Life is never short of a curveball. Just ask Shaun Ng.
Ng’s boyishly handsome features are never far away from a smile now, but he’s earned his mirth. From Kuala Lumpur to a law degree in England which he never wanted (and which he makes sound like CIA waterboarding), back home to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, then to the US for a degree from the other CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of America, lah), followed by a couple of years at the legendary Le Bernardin and one-starred Kato in Los Angeles. He says he never had a day off during his American stint, always pulling extra shifts so he could compress as much learning as possible into his time there.
His current home, Hide, which he opened with the Curate Group in early 2021, has a serenity that belies the roller coaster he has got off of, and cooking of a quality that places it right in the country’s top tier.
I must say it is a bit of an odd get-up. The door to the restaurant is a faux painting that looks like part of an outdoor exhibition attached to the Ritz-Carlton Residences; there are no signboards or anything so crass. The younglings like to say IYKYK, and from the minutes I spent wandering the lobby (more of Ng’s CIA skullduggery at work, no doubt), clearly IDK. The counter-style seating is configured like a horseshoe, but there is no kitchen within. This means you can make direct eye contact with the guest sitting opposite you, although I’m not saying you should.
The food, however, is a knockout right from the get-go. A series of hors d’oeuvres have a precision and polish that I haven’t found elsewhere in KL. We do flavours and textures very well, but finish is often lacking, perhaps due to the perennial shortage of high-level technical cooks. Ng doesn’t allow his ambition to be tempered by harsh realism, and his crew manages to execute a very refined apple and Comté cheese meringue, refreshing after a very masculine begedil with bone marrow and black garlic.
Seafood cookery here is of a standard that would make his former mentor Eric Ripert proud. The splendid alfonsino is, well, splendid; the textures of the barley risotto, toasted sorghum and razor clam nubbins are an absolute delight against the glass-crispy skin of the fish. Slightly oily toothfish with a blue swimmer crab broth tastes so cleanly of the ocean, the sensation echoed by a judicious dollop of caviar and dice of abalone. Flavours aside, one immediately senses and appreciates Ng’s sheer mastery of texture. It’s a very Asian sensibility, but he knows his crowd and isn’t afraid to push their buttons.
But Ng isn’t just a fish guy. In the pandemic of dry-aged duck that has gripped KL, his version is especially infectious. Yes, the cooking of the fowl is perfect, but a few other restaurants can make that same claim. What sets Hide’s apart is the incredible sauce made from roasted duck carcasses simmered for eight hours and (our little secret) blackberries. The depth, complexity and minerality of the sauce unfurl on your palate, crying out for a glass of excellent New World pinot noir.
After the riot of highs on the savoury courses, dessert is a more zen moment, a gentle caress on the conclusion. I would have liked a bit more oomph on the Horkasai (a mix of Milo and kopi O) ice cream, but it goes down all the same. For those who love culinary narratives, Horkasai is said to have originated in Taiping and its name means “tiger bites lion” in the Hokkien dialect. It is a byproduct of the Larut Wars (a quartet of skirmishes that took place among local Chinese secret societies over the control of mining lands in Perak), and the locals believed imbibing this beverage would give them a much-needed energy boost, evoking the tiger’s ferocity to battle the lion.
There is very little to dislike at Hide. Service is equally competent, and Ng and his R&D chef Eason Cho are also very present as they deliver and explain most of the dishes. A price tag of RM 650++ (plus supplements for the signature gunkan of uni and wagyu and an A5 wagyu short rib main course) pushes the friendship a little, but that seems to be the going rate these days for restaurants with stars or who believe they are at that level.
If the folks at the Red Guide still have their wits about them, death and taxes may soon have a new companion.
Budget around RM800 nett per person for dinner, including non-alcoholic drinks.
Hide, The Ritz-Carlton Residences,105 Jalan Ampang, KL. Call 013 203 3627 for reservations. See here for more details.
This article first appeared on Oct 23, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.