Kirsten Durward and Monica Tindall
A brave new venture on the restaurant scene in Port Dickson, a welcome diversion for both residents and weekend visitors, sits nestled in a fragrant garden overlooking the Straits of Malacca. The Verte is fresh and inviting, a heritage house brought up to date in a contemporary open plan design. Naturally leading from the outside in, there are plenty of colourful seating areas to choose from, reminding me somewhat of a rustic Mediterranean style. A simple menu is displayed on a grand chalkboard that encompasses most of one wall as well as table top brown paper copies. Cutlery is arranged casually in small buckets on the table, as are pots of herbs, the ones used quite liberally in the cooking at Verte. The concept is very much fresh and light, with a combination of Asian spices and European flavours, offering what is termed a ‘modern gastronomic experience.’ Chef Mohammed Fahzir hails from Malaysia. Having trained in several big hotels in Kuala Lumpur, he then spent 15 years in Ireland. We spend a few minutes debating the highlights of Kerry (a county in the south-west). Quite a culture shock that must have been for him!
|A Private Spot Outside|
|Pool Table and Bar|
Monica and I are not ones to turn down a cocktail so the darkening evening finds us ensconced at a table eagerly awaiting our first drink. It’s a very relaxed outdoor feeling with ‘poppy’ 80’s music in the background. The friendly barman wants to know where we are from so that he can play songs specially for us. Monica is offered ‘Land Down Under…’ This makes us smile.
A quite impressively original cocktail menu tantalises us with choices, on asking what are the most popular signature drinks we are directed to two quite different flavours.
|Bartender shaking us up a cocktail|
Pink Panther (RM30 ++) is a sweeter style drink combining Cointreau and Tequila with fresh juices of the watermelon and lime variety together with a little honey and sage. A sweeter style drink, light and refreshing also which we think would be popular amongst the local ladies.
In Thai Litchi (RM30 ++), vodka blends with lychee liqueur, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and sweet and sour mix. We can definitely taste the vodka in this one and I love the flavours of lime leaf and lemongrass. It’s still a little sweet for us and if I were drinking it again, I might ask for it without sweet and sour, and with a dash of soda water instead.
Dripping Cocktails (RM30 ++) are not something that I expected to find here, something a little fun and cheeky for Port Dickson and I believe unique in Malaysia. There are five choices, of which we pounce on Jamaica on Ice. Of course we do! It contains, coffee and rum, two of Monica’s favourite flavours. Whisky is also added to the mix, though we tease the food and beverage manager, Mark Peter, that as ladies we might prefer Cointreau in the blend. Any reason you couldn’t choose your own alcohol for ice dripping? Not really! The alcohol is served in an ice cup, with the coffee below, and as it melts, it drips down to blend. Not great if you are in a hurry, but wonderful to play with and sip around the edges. I thought perhaps a double sip was in order, somewhat like a submarine or a bomb shot, but it appears patience is truly in order. We are not known for our patience in waiting for drinks so we put this to the side and continue with a glass of wine to accompany our rapidly arriving meal. Jamaica on Ice does turn out to be worth the wait, the cold ice water has chilled the coffee superbly and the alcohol has melted through. I think the dripping cocktails would be great after dinner drinks, order them with your dessert and they should be ready to sip just in time.
Valdivieso 2012 Merlot (RM 28 ++) proves a pleasant choice, with scents of ripe plum on the nose and quite intense sweet spices on tasting, with undertones of coffee, chocolate and wood smoke. It goes well with our lamb and Thai curry.
|Valdivieso 2012 Merlot|
Our fish dish is well complimented by the Valdivieso 2012 Chardonnay (RM 28 ++). It’s a pale yellow wine, with a mild mineral character and slightly fruity finish.
|Valdivieso 2012 Chardonnay|
We ooh and aah over the pretty bowl of Carrot and Pumpkin Soup (RM 20 ++), commenting that the full size must be super generous. Our photograph shows only a half serving. Abundant fresh garlic spreads across whole grain poppy seed toast, making a great dipping tool into this thick smooth soup. The flavour and texture hit the spot for both of us and we eagerly slurp it all up.
