Saturday, February 28, 2009

After Ibunda, Malay dining may never be the same

Much of my career – be it on employment, self employment and as businessman; local or abroad - evolves around finance, specifically the capital and financial markets.

Wining and dining comes with the job. After having spent a significant number of years abroad, one developed a flexible, adventurous and without sounding pompous, sophisticated taste bud for food.

Since early in my working life, I have always wanted to see Malay restaurant flourish. If Chinese, Indian, and Thai food could now elevate itself from home and street-side to restaurant and into internationally reknown cuisine, why not Malay food?

There had been attempts but many failed for lack of understanding in the key success factors of restaurants business and unable to make the distinction between the different segments of food service business. After decades of wait, I found it in a new Malay restaurant located at Jalan Bukit Bintang called Ibunda Malay Fine Dining.

Ibunda is an adventurous attempt to redefine the boundary of Malay food - recipe, taste, flavour, ingredients, ambiance, and such. It showcased a unique Malay fine dining experience of novo Malay menu that exudes a touch of class and elegance

When the restaurant opened for business in early January, few of us bloggers were invited. I am not cut out to write restaurant reviews. Thus, I waited till their first restaurant review come out to post my view on the Malay restaurant business. The Star today published their first review here.

Although Malay is the majority and indigenous race of Malaysia, Chinese restaurants are predominant. The acute under representation of Malay full service restaurants is too significant to be unnoticed. It is an often onerous affair to choose a place to takeout our foreign guest for an experiance in Malay dining we can be proud of.

In the early 80s, there was Yasmin Restaurant that started out at the top of Ampang Park, and then moved to Jalan Stoner. There was Thai cuisine Nelayan at Dayabumi that became the talk of town for regularly getting visits from Dr Mahathir. Indah Rasa was one Malay restaurant in EPF Building, Jalan Raja Laut. It was owned by Abdullah Omar, late father to Azreen and Kamaluddin Abdullah’s father-in-law.

Except Nelayan that still remain today at Taman Titiwangsa, all early Malay restaurant had a limited success and falter.

The buffet trend was started by Dayang Restaurant of same named Hotel (now Singgahsana Hotel) that introduced buka puasa buffet. That salvaged the Malay restaurant industry. In fact, the fairly successful Restoren Melayu run by Amcorp was based on the same concept.

The problem was, unlike food of other ethnic Asian food that has gain international recognition, like Chinese, Indian and Thai, Malay food industry did not develop its unique restaurant menu. The restaurant review, Malaysia Best Restaurants described this predicament:

Most Malay food is found at the hawker stalls and centres, which are, abound throughout the country. The fact that it has never taken off in restaurants is probably due to the fact this is the normal cuisine served at home. Another reason, off course, is that the hawker-style Malay food is both very good and very cheap, so most Malaysians would baulk at paying high restaurant prices for dishes they are used to enjoying for just a few Ringgit.
Because of the lack of development in Malay cuisine, it had been pigeon-holed by hotels into casual dining at coffeehouses. The casual coffeehouse dining denies Malay food from being developed into more sophisticated dining. The problem is further compounded when most of the finer establishments serving Malay cuisine are hotel coffeehouses.

These coffeehouses adopt “please-all" approach and have homogeneous offerings of hawker and common Malay food served as either buffet or a la carte. Over time, buffet has lost its novelty and to food afficianado, the gastronomic gluttony numbs the taste buds and ruin dining experiance.

Other than hotels coffeehouses, Malay standalone full service restaurants are fewer in numbers. But they stand to benefit from the shift in consumers’ preference for standalone restaurants and trend for prestige and sophistication.

One prevalent problem with Malay restaurants ventures is the unclear concept and customer appeal. Most Malay restaurants have an incomplete or disintegrated adoption of Malay dining. At some extreme, some restaurants are hodgepodge replication. There has yet to be a Malay restaurant that truly creates its own unique and distinctive identity.

Malay restaurants should seek within Malay socio-culture for identity rather than succumb to contemporary crass commercialism. A Malay restaurant could develop its own distinctive identity by adopting elements in the refined Malay etiquette and infusing Malay custom, culture and tradition. Malay socio-culture could be translated into the design and décor by emulating the development of Chinese and European restaurants to create the unique visual identity and ambiance.

Malay cuisine could be offered in its truly authentic form, without other cultural influence. For instance, the idea of reviving old and generation hand down recipes. The menu could exploit the character of Malay cuisine, which balances different tastes.

In the case of Ibunda, the chef applied Malay spices, cooking method and taste on exotic ingredients and presented in a novo style of presentation.

