It has been a journey six years in the making before James Won, Chef-Patron of Enfin by James Won, was happy enough to present his Malaysian gastronomy menu. “We want to be the voice for elevated Malaysian cuisine,” Won said of the 18-item menu. “This menu might have taken two months to conceptualise but it has taken us six years to get here – time that we spent tasting, testing and assembling the right team.”
The idea behind the menu is simple: taking the finest ingredients Malaysia has to offer and elevating it to the highest standards. “This is the evolution of what we have been doing,” Won said. “This is the direction we are headed, where we want to beat the drum. This is where we define the philosophy of our cuisine as a Malaysian restaurant – basically contemporary French cuisine with Malaysian ingredients.”
At its heart, the menu at Enfin by James Won is a culinary journey that takes in food and flavour memories that we Malaysians would be familiar with from the home or hawker stall, but present in unexpected but delightful ways. One of the dishes, for example, is nigiri sushi, a throwback to Won’s time in Japan. In his version, however, the fish is replaced by aloe vera that has been cured by fermented fish powder and wrapped in banana leaf until it is firmed up. The aloe nigiri is then stained with beetroot and served with a Bario rice puff, fermented chili in place of wasabi and crowned with white sturgeon caviar.
The Egg, on the other hand, brings together two Malaysian favourites: soft-boiled eggs and curry laksa. “There’s actually no egg involved, except for the shell it’s served in” Won explained. “What looks like the egg white is actually almond tofu, while the ‘yolk’ is sea urchin with curry emulsion and citrus.” Keropok here has a scallop chip base topped with hazelnut, cress, crème fraiche and Szechuan peppercorn. “Keropok can be like this – you still get the taste and flavour of keropok, but of a totally different paradigm.”
“I want to centre stage the Malaysian flavour and show our understanding of Malaysian cuisine and gastronomy. I don’t want to, say, take nasi lemak and reinvent or deconstruct it. What I want to do is give you flavours from nasi lemak. I believe that if you want to challenge heritage food, you need to do it at the best possible level.”
Won also drew inspiration from his own heritage and come up with a dish that merged his upbringing with his role as the only Malaysian Krug Ambassade. Chili is his entry for the Krug Champagne Single Ingredient Book Curation 2019, which is focused on chili. “I am Hakka and this is my version of the Hakka yong tau foo and, instead of the traditional mince pork and fish filling, my version is stuffed with water-based tofu, mushroom and truffle. It is cooked in duck fat and comes with a green molé made from the chlorophyll of seven green vegetables, fermented fish and chili.” Again, here are familiar ingredients and flavours, but put together in a wholly unexpected level.
One of main highlight of the menu is the Bidor duck breast. The skin is extremely crispy, while the breast is pink and tender. The sauce is enriched with Ipoh white coffee, and on the side is gnocchi made of yam – another throwback of Won’s Hakka heritage – barrio rice puff for crunch and blossom of pickled beetroot and radish. For Won, this is Malaysia in one single plate.
“Malaysian flavours are robust and we keep their boldness and refine that, but to the extent that they are overwhelming – there’s no finesse in losing control of the flavours. That’s also important as we don’t use salt here, which means that we need to amplify the natural flavours.”
Every plate in the menu is an extensive demand of creativity and labour – Won’s aloe nigiri alone take two days to make. “Making a tasty dish is not difficult – the hard part is the meaning and story behind it,” Won said. Every dish on the menu here is a work of art and a reflection of the high cooking standards that drive Won and his team. “We are a fine-dining restaurant, so there’s nothing that’s too meticulous or too detailed. For us, a great plate is the summation of all little good things. This ensures that what you eat isn’t boring. You come here to do more than eat delicious food. You’re here to have an experience, to understand how and why we make everything just for you. Sure, you can get yong tau foo outside but here, we think of why and how it’s made, and why we serve it the way we do.
Enfin by James Won is at Menara Hap Seng, Jalan P Ramlee, Kuala Lumpur. For more details, call +60 10 288 7920 or visit enfinrestaurants.com