|Carrot and Pumpkin Soup|
Chef Mohd was eager for us to try some of his Thai style dishes and I joke with him that I haven’t found great Thai food in KL yet so if he can pull it off, we’ll be driving to Port Dickson that little bit more often. Young Papaya Salad is Southern style Thai spicy and completely to my taste but without that particular balance of sweet and spicy that many people desire in a Som Tam. I love the fresh pomelo, sticky tamarind flavours, and particularly the zing of ginger but there are whole pieces of chilli in there so unless you are a hot head eater like me, I’d pick a different dish.
|Young Papaya Salad|
I had my eye from the start on the Pan Roasted Lemongrass Duck Breast (RM 38 ++) served with tomato rice beetroot pickle and caramel orange sauce. On looks it does not disappoint and I find myself waiting impatiently while Monica takes its photograph. The flavours are delicate but true, adding something aromatic without detracting from the duck flavours. We comment that it is still surprisingly tender after its prolonged photo shoot. My personal preference is for slightly pinker but it is hard to account for all tastes. The tomato rice is nuttily soft, and the caramel orange sauce on the zinger side which pleases us. But the beetroot pickle is a revelation and I selfishly tell Monica that she is only allowed one as I revel in the cinammony taste of my favourite root vegetable.
|Pan Roasted Lemongrass Duck Breast|
The Thai Green Curry (RM 32++) comes with a pleasantly nutty steamed blue pea flower rice. Again watch out for the chilli in this dish although it is several steps down in heat from the Papaya Salad. I love the rustic style serving in a black iron pot. Sizeable chicken chunks have been stewed in a textured sauce that reeks of the original spice; we really feel that everything has been ground by hand, pestle and mortar way. I comment on the size of the portion and Chef says they often recommend this be taken as a sharing dish.
|Thai Green Curry|
Portuguese Baked Seabass with Pesto (RM 30 ++) was another menu item that immediately drew my eye. The lightly spiced pesto topping is very, very moreish atop the thick moist fish. A garnish of okra and red onion adds a little crunch of freshness while a sharp tamarind chilli lime sauce can be added to complement this flavour packed concoction. A yum for me, I would definitely have this again.
|Portuguese Baked Seabass with Pesto|
Avillion food and beverage manager Mark Peter has been quite insistent that we try some of the party style drinks; Party Tubes are six test tubes of chilled shooter (75 RM ++). We admire a mixed ice bucket of these, and sip on one that is a creme de menthe/blue curaçao mix. The flights of shooters are tauntingly called ‘Dares’ (RM 50 ++): a series of three shots that Mark tells us have been carefully concocted to knock back in a particular order. There are more ‘hard line’ combos involving Tequila, but consciousness of having work to do tomorrow, we decide to try Simple Sally to Sexy Lucy. It’s a combination of three layered drinks: Candy Cane, After Eight and Busted Cherry. We can see how these could be fun for a group of friends having a weekend away or for hen parties and the like.
The Verte has impressed on ambience, on food, and on the sheer enthusiasm of everyone involved. The staff here seem so eager for it to go well, that I say to Monica I have to give them an ‘A for effort.’ We think that is worth making the trip from KL to eat here, either staying over or coming early and returning the same day. We are certainly intrigued to return to try the a la carte Sunday Brunch, but are trying to convince Mark to make it a Saturday Brunch with recuperative Spa treatment on Sunday before heading back to the city. Oh one can only put ideas on the table.
Reasons to visit: relaxed garden ambience, fresh and flavourful fusion cooking, friendly and attentive service.
Avillion Port Dickson
3rd Mile, Jalan Pantai
71000 Port Dickson
Tuesday to Thursday 5pm to 11pm
Friday, Saturday and eve of public holidays 3pm to 11pm
Sunday (brunch) 10am to 2pm
Monday (except an eve of a public holiday) closed