By the time this review appears, the recipes might have been tweaked or the menu reworked. Such is the vim and vigour of David Chin, best known for his roast chicken, gourmet sandwiches and pies at Dave’s Deli. He is the father of fine-dining maestro Darren, and the new Café-Bistrot David by father and son bears the unmistakable touch of both, though Darren has since stepped back to focus on his own ventures.
Any of several elements might catch the attention of passers-by in Taman Tun Dr Ismail: the red velvet rope barrier along the monochrome tiled corridor, perhaps, or the full-height window offering an unfettered view of merry goings-on within. We would bet, though, on the hanging roast ducks and pie display nudging pedestrians to enquire about the menu.
The delightful mishmash of cuisines and cultures will no doubt bewilder. Is that a French Gallette de Bretagne next to Curry Ramen? How does Ox Tail Asam Pedas share a home with burrata, wagyu steaks, Spaghettini in Butter Miso Sauce and Pan-fried North Atlantic Skrei Cod? Ignore the noise: The internal voices protesting that confusion on paper translates to confusion on plates.
David has earned the right to disregard the rules. If it is good, it is going on the menu.
And in the restaurant, which explains how Parisian cues such as the foyer’s archway (“Like ducking into a cellar,” says David later) and curved ceiling above the chef’s table, recalling sunrise over gilded domes with weathered ochre and robin-egg blue patinated with gold leaf, are juxtaposed with distinctive Malaysian codes. Black-and-white linocuts by David’s daughter Sharon and photographs by S C Shekar contrast with jaunty tiffin carriers from the restaurateur’s personal collection. The best seats in the house are at the undulating bar, where diners have front-row seats to the bubbling sauces, desserts made to order and finishing touches executed at the chef’s table.
Eager to explore the carnivorously inclined menu, we opted for the Tiger Prawns in Garlic and Konbu Butter (RM58) to start, its natural sweetness complementing the subtle marinade. Roast Duck (RM35 for a quarter) followed, accompanied by homemade chili sauce and a flavourful basmati rice. We cleaned it to the bone quickly, testament to the crisp skin and luscious meat soaking in roasted bone jus. Paired with the right red — we had the 2015 Museum Reserva Cigales Denominación de Origen — the dish simply soars.
The Ox Tail Asam Pedas (RM48) came with ghee rice and a tomato salsa, and while decent, it did not rouse much enthusiasm. Nothing compared to the Fish Pie (RM42), certainly, which flaunts David’s legacy in rustic comfort food. When the flaky short-crust pastry, rich with French butter, was split open, it revealed a shell fully occupied by Norwegian smoked salmon and chunks of halibut and cod, kept in place by a béchamel sauce and blanched spinach. Mashed potatoes, mushy peas — the real kind, made with petit pois — and an elegant fish emulsion (Darren’s touch, no doubt) tied the course together. Not a crumb remained on that plate.
Any indifference we might have had towards the Asian fare here was immediately put to rest with the Curry Ramen. Diners can choose to add roast duck, chicken or seafood, but we decided to try it as is — an intensely fragrant bowl of springy noodles with the classic garnishes of dashi, bonito flakes, nori and egg. It was punchier than your typical ramen, reminiscent of curry mee, which, we later find out, was indeed the inspiration behind this take. David uses his own paste to infuse fervent spice and heartiness. For an additional RM5, the ramen can be substituted with low-carb oat fibre konjac noodles.
I was certain I could eat no more but then the Rack of Lamb (RM98) arrived, French-cut to expose the delicate rib bones. Beautifully seared and succulent, it was accompanied by a fun and literal mint jelly, gelatinous and refreshing, as well as the firm and nutty Sardinian pasta, Sagrada Fregola.
To dine at a Parisian-style bistro and skip dessert would be a crime, and the Classic Crepe Suzette (RM35) beckoned. Scrumptious browned butter and strong citrus notes emphasised by a generous pour of Grand Marnier harmonised effortlessly with the gelato with Madagascar vanilla. It would have been a solid note to end on but we indulged in a small selection from the pastry display and praised the heavens for that spontaneous call. The choux pastries were almost a transcendent experience, so refined were their airy cream and fluffy beds.
We were among the first to arrive at the bistro one balmy weeknight, but the tables quickly filled. The namesake owner, present for nearly every service, was hands-on in the kitchen and made the rounds to personally check on guests.
“This was meant to be a pie shop but Darren convinced me to expand the idea and leave a strong legacy,” said David. “The menu is constantly evolving as we keep experimenting with the recipes. Did you try the Reuben sandwich? You must, it’s a classic, and I daresay almost as good as the one at Katz’s Delicatessen in New York.”
I did on a later visit, and marvelled at the generosity of the slabs of house-cured brisket and Emmental cheese clamp-grilled between sourdough slices. It was as hale and hearty as a sandwich could be, enlivened with the acidic prickle of pickles. But it is the warming comfort of the ramen and pies that will see me return time and again.
Café-Bistrot David is open for lunch and dinner, with two seatings for the latter, and reservations are highly recommended. Bring a date, a client or the family, or come alone in the late afternoon for pastries and coffee. We would not fault you for staying on for dinner.
Café-Bistro David, 135, Jalan Aminuddin Baki, TTDI, KL. 03 7732 0332. Tues-Sun, 11am-10pm.
This article first appeared on Sept 14, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.