Going back in time

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Savour a taste of Lafite from 30 years ago

IN 1985, Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie and Diana Ross recorded We are the World, Michael J Fox’s Back to the Future became a blockbuster hit, and Microsoft released its very first version of Windows. 1985 was also the year Malaysians got to enjoy their first French fine dining meals at Lafite, Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, served by founding sous chef Pelligrineus.

Offering a luxurious dining experience with elegant ambience and impeccable service, Lafite taught Malaysians what classical French fine dining tasted like, and till today, 30 years later, the restaurant is still delighting patrons with its exquisite menu which features dishes made with the highest quality ingredients.

Today, this culinary institution is helmed by chef Jean-Philippe Guiard who hails from Angouleme, France. Born into a cooking family — Guiard’s maternal grandfather was a very accomplished chef — Guiard knew from a young age instinctively that he wanted to make his mark in the culinary world. He trained at France’s prestigious La Rochelle Academy and subsequently worked at two-star Michelin restaurant, Bagatelle, located in Oslo, Norway. Guiard is a firmly traditional French chef — there are no fusion dishes in his world, only pure classical French delicacies. In 2013, after backpacking through Asia for several months, he realised that he was in love with Asia and its culture, and decided to pack up and move thousands of miles to Malaysia, where he has been residing for the past two years.

Guiard is excited about the menu he has created to fete Lafite’s milestone. This menu, which will be served for the entire month of April, is inspired by the original menu that the establishment offered when it first opened. Guests can opt for a three- or four-course meal served during lunch and dinner.

Starting with a lovely plate of salmon “Bellevue” with steamed tiger prawn, salmon roulade and salmon roe, the menu is a little slice of France. The second dish is an optional one — those opting for the four-course meal will be served a poached white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and egg mollet, followed by beef cheek pot au feu, bone marrow and roasted duck liver. The sweet finish will be traditional vanilla millefeuille with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

The beef cheek pot au feu is what Guiard calls a very popular dish, typically served in France during winter, and is reminiscent of ratatouille — which Pixar made a household name when the animated movie of the same name was released — albeit made with rich beef stew and elevated with bone marrow and duck liver. It’s like having a clear, homemade stew that is exceptionally prepared, seasoned and plated.

All three courses are light and beautifully presented, each showcasing the star ingredients without taking too much away from the rest of the dish. The dessert is particularly noteworthy for its delightful vanilla flavour, the perfect amount of sweetness and its crisp millefeuille layers.

“I wanted to showcase classical French cuisine, so I did some research — books, talked to my family and the first chef at Lafite, the ingredients that I can obtain here and managed to put my own twist into the menu that we are serving this month. This menu reminds me of the classical touch of Joel Robuchon, when I was working for him in Paris in 1996. Of course, I didn’t want to copy the exact menu that was served here in 1985, so I drew inspiration from it and put on my own signature,” Guiard explains.

“La Grande Nouvelle Cuisine was inspired by famous French chefs like Paul Bocuse, Jean and Pierre Troisgros, Michael Guerard and Alain Chapel. My absolute favourite dish on the menu is also the most classical one: the white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and egg mollet,” he proclaims.

Guiard is a firm believer in using the highest quality ingredients, as he believes that one can never create a truly delicious dish using second-rate ingredients. Therefore, most of the dishes served at Lafite utilise organically grown and produced vegetables, fruit, eggs and meat, as well as freshly imported produce flown in from Europe.

“It is a challenge to source certain types of fish, meat, fruit and vegetables here, obviously because those used in French dining are, for example, cold water fish that you can’t get here and must be imported,” he laments.

Having been at the helm of Lafite for the past two years, Guiard is sure that he will continue making his mark here in Malaysia for years to come, if not forever. After all, a two-year love affair with Asia is not nearly long enough to experience all its beauty, people and history; and it is unquestionably too fleeting a timeframe to enable Malaysians to enjoy his intricately prepared, 100% classical French cuisine.

Lafite’s 30-year anniversary menu will be available until April 30, and there will be a 30% anniversary discount for all restaurants in the hotel on April 20. A special anniversary cocktail called Paradise is also available at Lobby Lounge and Arthur’s Bar and Grill throughout the month at RM30.

Beef-cheek-pot-au-feu Traditional-vanilla-millefeuille

Lafite is open from noon to 2.30pm for lunch (Monday to Friday), and 7pm to 10.30pm for dinner (Monday to Saturday). For reservations, call (03) 2074 3900 or email [email protected].

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 1, 2015.