Elevating Cantonese cuisine to a new level of

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ITS name is inspired by the coastal town of Sungai Besar in Sabak Bernam, where farming and fishing make up the main livelihood of its inhabitants. It is with that vision that the Grand Harbour chain of restaurants has taken on the challenge of creating dishes with an emphasis on using the freshest of ingredients.

None more so than its latest offering — the Grand Harbour Private Kitchen, which is an exclusive private chef eatery that consists of individual rooms designed for intimate gatherings and parties. 

Specialising in Cantonese gourmet cuisine, the Private Kitchen has provided a “Chef’s special” service without a permanent menu since it opened a year ago — until now. The Edge Financial Daily was invited for a recent preview of its new menu, which was launched this month.

Helmed by Chef Chan Peng Wah aka Chef Dai Bei (literally translated to mean ‘Big Nose’), previously of Tai Thong Group of Restaurants, the menu reads like an ingredients’ list, including freshwater fish, saltwater fish, lobster, geoduck, prawns, crabs, all types of meat and an extensive selection of fresh vegetables.

Calling it the most comprehensive menu they’ve launched, general manager Warren Wong said the dishes and creations are aimed at offering guests an “elegant yet authentic Chinese cuisine” experience.

Elegance in this sense comes in the form of and elaborate table décor and setting, which is customisable according to theme by request. We were seated in plush dining chairs and served individual bite-size lobak pieces in fancy ceramic spoons as hors d’oeuvres.

Before long, the first dish of the night was served — Nanyang-style bbq squid. Individually plated, the tender and fresh small squid was done just right, the mild specially blended barbecue sauce avoiding the common pitfall of being overpowering, thus allowing the squid’s natural flavour to take precedence.

While we were savouring our appetiser, a three-piece traditional Chinese band started playing, adding to the Oriental fine-dining ambience.

Soon came the impressive double boiled fish maw and kampung chicken soup. Each ceramic pot cooked in low heat for six hours, the savoury yet clear broth also came with a succulent and non-flaky dried scallop, bringing out a tinge of sweetness that went well with the chicken and fish maw, clearly the pièce de résistance of the dish.

The surprise was the use of black truffle, completing the hearty and delicately constructed soup, clearly designed to prove they mean business when it comes to freshness.

Starting as a kitchen boy at age 14, Chef Dai Bei has garnered 43 years of experience working his way up, not to mention becoming a specialist in Cantonese gourmet delicacies.

“We maintain a traditional Chinese cooking technique now hardly found in other restaurants,” said the executive chef. The technique may be traditional, but true to its highly customisable concept, Grand Harbour makes a valiant attempt to elevate a cuisine not known for its finesse to a new level of exclusivity and artistry.

That means innovating and striking out from the norm. In that sense, Grand Harbour does well. Take the barbecue Spanish spare rib with Fresh scallop salad for example, perhaps an influence from the restaurant’s outlet chef — known only as Chef Vincent — who has experience in Western cuisine, the Iberico pork rib is as far from “traditional”.

As an ode to our local flavour, Chef Dai Bei also created a special version of braised curry beef shank served with glutinous rice. Essentially gourmet rendang with a Chinese-style fluffy nasi pulut with dried shrimp, the thick and moist beef shank was an explosion of flavours and spice, brought out by two hours of braising. Heavy and a tad salty on its own, the meat nonetheless paired well with the rice.

Calling it an advantage, the executive chef expressed that our multi-cultural heritage gives local Chinese cuisine a distinct identity of its own, something that makes us unique.

Innovative selections aside, the dish du jour for the evening was the stewed whole abalone and eel with whole garlic. The size of the eel portion beggars belief. Chef reveals he had it brought in especially from a place in Indonesia where the sea meets the river, where the particular large breed — which is only available in the season between November and February — can be found. It was disclosed that its price goes for over RM90 per kilo.

Using a traditional “slow-stewing” cooking method, both the eel and the Australian abalone were stewed separately to retain their original flavours. The texture was unlike anything I’ve tasted before — firm yet springy; the texture was only matched by the fresh taste of the fish. Paired with a rich but refined sauce, this was a delight for seafood lovers. It can, however, feel a little greasy towards the end, but then again it was worth it for an indulgent experience.

Along with the soup, the stewed eel and abalone dish were the standouts for the night, proving their claim of mastery in traditional Cantonese delicacies.

To round it up, Grand Harbour Private Kitchen presented its signature chilled coconut Juice with ice-cream and crispy pumpkin pancake desserts — the Shanghai style crunchy pumpkin and nuts strips washed down by a chilled refreshing coconut shake concoction.

Containing both a la carte and set selections, the latter starting from RM988++ to RM4,888++ (for 10 pax), ultimately it’s the small details that sets Grand Harbour apart, lending weight to their “private kitchen” claim.

From the home-blended sauces, including a lovely citrus dip that goes very well with meat dishes, to an in-house event planning service, Chef Dai Bei also confidently puts in a personal promise: “If the customer requests it, we’ll try to cook it.”

Grand Harbour Private Kitchen is located in Fahrenheit 88, Jalan Bukit Bintang (above Grand Harbour Restaurant). Containing five VIP rooms, the largest one sits 20 pax, while rooms can be opened to fit in a maximum of 80 pax per group. For enquiries or reservations, call (03) 2141 1660 or visit www.grandharbour.com.my.

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 24, 2014