Words by Craig Selby
Chinese New Year stands out in my mind for many reasons, but the most attractive of all is the enticing array of dishes available at the numerous feasts around town. Whether it be at a high end hotel, a neighbourhood restaurant, or at the homes of friends and colleagues, the community pull out all the stops to ensure great and hearty fare over the Chinese New Year period, and I for one, never go home without a full tummy.
My first Chinese New Year invite this year was special. Not only was it an invite to a restaurant I have enjoyed on previous occasions (love going to places where the standards are consistently high), but it was also an opportunity to catch up with friends that I haven’t seen in a while, so that became a great bonus.
I guess for most, especially us expatriates, the “yee sang” is the most interesting aspect of any Chinese New Year dinner. Over the years, I have enjoyed my fair share, and I love to see how every Chef prepares it differently. Yee Sang, for the uninitiated, it basically a collection of cold ingredients (chilled seafood slices, shredded vegetables, delicious sauces, and a few crunchy bits to add texture), which is presented in a massive bowl, with each member of the table standing around with chopsticks mixing the ingredients together to form a divine dish. No ordinary mixing either, trying to raise the ingredients as high as possible with our chopstick skills, whilst always trying our best to keep things landing in the bowl. Yes, the table sees some too, as inevitably spillage occurs (just hope like mad it isn’t the salmon that spills).
The Chef at Tai Zi Heen (Chef Michael Wong), in Prince Hotel, created a stunning Yee Sang experience for his guests and patrons. His yee sang involved four distinctively different cuts of fish – butterfish (yummy), salmon (my all-time favourite), tuna (a nice flavour and colour balance for the dish) and jellyfish (a first for me this year), along with a selection of crispy shredded treasures, smothered in a house specialty blackcurrant-plum sauce. Once the festive cheer of mixing the yee sang was over, it was down to the serious business of eating it! Colourful on the plate, flavourful to the taste-buds, and with an awesome texture, this is definitely a dish to enjoy. If you are experiencing it for the first time, you will enjoy the differing textures, and appreciate how well the different ingredients meld together to create a subtle set of flavours.
After the ceremony, the real dishes started to appear. Traditionally, a big Chinese meal will always start with soup, and Tai Zi’s was a Double Boiled Fish Maw with chicken and dry scallop vegetable soup. A mouthful to say, and a mouthful to consume. The soup was bubbling over with delicious soft and fresh flavours – very warming and embracing. Great presentation too for the soup – allowing the visual appeal to enhance the subtle flavours. I’m not huge on seafood, but I loved how the seafood maintained its unique flavour, and didn’t overpower the broth. A winner in my books.
The Japanese Sun Dried Scallops and Dried Oyster with fatt choy gave fresh flavours, with a distinctive “Chineseness” about them. The veges were nicely done with a good crunch to them, and the aroma from the dish was beautiful. The scallops were perfectly prepared, and absorbed the dish flavour very well. Nice tender flesh, and just a hint of the typical seafood aftertaste. I couldn’t eat the oysters myself (I’m not a big seafood person), but my partner in crime for the night swore that they were scrumptious – and he knows his food well too!
Next on the set menu were Crispy Prawns coated with lemon dressing. Thanks to my experiences with the Yum List, I have now developed an appreciation for prawns (yes, I actually like them now), and loved the tempura style coating and the firmness of the prawn meat. The lemon mayo dressing added a light flavour enhancer, and the tobiko baby row added great crunchiness. Ok, so this was one dish that surprised me – I actually asked for seconds – and I am sure that you will too.
Baked Salmon Fillet was served to the table next. Tender salmon fillet smothered in honey and accompanied by onion rings. The honey added a beautiful sweetness to the salmon, and it felt like a natural extension to the salmon flavour profile. The onions were nicely sautéed, and absorbed that delicious honey too. The fillets were nicely cooked, pull-apart in texture, with lovely pink, soft flesh. As much as the entire meal was great, I would have been a very happy man with just the salmon and the prawns.
Our next dish was rather unique (at least for me) – Stir Fried Glutinous Rice with salted duck. A very flavoursome dish, the salted duck added extra flavour to the experience. Typically, a fried rice dish is ordinary in a Chinese New Year menu, but this took a leap out of the box and added new dimension to this old staple. I love the thinking behind this.
With the fried rice signifying the “end” to the main courses, we were pleasantly surprised to be presented with what resembled a martini glass over an open fire. Ok, not quite as intense as that, but our first dessert was presented with smoke – a tumbler with dry ice smoking away, and cushioned neatly on top of it, a martini glass shaped vessel housing a Chilled Pumpkin Puree with Sago Cream. Delightful, and fun too. Yes, I moved the top vessel and started poling the dry ice, and the smoky and bubbly reaction from that certainly added to the smile on my face. Food that tastes good and is entertaining too gets a thumbs up in my books. By the way, delicious pumpkin puree – definitely unexpected, certainly delicious. Now I know why the Americans like pumpkin pie so much!
To wrap it all off, traditional Crispy Fried Brown Sugar Sesame Balls were served. Definitely a more typical Chinese dish; this one reminded me of Chinese New Year feasts from the past we’ve enjoyed. Just love biting into those little sesame balls – great flavour, and a lovely way to finish the meal.
Reason to visit: Tai Zi Heen is both an experience for the uninitiated and for those seeking superior standard food. With a range of different set menus available starting from RM1288++ for a table of ten persons, this is certainly the place to impress your friends and family with stunning cuisine, and to share the fun of Chinese New Year whilst letting someone else do the work – and by the way, ten out of ten for the service staff; they are awesome.
Gong Xi Fat Choi.
Tai Zi Heen
Prince Hotel and Residence Kuala Lumpur
50450 Kuala Lumpur
+603 2170 8673