In a radical melding of East and West, Urban Spoon offers contemporary cuisine minus the tried-and-tested clichés.
THE first time we saw the restaurant’s sign, we gave it a miss. We didn’t know what to expect and were not inclined to find out.
This time round, though – a tad tentatively – we and our dear friend the Princess of Patpong ventured in, taking note of the decor of pared-down cosy meets bold minimal. Hmmm …
As the Lord Restrain had an early afternoon meeting, we hurried through our orders despite being distracted by all the news we had not had time to catch up on. Finally, we settled into our high-backed chairs and took our first sip of the delightfully chilled house Chardonnay (RM22 per glass).
Our two starters to share, Soft Shell Crab Tempura (RM18) and Crab Meat & Kani Salad (RM22), arrived quickly. It is always hard to halt the Lord (a passionate armchair socialist) mid-stream, especially when his thoughts veer towards the state of the world today.
His eye-brows rose dramatically as he watched us, Malaysian thoroughbreds, digging into what matters most – food.
Cooked in spicy Thai-style batter, the soft shell crabs were delicate and succulent, although the batter could have been less greasy. Still, the greens were bracingly fresh, the leaves piquantly flavoured in an excellent apple-papaya som tam and garlic-lime dressing. A wanton mix of sour, spicy, salty and sweet – just the way I like my salad.
Even the Lord, who is not a crab person, pronounced himself satisfied. “The soft flesh in a nutty, tangy blend – perfect!” he exclaimed.
The colourful Crab Meat and Kani Salad was unexpected. The Japanese-inspired starter, dressed in raisin lemon-orange sauce, rather ingeniously brought together a range of ingredients. In each bite, the kale, butter lettuce, edamame, fresh crab meat, red slaw, seaweed strips and tobiko (flying fish roe in varied colours) filled our mouths with surprisingly balanced flavour.
Not only did it have personality, it was just like eating a salad sushi!
Thus, taste buds tickled, we could not wait for the mains. Conversation-wise, we covered a lot, too, from office politics to video-ed rants on the London Tube.
The normally play-safe Lord’s rather reckless choice of Poached Norwegian Salmon (RM40) arrived first – with crisply grilled taro, tomato salsa, watercress pesto and delectable dollops of sambal ikan bilis and charred garlic atop the fish.
Although his first reaction was to tut-tut at the serving size, he loved it. Fresh and firm, the carefully seasoned salmon was neither overcooked nor overpowering. But the spicy sambal carried the dish to another level, adding just the right amount of punch to what could have been an ordinarily good plate of fish.
“A remarkably polished dish, one of the best meals I’ve had,” the Lord proclaimed, leaving only the salmon’s skin on the stark, white plate.
My own food neuroses include not eating pasta, ever. But, I do occasionally – OK, quite often – cave in. In this case, with a reason to review, I calmed my fretting over calories and plunged my fork right in.
The Tempura Soft Shell Crab and Kam Heong Angel Hair (RM28), with guacamole, leek compote and baked onion, looked as sumptuous as it tasted. Tossed in a savoury kam heong concoction of chilli flakes, curry leaves, morsels of dried shrimp, curry powder and soy bean paste, the pasta was wicked. Enveloped generously in the fragrant sauce, it was the perfect combination to suit an East-West palate.
The soft shell crabs, similar to the ones in our salad, also complemented the dish well. A creative addition, the guacamole did not distract us from the core of the meal. Unusual, yet very tasty.
However, our guest, the Princess, was disappointed with her Emperor Tang Duck Confit (RM38).
”I find shredded duck more appetising, as duck can sometimes be overpowering,” she revealed, prodding the confit, albeit a beautifully presented one. After a few mouthfuls, her verdict: “Too tough, gamey and salty.”
But she liked the roasted vegetables, especially the juicy carrots and the piquant soy-and-calamansi reduced sauce.
Although the menu is pleasingly varied, dessert options were limited. Out of the four on offer (including ice cream), we picked the Black Pepper Tamarind Macerated Strawberry and Peach and a slice of Fresh Banana Cream Pie (RM14 each). The ice cream was melting on chocolate sauce-covered cream pie, so we tasted that first. With generous slices of fresh banana, this dessert was cheery, uncomplicated and totally fulfilling.
On the other hand, we were all a little wary of our second choice: do we dig into the warm, foam-enhanced strawberries and peaches in Chardonnay au gratin or do we drink the pretty, chilled watermelon-basil slushy first?
Drink first, we were advised, to prepare the palate. Let’s just say the sensation was unfamiliar, but not in a bad way. It was light and crisp, but is an acquired taste, shall we say? It did remind me, curiously, of something that an earnest, over-achieving chef would attempt on Top Chef.
Nevertheless, our trio returned to dine on Valentine’s Day. The evening was equally pleasant, the mood set by the Urban Q’Light duo who perform every Friday and Saturday. The only off-note was the pizza that the Lord R (back to playing safe) could not slice! A dough problem was diagnosed, the dish came off the bill, and the manager apologised.
We will surely return for more meals where flavours are so fearlessly combined. Although there were a couple of misses, you expect this where the menu is so experimental and innovative. That’s what Urban Spoon means!