Dining French and Japanese at Cilantro

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TWO YEARS. That is how long it took me to make a call to reserve a dining spot at the famed chef Takashi Kimura’s signature restaurant — Cilantro — in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

It was a combination of procrastination and the serious lack of interest (or funds) on the part of my usual dining buddies, but I finally got my feet up and tummy rumbling this year, and it was off to Cilantro I went!

Cilantro — a French-Japanese fine dining restaurant tucked inside a serene portion of the bustling city, near the American embassy — was listed on the Miele Guide Asia’s Top 20 restaurants in 2011 and 2012, thus making it the highest-ranked restaurant in Malaysia. In 2013, it fell out of the Top 20 in Asia but still managed to stay at the top of the list in the country.

The name chef Kimura is a total giveaway to his Japanese roots but he was trained in France and is unique in that he tries to source for locally grown ingredients for the dishes that appear on Cilantro’s menu. Therefore, although the dishes on the menu are a fusion of French and Japanese cuisines, ingredients that come from our backyards can be found in them, giving everything a touch of localness.

In order to have a tasting of everything that chef Kimura had to offer, I opted for the chef’s Degustation (RM340++), which consisted of nine courses, excluding the complimentary amuse bouche that was served at the beginning of the meal.

I am not a food critic, wine connoisseur, nor do I have any expertise in the world of fine dining. In fact, I’m your average young working urban KL-ite, with just enough money to splurge on a fancy RM300 meal once a year … maybe. Therefore, this will not be a review of the restaurant; it is merely a chronicle of my experience dining at the finest establishment that Malaysia has to offer.

The ambience at Cilantro is subtly classy, without any unnecessary grandiose, pretentious décor. The wait staff are impeccably trained and know the dishes inside and out, in addition to being extremely helpful and friendly.

My personal favourite dishes of the night were the Cold Capellini with Hotate and Mentaiko and the Lobster Consomme with Cognac. Incidentally, this is the second time I’ve had the chance to taste chef Kimura’s pasta (the other time was last year at the Miele Awards, where he prepared capellini with abalone), both times, and they were cooked to perfection.

We were also served pigeon, foie gras, ocean trout, wagyu beef and an assortment of desserts that all came with fruit. Although my dining partner was of the opinion that the foie gras was absolutely delicious, I could not bring myself to eat it for ethical reasons, thus we would just have to rely on her judgement that it was indeed delectable.

The most famous dish that Cilantro is known for, ironically, is its truffle butter, which is served with bread before the meal. I’ve known dozens of people who have all raved about how exquisite the butter is, and after having tried it, I can finally comprehend their excitement when the words “Cilantro’s truffle butter” is mentioned.

It comes in a little ceramic pot, and all you’ll see is what looks innocently like regular butter with little specks of black in it — that’s the truffle — and it goes divinely with their assorted breads.

Oddly, I had never heard anyone rave about chef Kimura’s desserts, but I found myself enjoying them immensely. In addition, a palate cleanser made of Spanish Melon with Vanilla Jelly and a smattering of mint was heavenly! I was delighted by how light and refreshing it was.

Chef Kimura sure has a lot to be proud of. He has achieved what nobody else in Malaysia has been able to do so far: putting a local restaurant on the map together with some of Asia’s most famous fine-dining restaurants.

Tataki of Mizutako with fruit tomato Grilled Blackmore Wagyu Cold Capellini with Hotate and Mentaiko Spanish Melon with Vanilla Jelly

Cilantro Restaurant & Wine Bar is located at the MiCasa All Suite Hotel, 36-8-B, Jalan Tun Razak. For more information or reservations, call (03) 2179 8082.

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