night falls, accompanied by a few good sips of it too. Those who enjoy frequenting the nearby park and jungle trails might be glad to know the bistro opens for breakfast and is the perfect spot to enjoy a post-run croissant and café creme, seated away from the sun on the tiny terrace.
The eatery opened for business on Aug 13 at 11am on the dot, and it might surprise people that the feng shui-friendly decision to do so was made by a Frenchman, bistro proprietor Laurent Robert, himself a fourth-generation owner of a champagne estate but one who has lived on Malaysian soil for the past 24 years. Robert’s initial foray into F&B was actually by way of supplying boutique wines and his eponymous champagne to Darren Chin’s DC restaurant, having known the celebrated chef for years. Robert also had the honour of being present at the very first dinner held at DC when it opened.
The highlight of Delia’s menu is undoubtedly the plats du jour, which are put up weekly and usually not repeated — a feat the bistro has maintained for a whopping 120 days. If the idea of pan-roasted six spiced duck breast with pumpkin purée and snow peas or Black Angus sirloin with sauce Bearnaise sound good to you, then you had best befriend the friendly bistro staff, who will alert you on the optimum days to come.
The petits-enfants are not ignored either, with a kid’s meal starring Paris ham and cheese with mash (RM25) available for those aged four to 12. Those of legal drinking age would find the wine list far more interesting, extensive and affordably priced, generously encouraging you to enjoy food the French way. And why should you not? Each dish cries out to be matched with a suitable vintage, from the wonderful smoked aubergine dip (RM8) to the homemade foie gras with Armagnac and onion purée on toast (RM55) and the Merguez sausages served with salad (RM18).
Other hot dishes worth trying that are classically, but stereotypically, French would be the frog legs (RM38) — prepared with garlic butter and parsley or cream and chives — and the escargots (RM36), with seasonal vegetables and cream or piperade, that wonderful Basque creation featuring onion, peppers and tomatoes seasoned with red Espelette peppers, and gratinated cheese. For comfort eating, there is also Hachis Parmentier (RM25), the French take on cottage pie but made with duck. Those who simply need a hit of heat can opt for the Croque Dimitri, esssentially a Croque Monsieur but localised with the addition of bird’s eye chilli.
Regulars come specifically, however, to gorge on the cold cuts, which are served in 50g portions with bread, pickles and baby onions. There is country-style pate (RM12) and both San Daniele and duck prosciuttos (RM38 and RM23 respectively) but it was the Paris ham and pork rilettes (RM15 each) that made us forget — for a moment at least — we were in a suburb of KL. If you simply cannot decide, just ask for the cold platter, which features all of the above and then some for RM98.
No bistro meal should end without pudding and, though small, Delia’s selection is perfectly pleasing, with chocolate mousse, crème brûlée, crème caramel and bread pudding — made with croissant and pain au chocolat and served with crème anglaise — all listed, and nothing priced above RM16. If you are in a celebratory mood, do ask for a flute of Robert’s own cuvée. Who knows? The owner himself might be around to share a few vigneron’s tales with you.
Delia Wines & Bistro, 15 Lorong Datuk Sulaiman 7, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL. 03 7732 5730. Tues-Sun, 8.30am-10pm.
This article first appeared on Dec 7, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.