Malay food could be developed as a tourist attraction to Malaysia. But the problem lies with Tourism Malaysia slogan, "Truly Asia" that reflects a mismarketing error. It is an unfocused description of Malaysia and its cuisine as “melting pot”. Malaysian and its food should have a unique selling preposition and be distinguished with Malay. Most Malaysian restaurants abroad suffer the same identity problem of promoting Nyonya and Malaysian Chinese cuisine.

Nevertheless, the current scenario for Malay FSR, saving for the impending economic recession, offers an “only way is up” opportunity. Many standalone Malay restaurants have cropped up in the recent years to fill the void. It has attracted few private initiatives by non-Malays, which have been successful at attracting expatriate, tourists, business people and the affluent clients.

Most new Malay restaurants are found in affluent areas like Desa Sri Hartamas and city centre. Indonesian and Nyonya cuisines are the common offerings at these new restaurants. There are few restaurants introducing ‘fine dining elements’ with interesting menu concepts and contemporary décor.

In the fragmented full service restaurant sub-sector, Ibunda has adopted the right marketing strategy by narrowing itself into Malay fine dining. It is applying a more appealing food presentation; serving course by course meals; and recreates the cuisine texture, and presentation. As an early entry, it could take advantage of the window of opportunity in market, and defining the market segment.

In Ibunda, it could be the hallmark and new benchmark in Malay dining excellence for others to emulate and create on. The world is ready for them.


Saturday February 28, 2009

Neo- Malay cuisine


Get the Malay fine dining experience at Ibunda.

Ever been served duck or foie gras in a Malay restaurant? Or had tiny rolls of beef and chicken serunding for appetisers? Well then, you must check out Ibunda.

Those who enter this regal restaurant, which occupies a colonial building in the middle of Kuala Lumpur, expecting to be served the usual rendang, asam pedas and sambal petai are in for a big surprise.

Chef Zabidi Ibrahim (left)

Ibunda’s dishes may sound traditional but the preparations and servings are anything but.

They have done away with the Malaysian way of dining, where plates of rice are passed around, as vegetable and meat dishes are laid out on the table. Here, as in any other fine-dining restaurants, they offer appetisers, soups, main courses and desserts.

One interesting appetiser to start with is the Hati Itik Buah Ciku, which is pan-fried foie gras served with ciku and lemongrass roselle chutney. The liver just melts in your mouth, leaving a slight hint of the condiments on the tongue.

Then there is the Tiram Putih Jeruk Kedondong, which is baked scallop with kemanggi leaf and sour Jamaican plum, and the Udang Kara Limau Merah Jambu, which is crispy lobster meat served with pink grapefruit and black caviar.

It gets even more exotic once you get to the soups.

Itik Pulut Panggang (Baked duck skewer with glutinous rice and black peanut sauce). — VANITHA NADARAJ

Their Sendi Kambing Cincang Buah Pear Bakar is baked pear in minced lamb shank soup; the Cendawan Lipat Bawang Besar is mushroom dumpling soup; and the Haruan Daun Chenehom is hot-and-sour snakehead soup with polygonum leaf.

Take your time when choosing the main course. There are just 12 dishes, but they all sound tempting, whether Ikan Kod Sumbat Udang Kara Kukus (steamed black cod and lobster with mixed beans, belacan and ginger-garlic sauce), Dada Itik Imping Padi (grilled duck breast wrapped with sliced beef, pressed rice, cardamom chilli sweet plum sauce and cranberry chutney), or Ayam Kampung Cincang Daun Kadok (baked minced chicken with wild mint leaves, goat cheese, vegetable couscous and green chilli lemongrass sauce).

Some dishes have a strong taste, being hotter and spicier, while others are milder and more aromatic. This variation makes the food at Ibunda palatable, even to those who can’t take the heat.

The Daging Panggang Nasi Beriani Gulai Labu, or char-grilled tenderloin steak with briyani rice and pumpkin curry, is spicy, sweet and very aromatic.

At Ibunda, the dishes all sound so out of the ordinary that you wonder if the introduction of cooking styles and ingredients from outside Asia would ever blend well with traditional Malay cuisine. But they do, and Chef Zabidi Ibrahim is the one who sees to this.

He was the award-winning chef at Gulai House, the Malay restaurant in Langkawi’s Andaman. Here at Ibunda, Zabidi has seven other chefs working with him, and the team can be seen at work in the open kitchen.

One of the two founders of Ibunda, Azlan Jamil says, “We want the dishes to suit the taste buds of locals and Westerners because we plan to bring this concept to the main cities in the world. That is why we have adopted the Western style of dining, and the food presentation is exquisite because that is how Western patrons like it.

