In the heart of Damansara Kim lies a charming little restaurant called Table & Apron. It’s the sort of place that looks unassuming on the outside – in fact, there’s little to differentiate it from any of the other brick-and-mortar food establishments that surround it. But order up some food, and you’ll feel altogether differently about it.
Table & Apron actually began its (former) life in 2014 as The Kitchen Table. Under the stewardship of owner Marcus Low, it quickly gained a neighbourhood following, but in October last year, Low decided a slight overhaul was in order.
“We had a change because we wanted to uplift and reposition ourselves more as a restaurant. So now what we offer is a private dining area upstairs and everyday dining downstairs. And a lot of what we do is made in-house and is also made for sharing,” says Low.
Low is a former engineer who studied in Canada and worked in a couple of restaurants there, developing and honing his passion for food into a life skill. When he came back to Malaysia, he started a private supper club, which he ran for a year, before pooling enough funds from friends and family to invest in his own restaurant.
Two and a half years later, the reconfigured restaurant is alive and thriving. On a regular weekday afternoon, tables are spilling over with customers who all have the same contented look on their faces.
Low’s menu reflects his determination to use as many local ingredients as possible and even more remarkably – to make literally everything from scratch – from the breads to the cakes. Unlike many other local establishments, he avoids imported meats and seafood and instead shops regularly at the Taman Tun Dr Ismail wet market.
“We work with local ingredients and make things from scratch because we want to give respect to the ingredients that are really high quality here. So our food is really simple but there is a lot of thought behind it,” he says.
Low also understands what not every restaurateur comprehends right off the bat: that there is something comforting about familiarity.
To this end, he has worked this into his menu with admirable adroitness, employing clever re-imaginings of classic dishes to create nostalgia and a permeating sense of familiarity.
“It’s playing on familiar flavours and something that resonates with customers. The real secret is understanding what people are looking for and what you do with your dishes to make sure of that. The other thing we do is that everything that comes out of here, must be original. That means we must create dishes that people know and can tell that,‘Okay, this is from Table & Apron’,” he says.
This is obvious in his charred eggplant (RM19). The eggplants have been marinated in miso and are topped with copious amounts of bonito flakes, with a green onion puree rounding off this vegetable dish.
It is strange how so few ingredients can somehow form such an addictive pull. The eggplant is luscious and velvety soft, and the miso marinade accentuates the otherwise neutral eggplant, giving it a distinctly umami kick. And the green onion puree is like that comforting bolster you love going to sleep with – familiar, pleasant and undisputedly necessary in this equation.
Then there is the crowd-favourite sourdough bread (RM6). Made with a hundred-year-old starter that has been passed down through generations of bakers, the sourdough is perfection – soft and pliant, with a natural yeastiness and crusty edges that speak volumes about the level of skill involved in making it.
If you’re after something hedonistic, go all out and order a full plate of the fried chicken (RM36). House-brined and dredged in buckwheat flour, this recipe took Low two years to perfect and has been a huge hit since.
“We wanted to create a fried chicken that was light and crispy, so we mixed it with buckwheat flour to create a dredge, so it’s super, super crispy and very moist on the inside. And that’s what you expect from a fried chicken. A lot of times, really good food is just food that meets people’s expectations,” he says.
In this case, the chicken certainly surpasses expectations. This fried poultry is as good as it gets – a really, really, really (and I am not over-emphasising the “really” here) crunchy exterior that gives way to juicy, succulent meat on the inside. It’s the sort of dish that will compel you to forget the word “diet” ever existed in your vocabulary in the first place (as you gleefully reach for that fifth piece of fried chicken).
Then there is the sticky pork ribs (RM54 for a full portion). Made with a kicap manis and curry leaf oil glaze, the dish is meant to represent the iconic kam heong Chinese-style of cooking.
You’ll find traces of kam heong in the pork – in the essence of curry leaf that seems to be in each mouthful and in the sweet kicap manis that coats the meat, which is pull-apart tender and yields easily in the mouth. And the herbs atop it – the daun selom and ulam raja help sluice through the richness of the pork, delivering a herbaceous freshness that instantly refreshes the palate.
Up next, try the the ulam herb crab rice (RM36), which builds on the Chinese dish lei cha fan and the Malay nasi ulam and makes use of local ingredients like dried shrimps, bean sprouts, local herbs, peanuts and fluffy tufts of crab meat, sourced from Pulau Ketam, Selangor.
This is one of those deceptively simple dishes that packs a punch in both the flavour and textural departments – from the hard crustiness of the shrimps to the solid crunch of the nuts, the bounce from the bean sprouts and the springiness of the herbs. Everything coalesces harmoniously, like well-practised synchronised swimmers in total sync with each other.
There are also some East-meets-West offerings that straddle the continental divide admirably. Like the mushroom orecchiette (RM31), which is a play on the classic carbonara peddled at every neighbourhood cafe.
“We didn’t want to just push out carbonara, so we thought of something that resembles that but has an essence of our identity. So it’s like a vegetarian pan mee, which is kind of what we were going for,” says Low.
This pasta dish hits all the right notes – the orecchiette is cooked to al dente perfection, the miso butter gives the dish a rich decadence and buttery undulations, and the plump local mushrooms scattered throughout imbue it with woody characteristics that add depth to the offering.
For dessert, there is plenty on offer – all of it made in-house. You could start with the Earl Grey creme brulee (RM15), which is complemented by shortbread and grapefruit.
The creme brulee is silky smooth and soft with understated tannic notes. And that shortbread is delightful – buttery and so crumbly, it literally melts in the mouth!
If you’re still not sated, try the calamansi lime cake (RM6.50). The butter cake is a tad dry but the calamansi icing that coats it is delightful – tangy and slightly tart.
Ultimately, Low says his dream isn’t really to be a big-time restaurateur or anything like that.
Although his restaurant is popular enough that he has had offers to open branches in malls as far away as Penang, he isn’t considering expanding at the moment.
“We’re taking our time to learn how to be better at serving our customers before we spread ourselves too thin. That’s my long-term goal,” he says.
Table & Apron
23, Jalan SS20/11
47400 Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03-7733 4000
Open Tuesday to Sunday: 11.30am to 5pm; 6pm to 10pm