Monday, 14 September 2015

A Review of Cantaloupe, Troika Sky Dining, KL - Pleasant But It's Not Really All That...

Or is it?

The View, with Bonus Haze

I used to enjoy the cooking at Bukit Bintang's Frangipani, the brainchild of chef Chris Bauer and his partner Eddie Chew.  I always enjoyed the depth of flavour that Bauer packed into his proteins and sauces; the descriptions on the menu were always long and complex, yet tongue-in-cheek, but everything always came together beautifully on the plate.

In 2013, Bauer and Chew literally set their sights higher, opening the dining complex Troika Sky Dining at the top of the luxurious Troika development at KLCC.  I understand that Bauer now also consults to at least five other eating establishments, which, coupled with his TV and other celebrity chef commitments, means he does not cook for guests any more.  Today, Troika Sky Dining is comprised of four distinct dining concepts, all under Bauer and Chew's stewardship.  Today, I am test-driving the jewel in Troika's crown, the modern European-French restaurant Cantaloupe.

On a weekday lunch, I am the only guest in the entire restaurant.  No one else walks in over the next 90 minutes, so I am a "lone diner" in more ways than one.  It is explained, almost apologetically, that lunches are always deserted but dinners are always overbooked.  I don't know what to make of the implication that spectacular night-time views of the Twin Towers are the main attraction for potential diners.

I am seated and given the lunch menu, a seven-course degustation (no choices) at RM120++ per person, around SGD46 / USD32 at current exchange rates.  Bread is not served as a matter of course, although it is complimentary upon request.  The wine list is well-rounded and intelligent, although it has a few errors in it (more on that later) and RM575++ for a bottle of 2011 Joseph Drouhin Meursault strikes me as being incredibly steep.

Amuse Bouche: Oyster - Poached French Tsarskaya Oyster, Smoked Blackberry Foam, Pearl, Lemon

A good start.  The blackberry foam was very neutral and "pearls" are just a fancy name for pomelo sacs.  The oyster, though, is excellent, and the sauce, which I am guessing is an emulsion of oyster liquor, cream and lemon, provides a double hit of oyster flavour.

Clam - Pickled Japanese Clams, Edible Shell, Salsa Verde

Nicely presented.  I like the intense, acidic sauce in the clam shell and the tart foam.  The tart shell is  nice and crunchy and the salsa verde adds a nice herbaceous freshness.  

There is, however, an infestation of something on my plate which I can only guess is an "olive oil snow".  It looks rather neutral and tastes of nothing in particular.  Just two courses in, I am noticing an untoward reliance on outdated "molecular gastronomy" techniques, which does not bode well for the rest of lunch.

Quail - Smoked Duck, Foie Gras, Artichoke Espuma, Palm Glaze

I am asked to eat the precariously hanging quail leg first, before tackling the more substantial portions of duck and foie gras.  I like the crispy and juicy quail, which puts me in a mind of the fried frog's legs that I had at Imperial Treasure Teochew Cuisine.  The duck is juicy and tasty, although I must admit the smoke eluded me.  The foie is nicely seared on both sides, although it discharges an inordinate amount of oil onto the plate, which suggests it has been seared on too high a heat.  I like the use of gula melaka (palm sugar) as a sweet, caramelly companion to accompany the fatty liver.  But then my friendly waiter Redzuan comes over with a peculiarly phallic siphon which spews out a cloud of artichoke espuma.  The dish needs a sauce so I am not going to be overly critical, but the quasi-molecular thing is starting to get out of hand.

Sorbet - Red Watermelon and Basil Granita, Mint Soda

Redzuan comes back with my friend the siphon, and I am about to rip it out of his hands, throw it down the 23(A?) floors and hope it hits a "Red Shirt" supporter.  But I promised my wife I would behave on this trip, so I merely watch as Redzuan squirts some green foamy thing onto my sorbet.  The mint foam looks like the ersatz vomit from the Exorcist and dissipates in mere seconds, but the flavours work well and leave my palate suitably refreshed.

