Signature surprises in the menu
September 11, 2018
Caught in a storm one evening in Cheras, My Best Friend and I decided it would be wise to avoid the almost-standstill traffic and have dinner.
Cruising around the neighbourhood of Bandar Mahkota Cheras, we spot a new outlet, the one-month old Restoran Istimewa Lai-Je or Lai-Je Cuisine.
|Stingless Bee Honey for sale|
Happily we get out of the rain and grab a table. We sit down and notice some interesting offerings in the chiller, including Sweet Watercress (RM3.80) and Honey Lemongrass (RM4) drinks. I’ve always thought of watercress as soup, so it proves refreshing to try it as a sweet drink. Rather refreshing and cooling.
Right under the drinks, I spot plastic containers filled with ambarella or kedongdong (RM8) pickled with sour plum and chilli padi and plates of pickled papaya (RM5). I love the ambarella; it makes a fantastic appetiser and we couldn’t stop at one piece each.
|Pickled Ambarella/Kedongdong and Sweet Watercress Drink|
As we pore over the menu, Restoran Istimewa (Outstanding Restaurant) is beginning to live up to its name. The first page, categorised under Signature Dishes, is worth exploring. My belly gave a big rumble when I spotted Grass-fed Chicken With Pork Belly (RM80), Claypot Water Kangkung (RM15) and Handmade Shrimp Rolls (RM16) and a few more special items.
The Grass-fed Chicken Soup the really hit the spot. It tastes even better than we expect though pork belly turns out to be pig stomach instead. The soup, fragranced and flavoured with herbs such as dang gui and wolfberries, has milk added to give it smoothness and a creamy texture. And the grass-fed chicken is sweet and juicy, with a firm texture.
|The slurpilicious Grass-Fed Chicken and Pork Stomach Soup with Danggui and wolfberries|
The shrimp rolls are best eaten hot and are so yummy you may not even want to dip it in the chilli sauce provided. Crispy on the outside, the rolls (more like pancakes really) are stuffed with prawn paste and chives.
|Crispy Shrimp Rolls stuffed with prawn paste and chives|
Restaurateur Wenlly Lai Je, tells us that Chef Woo Ming Chung insists on sourcing for kangkung that is grown fully in water, not moist sand. I am wondering what the difference is but one bite and I am hooked. The kangkung stems leaves are fat and juicy and require but just a bit of belacan to bring out its best side. He has also added crispy lard croutons and freshly chopped red chilli to give it more flavour.
|Claypot Water Kangkung with chi yau char|
Chef Woo, who comes from Miri, has his own interpretation of Chinese cuisine that has garnered him customers so loyal they often just tell him their budget, their dietary taboos and give him a free hand to prepare the dishes. All Chef Woo needs is three days’ advance notice as many of the ingredients have to be ordered.
For walk-in customers, the Signature Dishes menu itself will prove more than satisfying with dishes such as Ming Lu White Clams, Lai Je Spicy Crabs, Nyonya Sotong Prawn, Superior Claypot Soon Hock and Spanish Pork Ribs With Lai Je sauce.
There are more surprises in the other pages of the menu. For instance, Wild Boar Piglet (RM28) and Otak-Otak Tofu (RM20) are not regular finds in Chinese restaurants.
For Wild Piglet, Woo has sourced for meat of baby wild boar from oil palm estates as he says this meat is tastier and more flavoursome that that of forest boars, probably because the boars eat fallen oil palm fruit. The meat is braised to tenderness for a few hours and is available with sauce or dry. For our dry version, the chef has deepfried the cubes of meat along with onions and shredded lemongrass. While I like the fatty bits, the lean parts prove too dry for my taste. Perhaps the sauce version will be better.
|Crispy Wild Boar Piglet with lemongrass and onions|
Otak-Otak Tofu is an unusually combination of silky Japanese tofu and Muar otak-otak (spicy fish mousse). But it works so well, with the mildly hot and spicy otak-otak lending that special nyonya culinary touch to the otherwise bland tofu.
|Steamed Tofu sandwiched with Otak-Otak|
We also have Steamed Tilapia Fish With Nyonya Sauce (RM3.80/100g). The sauce is piquant with a good balance of flavours that brings out the sweetness of the fish. Customers can opt to have the Nyonya sauce with other types of fish or seafood such as prawn or squid.
|Steamed Tilapia with Chef Woo's special Nyonya Sauce|
MBF is intrigued by the noodle dishes that customers at the adjoining table are tucking into happily. Lai Je tells us one of these is Cantonese fried kway teow with sweet and sour pork or listed as Sweet & Sour Pork Kway Teow (RM25) in the menu.
Cantonese Fried, also known as Wat Tan Hor, with sweet and sour pork? Despite my raised eyebrows, it turns out to be quite palatable. The chef has added some tomato-based sauce to the egg gravy for the kway teow. For the final touch, he tops the noodles with cubes of sweet and sour pork that are still crispy.
|Sarawak-inspired Wat Tan Hor with Sweet & Sour Pork|
We wonder aloud if this is inspired by the Sarawak-style tomato kway teow. Chef Woo laughs and explains that he had, on one occasion, misinterpreted an order and combined the two dishes. When the customer raved about how yummy it was, he decided to put it on the menu and it is now one of Lai-Je Cuisine’s top sellers.
If you still have doubts, have instead Noodles With Crispy Pork Lard (RM18). The Sarawak-style kolok noodles come with char xiu and a generous topping of crispy croutons.
|Noodles with Char Xiu and lots of crispy Pork Croutons|
Like most Chinese restaurants, Lai-Je doesn’t have much to offer as dessert but the good news is that customers can help themselves to free ice cream from the freezer next to the cashier’s counter. It’s all on the house.
You can also get some varieties of pudding in the fridge. The guai ling ko (black herbal jelly) is served with ginger and soya milk (RM5.90). Unusual but then Chef Woo is not one fettered by cuisine norms.
|Unusual combination of black herbal jelly and ginger soya bean milk|
Restoran Istimewa Lai-Je (non-halal)
15 Jalan Temenggung 5/9
Bandar Mahkota Cheras
Wednesday to Monday: 11am to 11pm