The moment Seth Chong says he “wants to create magic” with his new eatery Gastro Bar by Burgeon, dreams take flight and expectations soar.
Aesthetically though, Gastro Bar by Burgeon doesn’t look like a magician’s den. It is funky and modern, with multi-coloured velvet-backed seats and stools, lots of empty space and a bar that takes up an entire wall from end-to-end.
In fact, it seems far more like a watering hole than a gourmet haven. And the menu alludes to as much. A one-page food menu vs a drinks menu that stretches across 11 pages? I think we have a no-brainer here.
Except we’d be wrong. Because the restaurant takes its food very seriously, going so far as to invite customers on a “journey to Michelin stars” in its marketing material. “The Michelin thing is more of an aspiration; it’s like saying we don’t embrace limitations,” says Chong.
And Chong certainly knows a lot about limitations. The restaurant occupies a spot that was previously taken up by his first F&B baby, Ribs by Burgeon, which was a huge hit. But Chong felt like just having ribs would eventually limit the restaurant’s ability to churn out more high-brow fare. So he closed shop after two months and opened Gastro Bar three months later.
With Gastro Bar, Chong and his team experimented with over 200 flavour profiles for the food and drinks, in an attempt to challenge the norm.
“I asked them to do things that were as crazy as possible. The No.1 goal is that when people eat here, they have to pause, and their hearts should stop for awhile,” he said.
The final outcome consists of 11 savoury options (including the popular ribs) and two dessert choices. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but like so much in life, quality outweighs quantity and Gastro Bar’s dishes show that reinvention can be done, and in many instances, done well.
The All-Day (RM28), for example, is something you could easily eat – as its name implies – all day. Delicate and flavourful, the quail eggs with caramelised orange, masala hash brown, butter baby spinach, miso and yuzu hollandaise offer a delightful riff on the classic eggs Benedict.
The little poached eggs burst as soon as you spear them, soaking the densely spicy masala hash brown with yolky goodness. The masala hash brown is spell-binding, enriched by aromatic Indian spices like coriander, star anise, cardamom and chilli powder, which form the centrepiece of this well put-together dish.
Quail egg makes a reappearance in the Beef Tartare (RM68) where plump balls of hand-cut Black Angus tenderloin are placed on top of an herb baguette and sundried tomatoes. Confit quail’s egg yolks round off this delicious raw offering, which explores all sorts of textures from the softness of the raw beef to the crunch of the baguette, the chewiness of the tomatoes and the silkiness of the eggs.
The Satay (RM38) offers a contemporary twist on a perennial classic, with pork cheeks taking pride of place as the meat of choice. The jowls readily absorb the flavours of the bourbon, which it is grilled with. The spicy pecan sauce is also good, but the pork cheeks are the clear stars here – voluptuous, juicy and bursting with flavour.
Perhaps the starriest offering on the restaurant’s constellation is the much-touted Pork Ribs (RM68). A fuss-free affair that basically encompasses a 500g slab of pork ribs and a spicy jalapeno sauce on the side, this is one of those things that you eat and end up talking about forever after.
The meat is fall-off-the-bones tender, a result of having spent four hours being smoked to such a malleable consistency, you’ll want to eat it with your eyes closed to really enjoy every single morsel. Realistically though, you’ll have to eat it with one eye open because trespassing dinner companions might steal them from you (don’t let them!).
The only question mark on the savoury menu is the Ikan Bakar (RM48). It’s actually pretty good, but when something is already really good, reinvention is only necessary if it makes it better. Anyone who’s tried the famed Jalan Bellamy version, grilled over hot coals and served with a spicy, limey sauce, will know that it’s perfection.
In this incarnation (see top image), the grilled fish is deliciously flaky and the truffled black pepper and caper sauce, made from roasted Sarawak black pepper is very good – the thick, almost muddy sauce gives the grilled fish a much-needed uplift. But does it take the ikan bakar to new dimensions? I don’t think so. I’d rather have the (much cheaper) Jalan Bellamy one any day.
The two offerings on the desserts menu both pique the interest instantly. The strange-sounding Mushroom Cake (RM28) which is composed of shiitake mushrooms, is light and fluffy and gives off a sensation of mushrooms without overcrowding your palate with the woody flavours of the fungus. The coconut and white chocolate sauce served on the side is intense and thick, with an almost caramel-like consistency that is also necessarily sweet, to balance the savoury-ish cake. It is not a perfect dessert, but it’s certainly an ambitious one, and shows just what the minds behind Gastro Bar are capable of whipping up.
The lovely Pear & Chardonnay (RM38) meanwhile, is thrilling, a sensory ride that gives you all the right emotions along the way. The poached pear is coated in banana and parsley crumbs, which works to give it added depth of flavour. But the best flavour combo is attained when you get a bit of the pear with a dollop of the apple-chardonnay ice-cream and a sliver of the drool-worthy meringue. Let’s say it all together now – perfection.
Since alcohol form such a large percentage of Gastro Bar’s repository, it is totally worth checking out the drinks menu, especially the cocktails, which are just begging to be taken out for a spin.
Have a go at the Nutcracker (RM42), a joyful twist on Christmas egg nog, which incorporates spices, milk, cream, matcha, coffee liqeur and bourbon whisky and tastes like festivity and warmth. It’s perfect for a cold, rainy night when your bones are weary and a stiff drink is in order.
If you’re after something more unusual, try the Strawberry Cheesecake (RM48) which tastes as delightful as it sounds. Made with strawberry, yoghurt, oolong tea, scotch whisky and a cheese-infused whisky, this is a drink that lives up to Chong’s brief of “creating magic”.
Gastro Bar by Burgeon
8 & 10, Jalan BM1/2
Taman Bukit Mayang Emas
47301 Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03-7497 5373
Open Monday to Saturday: 5pm to midnight/1am (Friday and Saturday)