Strikes your fancy
159, Jalan Ampang
Tel: (03) 2163 5866
From fine Cantonese food to zesty Thai dishes, it’s all possible at Chef Choi.
IT’S a Chinese restaurant where you can have roast turkey at Christmas, with all the trimmings, Hokkien noodles, or a tiramisu to finish off a Cantonese meal, if you feel like it. Is Chef Choi a restaurant with an identity crisis, you may ask.
But the owner of this restaurant in Kuala Lumpur believes in serving what pleases his palate and that of his diners, never mind genres. Lately, it’s been about Thai food.
One of these made an early appearance with the Kai Sam Yang, a zesty Thai appetiser that’s like Mieng Kam, but uses lettuce instead of daun kadok. The lettuce leaf keeps resisting my attempt to shape it into a cone as I have been told to, but I still manage to fill it with flat dried shrimps, shallot, cili padi, bits of fresh lime, a tiny knob of galangal, before drizzling it with the sauce of chilli, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce and palm sugar.
One bite into this crunchy parcel, and my senses are zapped by the combination of fragrant, tart and hot sauce and crunchy, fragrant contents. I go back for more.
The Nam Prik Kapi, or Thai belacan sauce with assorted vegetables, offers a similar experience. It’s cabbage, cucumber, blanched long beans, four-angled bean and slices of eggplant dipped in egg batter and deepfried, then served with a shrimp paste sauce that grabs your palate. I especially enjoy the four-angled bean, and the lovely eggplant.
Kung Cheh Nam Pla has chilled raw estuary prawns presented on raw bittergourd and topped with mint leaves. I dunk this prawn, firm and sweet in its super freshness, into the dip of lime juice, fish sauce, shallots, garlic, chilli and sugar, and am completely bowled over by the tart-hot-sweet sensation of the sauce. I can understand why someone at our table wants to drink up the sauce. I also dip slices of raw bittergourd into the sauce, relishing texture and taste.
We move on to a milder Tod Mun Pla or fishcake studded with chopped long beans. It is the best Thai fishcake I have ever eaten – moist, soft and flavourful; not hard nor dry as I often find in the usual Thai restaurants. I could have polished off a whole plate of these but then they bring out the Barbecued Baby Back Ribs, a whole slab of them to be carved tableside. I eat the ribs with my fingers, tearing the juicy sweet meat off the bone.
That is a pleasant interlude, and then we go back to Thai, this time with the Yam Pla Duk. It’s deep-fried shredded fish with a mango chilli sauce. Siakap (sea perch) is used instead of the usual catfish. It is double-fried to render the shredded meat combined with a little flour perfectly crispy. This dish is not oily, and the delicious aroma of fried fish wafts up as you dig in, combining it with the perky sauce with shredded mango in it.
We are wowed again by the Poo Nam Prik Phao or crab with Thai basil and chilli. There is this sticky sweet-hot-sour sauce that clings to the crabs. And it has all these Thai basil leaves completely soaked in it. I keep picking these fragrant leaves off the crabs to eat; they are so good. The pungent hot sauce finished with palm sugar is excellent with the crabs.
Our initial intention had been to eat Thai Duck Noodles in Soup but look what gems we have stumbled upon. Now, said noodles are finally on the table, and we are asked to try both Thai rice noodles and egg noodles.
The Thais usually eat their noodles with four condiments – sugar, chilli flakes, fish sauce and sesame oil. We leave out the sugar and plunge in, enjoying the egg noodles more than the rice noodles. These seem to pick up all the flavours of the wonderful soup steeped with bones and pork. The garnishes are basil, beansprouts, fried garlic and fried crispy pig’s skin. We slurp up the very tasty soup after the noodles.
For good measure, we order a plate of Hokkien noodles. I have to say a return visit is warranted. We once had a noodle night here, and the Tomato Noodles were irresistible, tasting even better the day after having sat overnight in the fridge.
Dessert is Tab Tim Krob or the classic Thai water chestnut with jackfruit in coconut milk.
We are due for a barbecue night in Chef Choi again soon, and boy, we are looking forward to it. In the meantime, do go for the Thai dishes. Just make sure you make an advanced order before you go.