As a relatively new food blogger it is still really exciting for me to get invited to a blogger event. This particular invitation blew my mind. An intimate Supperclub cooked by none other than Ping Coombes, Masterchef champion 2014! If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll remember that Ping stayed true to her Malaysian roots throughout the competition and produced heavenly-looking exotic dishes made with a lot of love and passion. As you can probably tell I’m a little starstruck!
Malaysia kitchen is an organisation supported by the Malaysian government that is trying to raise the profile of Malaysian cuisine, ingredients and restaurants within the UK. Ping is their brand ambassador and you may have seen these guys promoting at events such as Taste of London Winter and numerous high-profile supperclubs being held by famous chefs all around the country. So we know the Brits love their food and have developed a hunger for ethnic cuisine. Crazy about curries, suckers for sushi and more recently passionate about Peruvian.. Could Malaysian food become the next food explosion here?!
This is a special blog post so I’m deviating from the usual format. I’m not reviewing a restaurant, rather these are my thoughts about the Malaysian food cooked at this supperclub. One disclaimer: I did check before attending the event and the meat and chicken being served here were halal. Phew.
A little about the venue. The Supperclub was hosted at Food at 52, a quaint and vintage-inspired culinary school in Clerkenwell and the event was organised by the lovely Amanda. The owner of the school paid us a visit during the meal and was so friendly and enthusiastic about cooking. Food at 52 holds different day and weekend classes and might soon be introducing a new class for city professionals on how to whip up 5 easy and time-efficient meals for the week using nutritious and yummy ingredients. Sounds like a winning idea to me!
Our evening started with a DIY mocktail station with fresh fruits, lime and exotic juices. The drinks were served in cute little mason jars with personalised name tags. It was also a fun and informal way to meet the other guests who were an assortment of foodbloggers, chefs and food journalists.
We were led downstairs to the cosy dining area where we met Ping and her sous-chef for the night, Michael (another Masterchef finalist). Both chefs worked incredibly hard to cook emotive, exciting and really tasty dishes for us.
A few important Malaysian delegates had flown in from Kuala Lumpur the same day and it was a great privilege to be dining with them. Another familiar face also stood out : Guan Chua, who some of you may remember as Anthony Bourdain’s favourite contestant from TV programme ‘The Taste’. He was a lovely chap to and also very knowledgable and passionate about Malaysian food. He runs several Nyonya Malaysian supperclubs several times a year so keep a look out for those!
Ping had decided we needed to work for our meal and kick-started the evening by teaching us how to make Chinese inspired Malaysian dumplings. The filling of chicken, prawn and garlic chives had been premade by her and we had a quick dumpling rolling demonstration.After this we proceeded to roll several of our own dumplings and then migrated back upstairs whilst nervously wondering how they turned out. The wait wasn’t too long before delicious platters of dumplings were served. The wanton dumplings were thin and soupy whereas the other dumpling pastry was a bit thicker but also very tasty. Even though the filling was the same, both had seemingly different tastes! When we got back to the kitchen Ping announced that my dumplings were the best wrapped! I may have found my secret talent!
The meal was actually more of a banquet with multiple dishes for sharing which is traditional in many Eastern countries including Malaysia. Teriyaki chicken hearts were served on mini skewers. It was the first time I’ve tried heart and let’s just say it must be an acquired taste! There was a strong taste of iron and the texture of the meat was quite firm and chewy.
Luckily I was rescued by an impressive platter of soft shell crab. These crabs were an important memory from Ping’s childhood in Malaysia where she fondly recalls eating these on the beach with her family. At the risk of sounding like a total novice, I’ll admit to never having eaten this genre of crab… I didn’t even realise the shell was edible! Luckily this was pointed out before I embarrassed myself. The crabs were fried in a light and crispy spicy batter which complimented the sweet and delicate crab meat perfectly.
Tempura water spinach, otherwise known as kankong accompanied the starter dishes. I was so happy to see this particular green on the menu as I’ve been searching the whole of London for it! The last time I ate kankong was on holiday in Sri Lanka where it was stirfried in garlic and chilli and equally delicious to the Malaysian tempura version. Apparently kankong is available in most oriental food stores in Soho.. I certainly hope to be using it more in my own cooking now I know where to buy some!
Next out were large steel pots of roast chicken. I know.. We were meant to be eating Malaysian food! Well this was Ping’s fusion dish meshing her English and Malaysian cultures. The chicken certainly was roasted but then cooked in a creamy and fragrant lemongrass sauce. I can see this dish going down well at Sunday lunches!
The beef Rendang curry was the star of the show for me. This is one of the better known Malaysian dishes. The beef tasted like it had been slow-cooked. The meat melted in your mouth and the curry had a great depth of flavour.
I ate the Rendang curry with Ping’s Masterchef winning dish : Nasi Lemak. Nasi lemak is another traditional Malaysian dish of rice, crispy anchovies, braised bok choi, peanuts and boiled egg. Even the anchovies had an emotive backstory! Ping’s mother cleans the fish and sundries them by hand to get the intense flavour – not the kind you can just buy in the shops, no wonder they tasted so good!
I did not really think the meal could get any better but Ping punctuated the end of the meal with an exclamation mark! The white chocolate and pandan cheesecake with passionfruit, coconut and a ginger crumb base really made me feel like I was on a beach holiday in Langkawi. The tropical fruits harmonised deliciously with the mellow pandan, which comes from the plant leaf native to the South-East Asian region.
Needless to say, the meal was an absolute triumph and we were all convinced that Malaysia could indeed make a very special place for itself in British food culture. As we departed, we were given goodie bags with Malaysian recipe cards and a few sauces… I can’t wait to start experimenting in my own kitchen with Malaysian cooking!