The degustation may begin with a couple of brightly-coloured test tubes, but at the plushly modern, stylish Babe Japas Fun Dining, every offering is solidly rooted in culinary concepts both innovative and strong, and confident cooking technique. Novelty is an accent, rather than the main course.
Babe’s menu is a mosaic of small, Japanese-inspired plates – the “Japanese tapas” or “Japas” of its name – created by culinary dreamer and owner Jeff Ramsey.
The intrepid, inventive Ramsey, with both American and Japanese roots, has a star-studded resume; he counts luminaries like Jose Andre and Hide Yamamoto as mentors, and snagged a Michelin star for Mandarin Oriental Tokyo’s Tapas Molecular Bar in 2009 – when he was just 32. He is also a certified sushi chef, and at Babe, is ably supported by executive chef Chu Wei Sin.
The menu changes seasonally, divided into sections like Land, Sea or Air. Degustations – allow about two hours for these – are of eight courses for RM310, 11 courses at RM460 and 13 courses at RM700 – or, curate your own combination of a la carte dishes, which start at RM18.
Cocktails are curated to be just as inventive as the food here, and a new drinks menu has just been launched in collaboration with cocktail maestro Karl Too of Omakase + Appreciate. Wine and sake flight pairings are also available.
As the sky segues into an electric blue twilight – a sprawling landscape view makes a table in Babe’s enclosed deck dining area particularly coveted – those test tubes appear to herald the beginning of the Winter menu.
They’re little tasters of the journey of discovery you’re about to embark on, a reminder to readjust and widen your gastro-perspective. And they could be just about anything turned into a potion – from roti canai to char kway teow.
Following closely on their heels, two bites which distinguish themselves by being clever, fairly simple, and finely executed.
The Jicama Gyoza sees a thin slice of fresh yambean, crunchy and sweet, folded over a filling of fresh ladies’ fingers, spiked with kaffir lime and avocado; The Ootoro Spring Roll, a crisp cylinder filled with tiny cubes of bluefin tuna sashimi with a dashi stock jelly. The flavours are pronounced and distinctive, but light and fresh at the same time – setting the tone nicely.
A chilled circle of Caramelised Monkfish Liver, cooked sous vide, is the foundation for a study in brilliant balance – icy shards of passionfruit granita, savoury notes from a dashi broth joining the sour-sweet, top the liver and perfectly temper its rich, fishy unctuousness.
Ramsey knows just when to pull back and apply a light hand, letting the ingredients do the talking.
A mild citrus vinegar makes itoyori sashimi sparkle, topped with the briny-floral glory of sea urchin, accented with miso mustard sauce and bright shiso oil.
A plump, juicy sphere of prawns, lobster tail and Japanese yam is fried, then placed in a bath of water chestnut and corn broth spiked with dashi and yuzukoshou (a seasoning made from chillies and yuzu peel).
Aromatic sour plum and green tea foam tops sea bream in a comforting broth riddled with bubu arare (Japanese rice crisps), shortgrain rice and fiddlehead ferns.
The Duck and Coke is a dish of foie gras and duck confit is sandwiched between crisp, whisper-thin “crepes” of chicken skin, with a layer of Coke jelly and pickled mustard seeds adding sweetness and tang, respectively. It’s a dish that highlights Ramsey’s playful bent and attention to detail.
“Roast Beef” and Mashed Potatoes combines all the comfort implicit in its name, with a luxe contemporary approach.
The perfectly cooked beef is wagyu with a top marbling score of nine, so its fatty juices run down the throat with each bite. The tongue-tingling Sichuan pepper butter and a smear of yuzukoshou are wonderful accompaniments, and the mashed potato gets special mention for its smooth, suavely buttery appeal.
Desserts are small bites carrying on that creative theme: a pumpkin pie crust orb filled with spiced pumpkin and cream mousses, mind-bending chicken teriyaki marshmallows, olive oil and vanilla gummies which you should crust sparingly with sugar, and bitter cubes of dark chocolate and whisky ganache.
It’s the subtly sweet crowning act of a singular dining experience.
Ramsey’s creative vision and expert execution has repeatedly put Babe on gourmands’ must-do maps, and his seasonal menus seem to go from strength to strength.
Babe Japas Fun Dining
11th Floor, Work@Clearwater
Jalan Changkat Semantan
50490 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2095 8599
Open Tuesdays to Sundays, 6pm to 11pm (last seating at 9pm). Closed on Mondays.