Thursday, May 1, 2014

Malaysian Cuisine in Singapore: Madam Kwan's

Singaporeans have always travelled to Malaysia and enjoyed the food there...of course the hawker and street fare is awesome all over the peninsula, but also some nice restaurants in KL who serve nice locale food. Madam Kwan's is one of them.


The history of Madam Kwan's is rather interesting. Started by her son Dato Rudy Foo, the restaurant offers signatures of Madam Kwan, also known as Kwan Swee Lian or Sakura Kwan. I caught up with Dato Foo in an invited media tasting in Singapore recently, and asked him about the relationship with the Sakura Restaurant in Jalan Imbi, KL. According to him, Madam Kwan, or Kwan Cheh, as she is know in KL, was a beautician in Japan. She returned to her native KL and opened a beauty salon in Jalan Imbi. But somewhere within her is the yearning and longing to cook and share her passion for food. Soon after, she started a restaurant where the beauty salon was, and called it Sakura's. Sakura became famous, mostly for the nasi lemak, and awesome chicken curry. It was probably one of the first air conditioned restaurants, other than hotels, who offered local fare like nasi lemak, curries, and noodles. During the 1998 financial crisis, the restaurant changed hands, and Kwan Cheh started a small stall selling nasi lemak in 1Utama. Her son, Rudy, then was a stockbroker, and decided to invest in a restaurant in Bangsar, as a business, but also to help refresh her dignity. When KLCC started, they were invited to start a restaurant within, and the rest, as they say, was history. Now with 6 outlets in the Malaysian capital, and 1 in Singapore, they are set to expand, and showcase Malaysian cuisine to the world.

Two new dishes were being added to the menu, the first was otak otak fried rice.

The dish was created by crowd sourcing...the Madam Kwan's management went to their facebook page, and asked fans to suggest a new item for their menu. The one which got the most votes was the otak otak fried rice. Interesting that not more restaurants offer this dish. It was quite good. The wok control and powerful fire was apparent in the wok hei. The otak otak is made in-house from fresh spices and herbs and a smooth, springy fish otak otak. Marvellous. I just wished there were more otak...:-)

The next new dish is the petai fried rice.

This is a rather common dish in Indonesia, but the dish presented by Madam Kwan's was more familiar. The petai was fresh, succulent...the petai bean itself being rather large. Beautiful flavours. Very nice...but of course you need to like petai in the first place...and needless to say, I adore petai.

We also sampled the staples of the restaurant...the nasi lemak

My all time favourite. Wonderfully fragrant rice. With a magnificent, ultra rich tasting, mildly spicy chicken curry, sambal ikan bilis, dried shrimp floss and achar. The flavours are just perfect. The richness of the chicken curry balances with the acid of the achar and the sambal ikan bilis.

and the nasi bojari

Interestingly, a google search of nasi bojari ends up only with all results pointing back to Madam Kwan's. Yet, Dato Foo reveals that he did try to patent the dish and trademark the name, but the application was rejected by the Malaysian authorities, as it was supposed to be a rather generic Indonesian dish. Interesting.

Anyway, the dish is rather special. A tricolour rice made with stock, spices and chicken and prawns is served with a beautifully deep fried chicken leg, and beef rendang and assam prawns. Again the selection of the dishes were inspired...the richness of the crispy skin and tender juicy meat of the chicken, the opulence of the beef rendang, and the acidity of the assam prawns were just right.

We also tried the fish head curry

A very fresh red snapper head, is steamed and cooked with the curry and made complete with lady's fingers, tomatoes, long beans, brinjals and dried beancurd. Tasted very home cooked to me. All the coconut milk used in Madam Kwan is freshly squeezed...none of the industrialized canned or tetra-packed stuff. And one can literally taste the coconut flavours. The spices for the curry are made fresh from scratch, no curry powder is used. I found the fish head curry to be very good, but not exactly my taste. For me, it was a bit too rich (lemak)...but I am partial to the peranakan style fish head curry. But loved the fact that there were tons of vegetables in the dish.

For desserts, the banana fritters were a clear favourite

I understand pisang emas, or a smallish, Malaysian banana is used, very ripe, coated in batter and deep fried till crisp. Served with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. How can one argue with that. Very nice.

But the highlight for me was the chendol

Fresh chendol, with red bean paste sitting on a bed of shaved ice soaked in coconut milk. The over it, pour a beautiful, fragrant and sweet gula melaka. Wonderful.

A version of bubur cha cha was also served

I found this to be good, but perhaps lacking a bit in the dice ingredients. Sure, there was pumpkin, yam, and sago, but would be nicer if there were more of those, and slices of ripe banana and some of the tapioca gummy, chewy thingies. Or at least, that's how bubur cha cha is served at home.

Overall, the food is very good. Service staff were knowledgable, and because this was a media tasting, service was excellent. The restaurant is rather large. Recommended.

Madam Kwan's
Truly Malaysian Cuisine
#01-155 Vivocity

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