In Kuala Lumpur, French food has a bit of a reputation for being elitist. Sky-high price points are often cause for sky-high eyebrows, sharp tut-tutting and general avoidance, save for special occasions when wallets can afford to take a little dent.
“People who don’t know French food well will say, ‘Why is it so expensive?’ But the expats know, they come here and go, ‘Wow, this is one third of the price of any French restaurant anywhere else in the world!’ They come and say, ‘This is gourmet food, why is it so cheap?’ So we’re trying to make locals understand that what we’re doing is authentic and on a par with gourmet restaurants in France,” says Julienne Huh, director of Two Ox French Bistro.
Two Ox is a chic two-year-old eatery owned by Datin Sainy Chun (the owner of the vaunted Maison Francaise). The eatery features Italian-tiled walls, marble tabletops, a sun-dappled courtyard and plenty of space between tables.
About six months ago, Huh visited Two Ox and caught up with her friend Chun. At the time, Huh was actually based in Bangkok, where she had opened a string of Korean-celebrity themed restaurants in shopping malls. But when she set foot in Two Ox, it was love at first sight (and bite!), and she decided to invest in the business.
“That connection that I had with the restaurants in Bangkok made me think, ‘Okay, I can run this restaurant and make it my baby’,” she says.
The kitchen is helmed by chef Phillippe Murray Dominic, who is Malaysian but has both French and Dutch lineage. Dominic worked in a string of five-star hotels before deciding to venture into an independent eatery to flex his creative muscles. Both Dominic and Huh now work together to create classic French food with unique twists thrown in, reflective of the current zeitgeist for modern interpretations of traditional flavours.
“He is naturally adventurous and very, very creative – he wants to do a lot of things. But it is me who says, ‘Hey, Phillippe, we are a French restaurant, we still need to keep the traditional flavours’. So I pull him back a little bit and we compromise,” says Huh.
According to Huh, part of the reason French food is priced higher than other European food is because of the sheer amount of work involved in creating individual dishes.
“Everything is very labour-intensive and precise and has a long process. And this is one of the things that people do not understand and they look at the food and say, ‘It’s so expensive and it’s so small’. So it’s actually something that we need to get people to understand a bit more,” says Huh.
And this adds up when you listen to Dominic rattle off the list of things he has to do just to get a dish of cognac foie gras terrine (RM55) on the plate. “Foie gras is a very tedious thing to do. When we get the lobe (about 800g worth of duck liver), we have to defrost it, carefully devein it, then flatten it and brine it overnight. The next day, we take out the brine and marinate it overnight in cognac to cure it. Once that’s done, we bake it at 100°C for five minutes, so there are some layers of solids and some fat. And then we chill it for awhile, then take it out of the chiller and press it into the terrine, layer by layer to get it compressed. And then it’s a few hours – at least six hours – before we can actually use it,” says Dominic.
It’s an exhausting process, but the results are oh-so worth it in that epiphanic moment when you slather a generous serving of the terrine on the crispy brioche provided and add a little bit of the onion chutney smeared on the plate onto your mini-sandwich. The confluence of flavours and textures is nothing short of magical – creamy, luscious foie gras with all its sexy, earthy qualities apposed against the crunch of the bread and the sweetness of the chutney – oh, this is pure bliss! You’ll find yourself closing your eyes, oblivious to everyone else in the eatery as you savour every mouthful, letting the flavours immerse your soul with a fleeting, but intangible sense of gastronomic euphoria.
Then there is the lobster bisque with lobster and carrot bon-bon (RM26), which is made by roasting, sautéing, boiling, reducing, blending, straining, boiling and blending again (I know – it’s tiring just reading this list!) a mixture of lobster carcass, carrots, leeks, onions, celery, tomatoes, cream and butter to get a bisque that is light and nourishing, with rich crustacean undertones fluidly stitching the meal together.
The duck confit with asparagus coulis and a citrus duck glaze (RM80) features duck skin that has a lovely burnished glaze, and meat that is tender and pliable, although if you’re not used to traditional iterations of duck confit (the meat is cured with salt), you might also find it rather salty. The asparagus coulis and citrus glaze add a much-needed fresh element to this meal that you’ll find immensely enjoyable.
From May onwards, Dominic and Huh will be rolling out new items on the menu, including the sous-vide spring chicken with pickled red cabbage, mashed potatoes and cepe mushroom sauce (RM60). The chicken is cooked for six hours in a sous vide water bath, then shocked in ice water to stop the cooking process. After that, it is cooked in the oven for a short period of time before being placed under a salamander and basted. As a result, this is one juicy chook – brimming with flavour and so pliable, it requires minimal mastication. The mashed potato on the side is rich and creamy, although perhaps a tad too runny because it literally cascades down your spoon.
Another worthy new addition on the menu come May is the braised oxtail with pea puree and Dijon-apple ragout (RM65). This is a dish that is a clear winner from the get-go – petal-soft, fall-off-the-bone tender meat dextrously balanced against a refreshing, smooth pea puree. It’s a meal that is instantly easy to love, like a cute baby with a winning smile.
For dessert, tuck into the chocolate lava cake with raspberry sherbet (RM35). Made using 75% dark chocolate, this dark operator straddles the bitter-sweet divide with all the agility of a seasoned tightrope walker. Meanwhile, the raspberry sherbet on the side jazzes up the whole ensemble with its fresh, tart flavours.
Huh says she is on a mission to disseminate more information about French cuisine to Malaysians who may not be as familiar with the cuisine and who have only been to French fine-dining restaurants, as opposed to the contemporary French bistro vibe that Two Ox exudes.
“That’s my mission – to introduce gourmet French bistro food with a modern twist in Malaysia, and to ensure that it is affordable,” she says.
Two Ox French Bistro
54 & 56, Jalan Doraisamy
50300 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-2692 2233
Open daily: 11.30am to 3pm; 6pm to 11am