KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Hermitage is a gastronomic equaliser.
Head chef Simon Teing brings his fine-dining past to bear on his casual-dining present. A kitchen alumnus of Kuala Lumpur stalwarts such as Lafite, Cilantro and Sage, he has conceptualised a menu that reimagines what we may take for granted – the humble, invaluable egg – in a slew of imaginative, French technique-heavy dishes with local and Japanese ingredients.
Simultaneously, he draws from the premium pantry, weaving touches of luxe ingredients such as foie gras and black truffles into menu creations, while keeping prices in the mid-range.
The accessibility of fine ingredients for everyday customers is the vision of owners Casey Chong and her husband, who opened the high-ceiling, turquoise-accented, concrete-and-wood-styled restaurant in November 2017.
“We make that possible by taking good-quality ingredients, but not necessarily the absolute top of the range,” says Chong. Clever kitchen conceptualisation also enables the dream, with foie gras turned into (a swoonsome) butter and a little truffle going a long way.
Chong and Teing were colleagues at Cilantro – where she worked her way to becoming assistant restaurant manager – almost 20 years ago, before she left to join the retail industry. The Hermitage marks her return to the food-and-beverage scene and you will find her on the floor every day.
“When we thought of opening our own place, my husband wanted two things – to introduce premium ingredients at affordable prices, and to have as much as possible made from scratch.”
So breads and croissants – which you can have plain, or with salted egg yolk butter, dulce de leche or citrus compote – are baked by the five-strong kitchen team, pates and terrines moulded, and duck bacon cured in-house.
“The croissant is a huge challenge because we don’t have a (temperature-controlled) pastry room,” says Teing. “But we compensate by just working faster. The key to being able to make all this from scratch is good kitchen management, and, in turn, making our own gives us more control.”
The result is a distinctive, memorable, detail-oriented menu, full of character and gastro-discovery to jumpstart jaded palates.
An all-day breakfast menu begins the day, with items such as sandwiches and burgers showing up after 11am, along with a selection of pastas and don, or Japanese-inspired rice bowls.
We started with the prosaic-sounding Cheesy Egg Roll (RM32 or S$10.80), which turned out to be an omelette, lacy-edged and creamy-centred. It was rolled around a filling of prawns, crunchy fresh mushrooms and mozzarella, carefully scattered with bonito flakes and finely chopped spring onions, and finished with a delectably smoky mentaiko aioli. A buttery, petite croissant flanked it and the dish turned out to be the perfect meld of French and Japanese kitchen sensibilities.
The Brekkie Rossini (RM38) was substantial and decadent, a brunch-y twist on the French classic Tournedos Rossini – poached eggs dripping rich yolk to meld with a slab of the marvellously rich foie gras butter, the mixture pooling on fork-tender, generous slabs of slow-cooked ox cheek and buttery slices of brioche. Black truffle slices perfumed the assemblage; each mouthful was memorably sensuous.
“The squash is usually found in savoury dishes, I wanted to use it in a different way,” said Teing. He added clusters of slivered almonds coated in chocolate to finish the dish, although they were bonuses – the crepe-butternut-dulce de leche trio turned out to be ideal in itself. The crepes are usually served with vanilla ice cream, but we tried them with a deliciously dense vanilla frozen yogurt instead, also house-made and with just a hint of tang.
From the late breakfast menu, The Hermitage Club Sandwich (RM26) is reminiscent of a katsu sandwich, but Teing’s reimagining has a creamy-chunky slab of pate coated with breadcrumbs and sandwiched between slices of a butter loaf, along with foie gras butter, mushrooms and finely sliced fried cabbage and onion.
There are many things to draw you back to The Hermitage: Teing’s love for experimentation underscored with solid technique, the interesting and reasonably-priced menu and friendly service. But for me, it is the attention to detail, to flavoured butters and house-cured bacon in a casual dining setting, that will inspire repeat visits.
F-G-7, Plaza Arkadia
Persiaran Residen 3
Tel: 03-2715 8715
Open: Weekdays, 9am to 8pm; weekends, 9am to 10pm