A Peppy Fare at Peppino for the KK Food Fest
The KK food festival mania has hit KKMOI, and we’ve been restaurant-hopping for a week. So far, it has been a bit of a mix bag experience but we’ve been eating a lot to collect stamps for the iPad2 lucky draw. Last Monday, we had dinner at Peppino. Knowing that quality and hospitality is at the heart of the Shangri-la experience, we were excited and felt honored to be invited to sample their KK food fest menu.
Not Your Grandpa’s Hangout, but He’ll Like It
Upon arriving at the lobby, I was warmly greeted and welcomed by my two lovely hosts. We then proceeded immediately to Peppino restaurant. My has it changed since 2006. The new Turquoise backlit border framed the paintings so beautifully, and the facelift really made the space look sexy.
It was as if they were special solar panels that had captured the color of the sunkissed sea just hours before, to welcome my arrival! Wait a minute. Did they think I was Amphitrite, the Greek goddess of the sea? Because that’s how special the lighting made me feel.
Moreover, I appreciated how the space was intelligently refreshed by a modern centerpiece of suspended glass chandeliers. I really liked the fact that the restaurant maintained the classic browns of a fine dining restaurant, but at the same time it was trendy and didn’t look like a fossil.
The ambiance was lovely but I was really here to try the food, so let’s get down to business!
European Food with a Bornean Twist
When it comes to professionalism, you gotta hand it to the Peppino. They are among the few outlets who have designed their food fest menu according to the brief. Participating outlets were encouraged to use ingredients that are uniquely Bornean and Chef Salvatore Coco did just that. The contemporary Italian concept restaurant took a huge leap and got experimental.
To tell the truth, I was equally impressed at the chef’s audacity as I was worried. This is because fusing fine Italian cuisine with ethnic Kadazan ingredients is akin to trying to match make Monica Belucci with a Bornean headhunter. Those two just don’t look like they’d mix, but being a foodie I was all too curious to try the fusion cuisine that you’d never be able to find anywhere else in the world but here.
Borneo Asparagus Mousse with Hinava Prawns
To start, we were served a cold plate of Borneo Asparagus mousse with Hinava Prawns and salad leaves. Borneo asparagus is so unique to our locale it doesn’t even have a commercial name in English yet. The local Hakkas call it Su Jai Choy, which means the ‘Little Tree Vegetable.’
This demure-sounding vegetable was used in place of regular asparagus. Before eating it, I couldn’t imagine what the mousse would taste like. When I first took a bite, like with any new sensory experience, I waited for the flavors to melt onto the receptors of my tongue and send the signals to my brain.
Two seconds later, HELLO! Wow. Amazing! Can’t believe nobody figured out our humble Sabah vegetable would be great served as a creamy mousse until now. The flavors were intense yet refined, and the fibrous Borneo asparagus made the experience really interesting and exotic. Kudos to the chef!
The Hinava prawns, an ethnic Kadazan-Murut food is basically sashimi that’s been marinated in lime juice. This one by Chef Coco is a toned down version of the ethnic variety, so that it complements the mousse and salad leaves. If you take out the ginger and chilly strips, it tastes similar to Peruvian ceviche. This isn’t the Kampong-style Hinava that sports a lot of bird chillies and shaved onions.
Happy Guy with the Wine Bottles
The starter went pretty well together with the pairing of Green point sparkling white wine. Then Donovan, our server came over with a 2009, Tyrrell’s Moore’s Creek Semillon Sauvignon Blanc. Usually we don’t talk about people on KKMOI, but Donovan is special because he was very chirpy, friendly and entertaining. This bloke is genuinely happy about his job, and you can tell by the way he engages with you.
Pan fried Sea bass Fillet with coucous, pomelo salsa and lembiding
In no time, the main course arrived looking like it has been topped with some seriously bizarre looking leaves I’ve never seen plated on a Western dish before. I looked at the menu and it tells me the shriveled and wilted purplish leaves are a local type of young wild fern shoots called lembiding. Then it occured to me that I may have had it once with some fried noodles that were prepared by villagers under the Pacos Trust catering program. In other words, jungle cuisine!
So it came as a lovely surprise, that the lembiding went very well with the sea bass, tamarind couscous and pomelo salsa. Like the Paku Pakis (Ostrich fern), the Lembiding has a mild tongue-numbing effect, which is a really unique local sensory experience. The fish was very well-done and I loved that it was a thick cut. I only wished that we had more couscous and pomelo salsa to go with the large portion of seabass.
Alvear Solera Vino Dulce Natural
Prior to the arrival of the dessert, we were served a sweet, earthy dessert wine that tastes like a cross between syrupy schnapps and the herby effect of Chinese Pei Pa Ko.
Now I’m not an expert on dessert wines at all, but if the Alvear was chosen to reset our palate, it did the job immediately. It is something I imagine having during a cold winter’s night.
I do think it may have been too strong to neutralize something as light as white fish, as I really enjoyed the main and would have loved for the aftertaste to hang around a bit longer.
Coconut Pannacotta with Bambangan and Lime
Finally, the dessert came to sum up our meal. I have to credit the chef who managed to match the east and west together without it tasting odd. After all, the Bambangan Wild Mango is one of the most sulphurous of fruits, and when prepared traditionally it really packs the kind of punch that makes the durian experience a walk in the park. To be honest I’m a dessert purist and I don’t believe in cross-cultural desserts. I like my Italian pastries to remain Italian, and Malaysian desserts to remain Malaysian.
So it came as a surprise, that the combination of the limey wild Bambangan mango bits and the caramel ring worked with the pannacotta. Texturally, the pannacotta had the consistency of a loosely steamed rice cake instead of jelly, which didn’t have an Italian but a Sinocized effect. Great effort from the chef, but it’s definitely something that is more exotic to non-Chinese people.
All in all, I really respect the fact that Chef Coco stepped up, got really creative, and was miles ahead in terms of originality. The dishes pleasantly surprised me, because it is really hard to fuse “ethnic” Borneo ingredients with European food. The chef’s skills and experience made the meal a most exquisite culinary journey because I was looking for an unusual experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, the company, and the ambiance at Peppino was luxurious.
Do drop by and try their menu for yourself. It will be available up till the 22nd July 2011.
My Vote: Most Creative Festival Menu
After studying the whole festival menu and dining in more than half of festival restaurants, I’m casting my vote in for Peppino, for the “Most Creative Festival Menu” category. I think they deserve to be recognized for the extra effort in creating an original menu just for the KK food fest, while many other outlets conveniently repackaged items from their regular menu. If you think creativity should be recognized correctly, you should vote for them too. Always judge these contests as objectively as possible instead of by popularity, because this is what will raise the standards and integrity of the F&B industry. The food fest awards should reflect the truth and mean something for all the participants involved if the event is to have some weight in the future!
There’s still one more week, so keep on eating KK!
For more information on the KK food Fest 2011, please visit http://www.kkfoodfest.comTags: 2011, Borneo, Italian, KK Food Fest, Peppino, Shangri-la, Tanjung Aru