Saturday, 3 October 2015

A Review of Soleil, Petaling Jaya - The Sun is Shining, the Tide is Still High

On my trip to KL a couple of weeks back, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Brian McIntyre, the Treasurer of the KL chapter of the International Food and Wine Society and avid blog chronicler of the Kuala Lumpur food scene.  I like Brian's blog as he is BS-free and calls it as he sees it, and he seems to read my blog for reasons unknown.  We were therefore looking forward to our offline meet-up.

Brian suggested we meet at Soleil at Petaling Jaya Seksyen 17, the current haunt of Belgian-born chef Evert Onderbeke.  Onderbeke brought us the now-defunct High Tide, quite possibly KL's most expensive restaurant during its short existence (which unfortunately coincided with the GFC), and has now partnered with the Sungei Wang Group to set up Soleil.

I didn't really know what to expect from Soleil.  Some blogs exalted Onderbeke's experience with "Michelin-starred chef Roger Souvereyns", ignorant of course of the fact that the stars belong to the restaurant, and not the chef.  To Ondebeke's eternal credit, he makes it very clear on Soleil's website that he worked at Souvereyns' private dining / catering company, and not at his Michelin-starred restaurant.  This also being KL, I had been disappointed enough times to  not have any real expectations.  Boy was I pleasantly surprised.

Brian was familiar with Onderbeke's food from both the High Tide days and at Soleil, and exhorted me to go for the seafood options.  We agreed to share three entrées and two mains, with a couple of meat dishes to do justice to Brian's 1996 Ormes de Pez.

First Entrée: Dutch Herring with Razor Clams, Radish and Dashi Consomme

This preparation is as remarkable for what is left off the plate, as much as for what is on it.  Onderbeke (he is cooking tonight) uses the herring as the sole seasoning element, with the other components simply left to showcase their natural character - the sweet and crunchy razor clams set off by a light and tart creme fraiche, the soft crunch of radish, the subtlety of the dill-infused dashi broth.  My Dish of the Month, rightly recognised by inclusion on Soleil's special tasting menu for the 2015 Malaysian International Gourmet Festival.  

With this, we enjoyed a 2009 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Grand Cru Schlossberg Cuvée Ste Catherine.  White flowers and ripe apples on the nose give way to a rich, almost oily texture bolstered by 14% alcohol, ripe acidity and a durable finish.  My last bottle of this excellent wine, with a little chapeau to the sorely missed Colette and Laurence Faller.

Second Entrée: Housemade Tagliatelle with Boston Lobster and Cod Roe Butter

Apparently a Soleil signature, this ticks all the boxes that appeal to the Asian palate - noodles by any other name, a touch of luxury with the perfectly cooked Boston lobster, the richness of the cod roe butter.  Brian hoovers up his share with aplomb, abetted by the zingy acidity of the Weinbach Riesling.  The textural contrast and mouthfeel of the different elements in combination are a triumph.  Not quite up to the level of the herring dish in terms of complexity and sophistication, but still excellent in its own right.

Third Entrée: Braised Duck and Mushroom Spring Rolls, Salsify Chips, Celeriac Mash

I liked this more than Brian did.  He thought the filling had too much going on, but I loved the literally paper-thin pastry, the earthy, meaty insides and the sweet crunch of the salsify chips.  The Ormes du Pez is still in the flourish of late middle-age, rich and meaty and will go for a few more years yet.  

First Main: Vegetable-Crusted Coral Trout with Shellfish and Bouillabaisse

Another triumph of perfectly cooked seafood.  Clams and mussels add their marine essence to a nicely balanced "bouilabaisse", while the trout is set off from the sweetness of the vegetable crust.  The Weinbach has enough body to carry this rather rich seafood dish.

Second Main: Wagyu Beef Cheek with Girolle Mushrooms and Floreffe Double Sauce 

Given the ubiquity of Wagyu beef cheek dishes on menus around the world, I pose to Brian an existentialist question: are there actually enough Wagyu cattle in the world to provide the number of purported Wagyu cheeks consumed globally?  Brian mulls over this for a moment, before we decide we are too drunk to engage in any complex calculations and retreat for another glass of the Ormes.

Regardless of the answer, this is another excellent dish.  The girolles are braised in the very concentrated sauce, which ties the whole preparation together.  Beef cheeks are rather harder to mangle than delicate fresh seafood, but this shows that the kitchen can also churn out a good red meat dish.

Dessert: Pandan Crêpe with Caramelised Bananas, Gula Melaka and Coconut Sorbet

I brought a half of Olivier Humbrecht's 2008 Riesling Grand Cru Brand Sélection de Grains Nobles, but given we already had a bottle of wine each, wiser counsels dictated that we leave it for another day and just share a dessert.  This pandan moneybag is apparently Soleil's signature sweet, and it is certainly delicious. Despite the combination of some seriously saccharine, unhealthy elements (coconut cream in the sorbet, the tooth-numbingly sweet local coconut palm sugar known as gula melaka, the caramelised sugar in the banana filling), the dish is beautifully balanced, with the streusel providing the necessary textural contrast and the icy sorbet preventing the sweetness quotient from going over the top. Excellent.


I must admit that Seksyen 17 PJ was not the place I expected to find such great food.  For the most part, Soleil appears to coast under the Malaysian foodie radar, whose bandwidth appears occupied mostly with the traditional (Lafite, Cilantro, etc) and emergent big names (DC and Nobu, to name a few).  That said, Bistro a Table is a mere three doors down and in the interests of full and frank disclosure, the only reason Brian decided on Soleil on this occasion was that Bistro a Table is closed on Mondays.  In a way, I'm glad things played out as they did, as I got to experience Soleil for myself.

To my as-yet untrained eye, the service staff (as is standard in most Malaysian restaurants these days) were foreigners from South Asia.  However, unlike many of their compatriots, they are clear, articulate, friendly and happy to help, and I was happy to leave myself in their hands.

Now Soleil isn't cheap; you would be hard-pressed to spend less than RM170++ (which will soon be worth bugger-all at the rate we are going) for a three-course meal, but food this good never came cheap.  For foreign visitors prepared to make the schlep to PJ and who want a change from hawker food, the ringgit's Louganis-like spectacular dive means restaurants like Soleil have never been better value for money.

As an added bonus, the restaurant waived its standard RM 60++ per bottle corkage when they remembered that Brian was an IWFS member.   Superb food, competent service, no corkage, what more could one really ask for?

Jalan 17/54, Seksyen 17
46400 Petaling Jaya
Selangor Malaysia
Tel: +60 3 7932 5989
BYO Policy: RM60++ per 750mL bottle, waived for card-carrying members of the International Wine and Food Society.  For a list of BYO restaurants in KL and the Klang Valley, please click here.
Reservations Recommended.

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