Good start: Tiram Putih Jeruk Kedondong (baked scallop with ‘kemanggi’ leaf and Jamaican plum), an appetiser by Chef Zabidi Ibrahim

“We want to bring distinction to Malay fine-dining food so that you don’t get a glorified version of street food here but experience a new kind of Malay cuisine that is true to its Malayness in taste and use of ingredients.”

Both Azlan and co-founder Megat Al Bakry Megat Ismail have taken great pains to ensure that their patrons experience novelty not just in the food but also in the ambience. The 70-year-old mansion in which the restaurant is sited has an elevated moat running around it, and the sound of flowing water manages to drown the noise of traffic from the Bukit Bintang area.

You feel like time has stood still, and you are far from the madness of the city. In the evenings, you can see the bejewelled cones of the Twin Towers sparkling in the sky. Inside, the soft yellow lighting, cream walls and matching tables and chairs, as well as the huge columns in the middle of the dining area, remind one of Carcosa Seri Negara. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

From the moat, to the refreshing welcome drink of Ginger-lemongrass Juice with Selasih, to the exotic dishes, Ibunda may just mark a new era for Malay cuisine.

251, Jalan Bukit Bintang
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2142-4115

Operating hours:
Lunch is 11.30am-2.30pm; dinner 6.30pm-10.30pm.
Closed on Sundays


Anonymous said...

About time! Thanks for the review. I must check this place out during my next trip to KL.

In all my travels, nothing beats a good Malay dish. Now that this has taken it to the next level of fine dining, I'm anxious to check it out.

The only proper Malay restaurant I can remember back in the day was one that was located in the ground floor of the old wing of Bangsar Shopping Center. Can't recall their name, but any chance that one still survives?

The fare of Malay food at hotel coffeehouses are mostly pathetic and can't measure up to some of my favorite stalls, including one in an obscure area of Lucky Gardens near Bangsar, run by a bunch of Kelantanese brothers.

Anyways, all this talk of food has made me hungry. Gotta raid the pantry now!

eddy said...

Thanks for the info, I will take my family to Ibunda soon.

ABC said...

alamak no prices for the finedine makan listed in your article or the one in the star.
can give some idea?
the reason is that, like most people, i always go out finedining with family in tow. if the bill mahal sangat, pingsan lor.
i don't expect things to be 'cheap' of course, but it would be good to have some idea of the potential damage.
if prices about the same as eating at cafes of 5-star hotels oklah jugak kot, as a family treat.
the words 'fine dining' is scary for salarymen like me.
scared whole family kena basuh pinggan after big makan....

Gurindam Jiwa said...

My goodness, my goodness, I remember this one, back in May 2005. And I'm not invited? OK, OK... :o)

It is probably out of my budget range, anyway, he he ... After all, it is not exactly for your average bankrupt Joe, which is what I am.

But I'm really glad to see it comes to its fruition. I guess now I could tell my wife, "Hey, I played a liiiiiittle teeeny weeeny part in that one."

Anonymous said...

Another great place for fine Malay cuisine is at Bijan located at 3 Jalan Ceylon. Good traditional Malay food, service and ambience in the heart of KL.

Unknown said...

Ibunda makes me really damn proud of Malay food.

That ikan haruan soup melelehhh...

Afficianado said...


Bijan is overrated.

over priced common food.

the decor is cheap. colourfully painted on untreated walls.

a sham.

ibunda is a worthy and thoughtout effort.

all the best.

A Voice said...

Food Critic

What kind of a food critic are you talking abt price for fine dining?

People don't talk of price at fine dining ...

If your complain is mosquito, that is an outright lie with bad intention to rubbish a new establishment.

Why can't people compete fair and square?

Sickening ...

Pak Idrus said...

I have not visited it as yet. Why didn't they invite blogger who would write review.

Anyhow I think they already made mistake by choosing Ibunda as the name of the restaurant. I maybe wrong but would that name ring a bell of good food to those who have not been there. The name is very important and should sound international. There is a Malaysian Restaurant call Delicious and it is frequent by all. We had a dinner there and found the food is great.Brand is important if you want to make money.

A Voice said...

Pak Idrus

That basic consideration definately did not miss us. It's owners call.

I will try to arrange for you. But before you go, please remove any preconception or expectation build up from your other dining experiance.

On the restaurant Delicious, I have visited it. It is poor taste to call a restaurant by such claim.

However, the food is okay but it is a common eatery.

My Say