The founder of Tinkermen restaurant collective, which includes Vintry, Stoked and Proof Pizza, and a long-time judge at the Decanter Asia Wine Awards talks about new places in town as well as epic meals around the world.
Options: We are loving your latest outlet, Princeps, at The Stories of Taman Tunku, Kuala Lumpur. Congratulations!
Wong Yin How: Thank you. Princeps’ menu is Mediterranean-inspired and its name pays homage to the provenance of Taman Tunku, named in honour of Malaysia’s first prime minister, who was also a prince. It is our 13th outlet to date but we are also getting ready to launch our 14th — Rei, which means ‘harmony’ in Japanese. It will be a kappo-style restaurant, located directly above Smith’s, our wood-fired oven breadsmith in Damansara Heights. It will be our second Japanese-inspired outlet after Toji, our saké bar.
What inspires each of your outlets?
Definitely travel — something we have been unable to do for what seems like a very long while. Travel opens the mind and everytime I go somewhere, I get inspiration, which I then compartmentalise and tweak into concepts and ideas that could work for future restaurants. For example, Dim Dou Duck, our duck restaurant in Desa ParkCity, had been on my mind for at least seven to eight years. It is inspired by meals I had as a student while in Bayswater, London, as well as Sydney’s Mr Wong and Melbourne’s legendary Old Kingdom. Any Malaysian student who studied in Melbourne would have eaten a meal there.
What have been your go-to bottles during the lockdown period?
My palate remains curious as ever. But for comfort, nothing beats a nice Burgundy. I recently discovered David Moreau, a producer in Santenay. It’s a quality wine that can be drunk young and is inexpensive. His shipment arrived during the Movement Control Order, so I enjoyed a lot of it then. Riesling is another great wine and Mac Forbes in the Yarra Valley has consistently proved itself as a world-class wine. Oh, and of course I love Albariño wines — such a classic.
How would you recommend improving one’s wine knowledge?
Decanter magazine! It really is the best source of information and you get a good, all-round mix of writing, including by Masters of Wine. Every issue covers so many topics, so I really do think it’s better than a book. But if you really must opt for a single read, then I’d suggest anything by Andrew Jefford. My wife calls me his ‘fanboy’, but I really love the way he writes. He has a poet’s soul.
Where was your last journey of inspiration before borders were closed?
Spain in October 2019. We started in Ribera del Duero, where we visited Vega-Sicilia and tasted everything, including the Unico, of course. We were also lucky Pablo [Alvarez Mezquiriz, its CEO] was around and got to say hello. We then drove westwards to Porto, Portugal, and ended in Galicia, where I had one of the best meals at d’Berto. It rivals perhaps only Japan in terms of the finest seafood I have tasted in my life. There, you can enjoy wonderful, old Albariños, some from discontinued wineries, many 30 to 40 years old, for just around €100 a bottle.
And where would you most likely head to once we can travel again?
Definitely Singapore to see family and to try some places I have yet to dine at. Top of my list is La Dame de Pic at the Raffles and Basque Kitchen by Aitor. I’d also want a bowl of bak chor mee — my favourite is the one at Hong Lim Food Centre. A small dream of mine is actually to serve bak chor mee in Kuala Lumpur. My wife does a pretty decent version already and I imagine it would sit well on Vintry’s menu.
You mentioned some epic meals, but which spots would make your top five?
Number One, and virtually untouchable, is always Asador Etxebarri in Spain’s Basque country. It was on my honeymoon itinerary and it was also the place where you could find the cheapest Romanée-Contis around. Then, anyway. The Chairman in Hong Kong is also fantastic; d’Berto, which I mentioned earlier; and Frantzen in Stockholm. The fifth and final spot would be Sushisho Masa in Roppongi, Tokyo. The size of the sushi is small, but Masa-san offers an array of extra sushi options after the original omakase course is completed. Here, the shari is good, but the neta is definitely the star of the show!
Describe a perfect KL weekend for you.
For me, days off revolve around the family, so I think taking a drive to the nearby hills is one of my favourite things to do. I love going to Janda Baik, which is really close by, and I would always stay for at least a night. KL folks don’t appreciate enough the fact that we have mountains and cool air just a short drive away. A Little Farm On The Hill is great for a day trip. But for a short stay, my favourite getaway is Embun Luxury Villas, which has a Balinese feel and is really very well done.
This article first appeared on Mar 22, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.