Options: It has been nearly a quarter of a century since Chinoz on the Park opened in KLCC in 1998. Now that a new lease has not been undertaken and this iconic eatery has closed in the heart of the city, tell us how you will be pleasing KL palates in the interim.
Teng Wee Jeh: It has been a little bit of a mad rush ... we were only officially informed [about the new terms of the lease] just before Chinese New Year, so we decided to convert the ground floor of my office in Bangsar into a Malay-cuisine eatery, and were fortunate to have just secured the lease on a quirky little new-built site in Lucky Gardens, Bangsar, that will be a coffee-led café but with a wider menu than most coffee bars. Sadly, it won’t be called Chinoz as it is quite a small space and we will not be able to offer anything like the KLCC menu. We have yet to decide on a name for it though.
You seem to have a particular affinity with Bangsar.
Yes, somehow we’ve ended up in Bangsar again — which, of course, is where the first-ever Chinoz was established, way back in 1993. I also live in the area, and even though there have been a lot of changes here, it is still a neighbourhood we know well. Having said that, there are a lot of interesting little pockets that have sprouted up all over Kuala Lumpur. I just need to get out and about a little more to discover them all.
What have been some of the most challenging moments you’ve encountered in your long and storied career in F&B? Tell us how you overcame them.
For challenges, the answer is easy — Covid-19! Like everyone else in our sector, it hit us hard and we have to really thank our long-serving staff for sticking by us and working together to see the business through the pandemic. There was a lot of talk about pivoting, online sales and so on … but, for us, it was not an easy transition. I suspect many others felt the same way. In the end, it was just a matter of hunkering down and making the most of it when things got better.
But you must have some amazing memories, given how Chinoz on the Park was a veritable KL institution. Particularly with the post-Philharmonic crowds.
Undoubtedly the flood of well wishes and tremendous support from guests and friends of Chinoz after the news that we were leaving Suria KLCC broke is one of them. It is just so humbling to know that we, in our own little way, have made a difference and meant something to others.
Given the link Chinoz has had with the music-loving coterie in the city, what are your own musical preferences like?
My taste in music is quite eclectic and ranges from classic rock ‘n’ roll to reggae and jazz. Right now, I am listening to a young British jazz group called Ezra Collective and am in the midst of researching a potential playlist for Chinta, our new Malay eatery. So, I have been going through the songs of classic Malay artists from the 1960s and 1970s like Sanisah Huri and Sarena Hashim. Oh, I am also listening to Tsai Chin, courtesy of my dad’s record collection and Steely Dan’s Reelin’ in the Years. Part of its lyrics go, “You wouldn’t know a diamond if you held it in your hand”, and I thought it was quite topical in the light of recent events.
What are you reading right now and why?
Again, in the course of research for the eatery, Thomas Bowrey’s A Dictionary of English & Malayo, which was published in the early 1700s. It is quite fascinating to see how the language has and also hasn’t changed in the intervening centuries.
Are there any books you always reread, and why?
Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route — A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France. It is, I suspect, the life a lot of us wine tragics would have loved to live. The book was written 25 years ago and, in many ways, played the same part of wine retailing just like what Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse did for restaurants in California and the wider food scene in general. It was the championing of small, quality-minded producers and the little sketches of how they worked that proved eye-opening for me. And Lynch was also someone who only bought and sold the wines he liked to drink himself.
What are your travel plans for 2023?
With two new eateries on the horizon, it looks like it will have to be only short domestic trips for the year. But that’s not bad, really. There is so much we have not seen locally.
What are your favourite food and drink pairings of all time?
A kind old friend brought along a bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1993 for our last-ever dinner service at Chinoz on the Park. That would have gone down well with anything. But one pairing that has stuck with me for many a year is a Chateau d’Yquem and blue cheese bavarois I once had at Tetsuya’s in Australia … when he was still at his original corner shop location in Rozelle, Sydney.
Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
Enjoying a cup of hand-brewed Ethiopian coffee with fig and cinnamon jam on sourdough toast accompanied by a copy of the FT Weekend. Also dim sum, a visit to a local flea market, followed by a bowl of cendol, another visit to the pasar malam and ending with Netflix wouldn’t go amiss either.
This article first appeared on Apr 17, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.