No food-focused issue is quite complete without a mention of Malaysia’s most talked-about fine dining spot to date. If you have yet to visit Darren Teoh’s Dewakan, do so post-haste.
It had me at its name. A portmanteau of the Malay words for ‘god’ (dewa) and ‘eat’ (makan), the Dewakan experience could be likened to a pilgrimage, a journey where the earthly soul communes with a higher being through a ritual-like repast that invokes the senses. Having opened in April this year, Dewakan is already the go-to place for anyone with an appetite for fine food as well as an appreciation for culinary provenance. I particularly appreciated Head Chef Darren Teoh’s penchant for paying homage to Malaysia’s rich bounty of natural produce, using ingredients not normally seen in a fine kitchen’s garde-manger. Think pretty vivid blue butterfly pea flowers, a staple in traditional dishes like Kelantanese nasi kerabu or Peranakan pulut tai-tai but reimagined by Teoh in a hauntinglybeautiful dessert of creamy Gula Melaka marquise with meringue and pulut (glutinous rice) ice cream. Given his academic background (Teoh was a lecturer with KDU University before choosing to don his chef’s whites fulltime), it’s no wonder that the food at Dewakan
is clever as well as cutting-edge. And although there’s a strong molecular streak running through the menu, the end result is sleek and beautifully-composed while also making you think, wonder and marvel with each taste or spoonful. And just as scents evoke memories, so do the flavours of herbs and spices long-forgotten, bringing to mind pleasurable moments of, perhaps, a family meal from long ago or handfuls of herbs harvested from grandma’s garden.
Your Dewakan experience, for example, might begin with twig-like crisps and, not aioli, but Teoh’s own localised take on it, using budu, the famous fermented fish sauce of the East Coast states. Comfort food comes in an exciting medley of modern-style congee, called Forbidden Rice Porridge, made using pulut hitam, ox tongue, a perfect
soft-boiled egg and a heady, earthy mushroom broth, heated up tableside in a siphon brewer – a visual as well as sensory treat.
Teoh also draws upon his experience as a stagiaire with Noma’s Rene Redzepi, employing local ingredients whenever and wherever possible, as seen in a dish of Pulau Ketam razor clams. It is tempting to continue waxing lyrical about Teoh’s menu and its impeccable line-up of temptations but part of the great pleasure of dining at Dewakan is to have each course artfully reveal itself, delighting first the eyes and then the palate.
Although I am not a great subscriber to the global trend of ‘best restaurants’ dictating where people should dine, my money’s on Darren Teoh to get us there if ever Malaysia should make it to a top international dining list.