Cod - Pan-Seared Cod Fillet, Quinoa, Sea Urchin Sauce

Kurau (threadfin) was originally on the menu, but it has been replaced by cod today.  Which is a damned shame because I love a good piece of kurau.  My cod (French, I am told) has a beautiful golden sear on the outside, but leaks water from the middle as a result of not having been properly defrosted.  The sea urchin sauce is creamy and umami-laden, but the real star of the show is the quinoa, which is tossed with red onions in the fashion of a good nasi goreng kampung, and is there a hint of belacan in there?  Delicious.

Rabbit - Braised Rabbit, Tarragon Cream, Spaetzle

I like to present criticism in the form of a shit sandwich: I start with the positive (a slice of bread, if we follow the analogy), layer on the negative (the shit) and finish off with another positive (another slice of bread to complete the sandwich).  So here we go: the rabbit is gorgeously cooked and juicy, but the spaetzle is lifeless and fried to within a millimetre of its life.  The cream sauce is so strong, and so dominated by the flavour of white wine that...sorry, is that more a shit stack than a sandwich?

Seriously, I am left wondering why you would go to the trouble of cooking a temperamental protein like rabbit, and cooking it well, if you are going to drown it in an over-assertive sauce?  The most disappointing savoury course of the afternoon.

Pre-Dessert: Orange Madeleine, Lavender Butter Cream

Revolting.  The madeleine was cold, stodgy and soggy (last night's leftovers, peut-etre?) and the buttercream was broken and clumpy.   If Proust's madeleine was enough to move him to spontaneous rapture, this one is more than enough to move me to despair.

Dessert - Lychee Bavarois, Lime Fizz Sugar, Mango Gel, Vanilla Moss

The plating is beautiful, although I detest the pointless vanilla dandruff, oops, moss.  The bavarois is chunky with pieces of lychee, and the mango adds much needed vibrancy and acidity.  The lime fizz sugar is rather pointless, however; it certainly doesn't fizz (left out too long in the humidity?) and doesn't have any real lime flavour.


I'm having a hard time deciding what I think of Cantaloupe.  There are some very strong dishes, although on today's showing, the sweets are very suspect.  Leaving aside desserts (which were never Bauer's strong point even at Frangipani) however, the rest of the menu was generally pretty good, and at the equivalent of SGD 45 for a lunch tasting menu, with a good view, friendly service and a pretty snazzy interior, it would be mean to complain too much.

There are a couple of issues which can certainly be improved.  The reliance on outdated molecular  tricks, which do nothing to improve the tasting experience, is one of them.  Following on from my earlier comments on the wine list, the list actually contains wrong information.  Restricting my comments only to Alsace wine, which regular readers know is my spécialité de la maison, I spotted the following errors:

 - 2007 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile is listed as " off-dry".  If winemaker Pierre Trimbach were dead (he isn't), he would be spinning in his grave like a top on ecstasy.  Trimbach wines, especially their grande cuvée Rieslings, are dry to the point of steeliness.

 - Even though there is a separate sweet wine section, the Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2005 (85 grams of residual sugar per litre) and 2006 (108 grams rs/L!) were listed in the dry wines section, without any note as to their flavour profile, save to say they were "late-harvest".

My trade friends tell me that many restaurants put Alsace wines on their lists not in the hope that they will sell, but just to give their list the appearance of being well-rounded.  Another reason they don't sell is a lack of knowledge on the part of the staff about these wines, and an apparent unwillingness to make the effort to learn about them, let alone sell them.

Leaving that aside for a minute, let's apply the acid test: do I want to return to see what Cantaloupe has to offer at dinner, when prices basically triple?  From my single meal here today, I think Cantaloupe is certainly amongst KL's better "western" restaurants.  The food is, however, too played with for my liking, and desserts really need a serious revamp if Cantaloupe is going to take the next step and be recognised as being of international standard.

Level 23A, Tower B
The Troika
19 Persiaran KLCC
50450 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +60 3 2162 0886
BYO Policy: RM100++ per 750mL bottle of still wine; RM200++ per 750mL bottle of sparkling wine, BYO hard liquor not allowed.  For a list of BYO restaurants in KL and the Klang Valley and their corkage policies, please click here.

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