The full-height windows at Kayuputi overlook the million-year-old rainforest and Andaman Sea sparkling beneath the fire of a setting sun, but the view occupying our attention was that of the prettily plated salt-baked quail.
New executive chef Mandy Goh is the first woman to hold this role at The St Regis Langkawi, an appointment accompanied by glowing accolades, including previous experience at The Manor at The St Regis Macao and the Michelin-starred Restaurant Guy Savoy. The Taste, Texture, Theatre degustation dinner paired with House of Edmond de Rothschild wines was the official introduction to her penchant for storytelling through honest cuisine.
Take the quail, a triptych of intense flavours comprising a firm breast, tender leg confit and a tiny fried quail egg so charming it belonged on a keychain. The preparation techniques involved — adapted for the different parts of the bird — showcased the versatility and attention to detail for which the young chef is renowned. The Château des Laurets Puisseguin St-Émilion 2015 paired seamlessly, its plummy black fruit notes and rounded mouthfeel respectively contrasting the saliferous quail and complementing the wholesome dish. Despite the menu theme, there was nothing theatrical about the presentation. Instead of gimmickry or fanfare, the natural, riotous colours of the ingredients were elevated by the blue-streaked earthenware plate to produce a tasteful modern art marvel.
Goh is tasked with overseeing the culinary experience at The St Regis Langkawi, from the over-water Kayuputi to brasserie L’Orangerie and the deluxe Gourmand Deli. The Penangite spent the last few months reinventing the menus at each, bringing her own food philosophies to the table. The stakes are particularly high at the pan-Asian-inspired Kayuputi: Rising from the lapping waves on stilts, this white wooden structure was envisioned by architect Bill Bensley as an art collector’s beach house. The century-old reclaimed doors open to reveal collectibles from formal teak columns inlaid with camel bone to hooded chairs crowned with extravagant plumes as part of the eclectic seating. Its reputation, however, is not built on the fanciful yet friendly décor but on the output of the open kitchen with its hand-hammered copper walls.
Under Goh’s helm, Kayuputi has earned the distinction of placing in the Top 52 Restaurants and Bars by Marriott Bonvoy this year, a list curated from 2,800 participating Marriott International venues across Asia-Pacific. House signatures — such as the cognac-infused lobster bisque with Boston lobster in jelly; toasted walnut, mushroom fricassee and basil cress salad; or the salad of fresh mud crabs with Japanese salted plum umeboshi granite, heirloom tomatoes and compressed watermelon infused with spring onion oil — affirm that the honour is well deserved.
Ingredient-led cuisine that celebrates quality produce and meat will always find its fans, and the executive chef’s network of suppliers span neighbouring to best-in-their-class farms around the region.
“Sourcing is important,” says Goh. “I’m not too interested in the nationality of products, only the quality. The truffle and Kagoshima wagyu on the degustation menu were imported, while our à la carte menu has snapper, seabass and buffalo milk from right here in Langkawi. I am French-trained and thus focus on cooking techniques that retain the natural flavours. So, we need the best ingredients possible.”
The Taste, Texture and Theatre menu seemed to have been named in order of significance ascribed to each element, with the palate holding court.
“Taste is always the most vital — that is what becomes locked in the memory — followed by texture,” she says. “Look at nasi lemak: the crunch of peanuts and anchovies, with the bite of rice and softness of sambal. So much goes on in a simple dish. I like to play with taste and texture to avoid monotony on the palate or in the mouth. I also believe in minimising wastage, so parts that aren’t used in one dish might unexpectedly find a place in another.”
Although the degustation menu was a one-night-only special, the themes around which it was designed seem destined to remain on Kayuputi’s menus throughout Goh’s tenure. Let the dramatic surroundings provide the necessary spectacle; her attention is trained firmly on the experience served on the plate.
This article first appeared on Feb 17, 2020 in The Edge Malaysia.