Chef de cuisine Cedric Darthial’s innovative minimalist approach transforms enduring European classics into flavourful modern offerings at the swanky Mandarin Grill.
Much as I hate to admit it, I’m a real coward at heart. Although I have been a food writer for close to a decade, I still sometimes suffer from anxiety attacks when I have to try new, unfamiliar food.
My latest test came when Mandarin Oriental Kuala Lumpur’s chef de cuisine Cedric Darthial insisted on serving his signature Black Angus Beef Tartar (appetiser portion RM68++ or main course RM110++) with Tomato Salsa, Mushroom Duxelle and Sour Dough Toast on my recent visit to the swanky Mandarin Grill and MO Bar.
Yes, I had eaten raw beef in the past but those tissue-thin carpaccio slices seemed terribly frivolous compared to the mound of raw minced beef mixed with egg yolk, chopped tomato, Tabasco and other seasonings. Luckily, I felt more confident after savouring the burst of intense tangy-briny flavours from the wobbly blob of emulsified tomato essence. After stirring in the little scoop of finely minced mushroom and tiny dollops of chopped chives, shallot, capers and ground black pepper into the meat, I gamely took my first tentative bite of the Beef Tartar.
All the while, the hotel’s director of communications Cheryl Lum and assistant public relations manager Leslie Chia watched me like hawks. Their delight and relief were palpable after I declared how scrumptious it was. I really liked the meat’s flinty nuance with its attendant complex layers of sharp, tart and spicy accents which were reminiscent of fresh tuna.
Since it opened in February 2010, the Mandarin Grill has been acclaimed for its artisanal dishes infused with modern twists, all served with great aplomb in hush, elegant surroundings that incorporate edgy, twinkling fibre-optics chandeliers, an in-built fireplace, a showy all-glass wine cellar and picturesque floor-to-ceiling windows that look out to a lush, well-manicured garden.
Making his Asian debut here is chef de cuisine Cedric Darthial, whose culinary interest was first sparked during his part-time stint at a friend’s restaurant. It changed the direction of his life. Ditching his ambition to become a lawyer, Darthial went on to spend 12 years perfecting his skills at numerous five-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe.
He finally came into his own when he was named Best Chef of the Year 2009 in Dubai at the age of 27.
Adhering to the “less is more” philosophy, Darthial is known for signature creations that are clean, austere and devoid of frills. From his amuse bouche of Tuna Sashimi with Wasabi Mayo and Ponzu Jelly to the appetisers of Alaskan Crab Cakes with Mango Salad, Coriander Coulis and Red Bell Pepper (RM69++), to the Pan Fried Foie Gras with Roasted Beetroot, Poached Pear and Liquorice Jus (RM158++) , his dishes show a pared-down approach where every ingredient plays a role.
These ingredients are meant to be savoured for their pure freshness, natural flavours and distinct textures, and they are artfully combined to excite, please and tease the gustatory senses.
Darthial also has a knack for turning revered classics like Potato Gnocchi (appetiser RM44++, main course RM65++) into sophisticated haute offerings. He has reinterpreted the slightly chewy morsels with rustic Wild Mushrooms in Light Cream Sauce or a zesty Tomato Sauce with Kalamata Olives and Micro Greens. The dish should leave you heartily satisfied.
It was a good thing we restrained from going overboard with the gnocchi because our order of Black Angus Chateaubriand (RM238++ for two) proved to be quite substantial. The deliciously tender and juicy prime cuts come with beef cheek-filled conchiglioni (shell-shaped pasta), mushroom fricassee and truffle sauce and assorted vegetables served separately on the side, and ample enough to feed a small army. We also got to pick our preferred steak knives from a custom-made selection. Fancy that.
This lent an interesting dimension to our dining experience.
Somehow we managed to find tummy space for the Tarte Tatin (French apple tart) with Strawberry Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream, Orange Creme Brulee with Chocolate Sorbet and Grapefruit Marmalade, Mango Sorbet and Red Berry Consomme with Lime Espuma. Priced at RM32++ each, the ultra-crispy Tarte Tatin is my absolute favourite, with the refreshing Mango Sorbet coming in a close second.
Be prepared to dig deep into your pockets when you dine at the Mandarin Grill. Otherwise, the lavish Sunday Roast buffet at RM199++ per person (food only) or RM299++ per person with free flow of champagne, beer and house wines may be a more viable option.