The Oriental Group of Restaurants is 16 years old! How time flies when I recall meeting its Group Executive Chef Justin Hor when he was a young man showing great promise at a grand sumptuous dinner he cooked for us in the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club.I have enjoyed many grand dinners of his since, in the annual series the Oriental Group started in 2008.
Here we are at Noble House, and Chef Justin talks about how he went to Hong Kong to visit his sifu whom he worked with from 1988 till 1993. “I wanted to check with him what attracts diners, and we went back 40 years,” said Justin. “We hoped to make the food authentic and reflect the old times.”
The result is a 16th Anniversary set retro menu tuned in to the present. It’s a splendid feast, priced at RM2888 nett for a table of 10.
Three classic main dishes and some of the five appetisers bowled me over.
The five appetisers were: Baby Pomfret with cili padi and crispy minced garlic, Crispy Clam Roll marinated with five spices, Sea Grass with shredded yam tossed in chef’s special sauce, Black Squid Ink Balls coated with sesame seeds and Pork Ear served with baby black fungus.
The squid ink balls stood out with springy bites that touched pieces of squid inside, and the coating of crispy, fragrant sesame seeds. The braised, finely sliced pork ear with baby black fungus yielded old familiar textures and flavours.
The chef gave a new feel to an old, well-loved white bait and jellyfish appetiser by replacing white bait with crispy yam strips and jellyfish with crunchy sea grass, tossing them in a Thai sauce.
He added curry leaves to the heap of fried garlic and chilli covering the crispy fried baby pomfret, in the style of Typhoon Shelter Garlic Prawns.
The Crispy Clam Roll had clams, minced pork, ham and water chestnut seasoned with five-spice powder, wrapped in lard netting and deep fried.
Any soups in the Oriental Group of restaurants have my vote and I’m totally focused on my Imperial Rejuvenation Soup, double-boiled for six hours with a fair-sized abalone, superior shark’s fin, sea cucumber, Japanese dried scallop, Japanese mushroom, fresh fish maw, Yunnan ham, pork tendon, quail’s egg, conch and herbs like huai shan, superior tong sum, ginseng and wolfberries.
That’s a lot going in this soup, so you can appreciate the blending of flavours, the mellow roundness from pork tendon, sea cucumber and fish maw that left a pleasant stickiness round my lips. “Don’t wipe your lips for three minutes after drinking the soup,” said the chef. I didn’t and I loved how the complexity of the soup stayed in that gooey film round my lips.
The next star of this 16th Anniversary Set is the Roast Baby Pigeon. Juices burst out of the crispy pigeon skin as I took a bite, whether from the leg or the wing (which is usually dry), or the breast. Chef Justin’s tip on savouring this utterly delicious pigeon: “Eat the leg first for best, smoothest and juiciest meat. Then squeeze lime juice on the breast.” It was yums all the way!
The shiny skin of the pigeon was packed with the essence of the loh sooi or braising sauce steeped with spices which the pigeon had been dipped in and hung to dry before the deep frying. The flavours lingered on the palate.
The Traditional Stuffed Whole Chinese Cabbage in dried scallop sauce had broccoli stuffed with fish paste at the side. The heart of the cabbage had been cut out, then filled with crab meat, chopped mushroom, water chestnut and minced pork, tied up and double-boiled for two hours till soft. The stuffed cabbage was finished with sauce to which dried scallops had been added.I loved the tender, juicy cabbage which had soaked in all the flavours of its lush, delicious stuffing.
The last main course was the Steamed Freshwater Prawns on Glutinous Rice. The prawns, laden with grated Bentong ginger and spring onions, and drizzled with wine, were placed atop the glutinous rice in a bamboo basket lined with lotus leaves to steam. All the lovely juices of the prawns dripped down to the rice.
Dessert was the classic Sweetened Red Bean Paste double-boiled with Old Guangzhou Mandarin Peel. The red bean paste was delightfully perfumed with this aged citrus peel.
A grand repast like this one is not complete without some finely made dumplings like the pretty pink Peonies with White Lotus Paste and Crystal Pumpkin ones presented on a two-tier tray.
This set menu together with an a la carte menu of the same dishes is available from now till 30 September at Noble House (03-2145 8822), Noble Mansion, Noble Banquet, Oriental Pavilion, Oriental Banquet, The Ming Room, Han Room and Oriental Viva. An equivalent pork-free menu can be enjoyed at Maju Palace.
In conjunction with the 16th Anniversary celebrations, all the restaurants will be giving a complimentary dish from the set menu, enough for 10 people, with every set menu purchase.