After collaborating in concerts for over 10 years, Hong Kong singing superstars Alan Tam and Hacken Lee decided to invest in a different branch of the arts – one which would showcase the Hong Kong cuisine they loved.
So the first Starz Kitchen outlet opened in Hong Kong in 2012, and proved popular enough that other branches soon followed – there are now seven, in Hong Kong, Macau, Shanghai and Malaysia.
It was in early 2015 that Kuala Lumpur got its own Starz Kitchen outlet, located in the Dining Loft section of Pavilion. The smaller front section always seems busy, especially at lunchtime. Sit here and Tam and Lee will overlook your lunch – at least, from the wallful of photos of the duo.
Observant diners will notice a small glass case of wine bottles in the front section; these are from Tam’s own label, but are unfortunately only for display here.
The inner section feels more spacious, with the full-length windows brightening everything up; this is usually busiest on weekends. The decor throughout is very understated, with the restaurant’s focus obviously being on the food.
Hong Kong cuisine has a strong focus on Cantonese food. In the Chinese cuisine canon, Cantonese food is comparatively simple, with dishes having just a few ingredients and a focus on pure flavour and texture. We tried the classics, but there are also newer dishes – also firmly established in Hong Kong – like the fried rice with shrimp and shredded chicken topped with tomato and cream sauce (RM36). Served in a style evoking the concept of ying and yang, it is said to signify the partnership between Tam and Lee.
Executive chef Ma Shui Kei has been a chef for 29 years, and has worked in Hong Kong, Canada, the United States and Japan; a man of few words, he says simply that the most important thing to him is that the taste is “original”.
To him, this means that you should be able to walk into Starz Kitchen in Pavilion and the dishes should have no difference from the outlets in Hong Kong – where he spent eight months before moving to head the KL kitchen.
“The owners want to showcase the traditional dishes of Hong Kong cuisine, and so it is important that the ingredients are from Hong Kong,” says Ma.
This includes the dried sole that provides a deep, savoury flavour for many of the dishes and ingredients for the soup stock, even seasonal vegetables like the choy sum. The Black & White brand of evaporated milk used for their milk tea is also imported from Hong Kong, to replicate the smooth, strong milk tea made with a blend of three different black teas that the island is famous for.
One of the points of pride for the kitchen would be the selection of roast meats. A platter of goose with two other roast meats is RM98; you can choose from pork belly, char siew or marinated chicken.
The goose is succulent and crisp-skinned, served with tangy plum sauce. The pork belly is served with a subtle, nicely-balanced mustard sauce and gives an audible crunch, even when chewing with the mouth closed! That thick layer of crisp crackling is definitely a coveted aspect of siew yoke.
The char siew is also juicy and toothsome, served in thickly-cut slices instead of the thin ones customary here. According to Ma, this makes it even more important to maintain the texture of the char siew, a tricky process.
“Char siew is made from leaner pork, so you have to be very good at controlling the heat if you want to end up with thick slices that are also juicy, rather than dry like much of the char siew out there,” he says.
A dim sum selection proves particularly popular on weekends, but is also available all day now.
The classic siew mai (RM13) is made with fresh, plump prawns and pork; the important thing to me when I eat siew mai is that the chef gets the balance of fat and meat just right, so that it’s rich but not cloying and heavy – and at Starz Kitchen, the balance is just right. The har kau, or shrimp dumpling (RM13) also boasts fat shrimp, encased in a fairly delicate translucent skin.
The crunchy, deep-fried shrimp toast (RM18) – another Hong Kong classic and a favourite of Tam’s – is quite heavy on the oil, but tasty. The plump shrimp remain springy and cooked just-right, providing a nice contrast to the crisp bite of the toast.
The house speciality is wonton noodles in soup, with shrimp wonton (RM15). A large serving for one person, the clear broth is concentrated and flavourful, and the noodles remain springy even after languishing in it for quite a while. The hand-made dumplings have more prawns, slivers of sole and black fungus for crunch. The steaming bowlful is finished with a light dusting of briny shrimp roe.
For a must-try which is currently off-menu (it’s on a promotion menu, but should be perenially available), look to the Typhoon Shelter specialities. Here’s the story behind that: a typhoon shelter is for fishing boats in Hong Kong, and the famous Typhoon Shelter crab dish is believed to have originated from the Causeway Bay typhoon shelter.
As the fishermen cooked their fresh catch in the boats, a dish flavoured with garlic, scallions and chilli became popular. The style can be translated as “wet”, which is heavier on the oil, and “dry”, which features much crunchy, deep-fried garlic.
At Starz Kitchen, you’ll find Typhoon Shelter versions of everything from softshell crabs to frogs, to squid done in one of the two styles.
The Typhoon Shelter squid (RM32) provides addictive bites of chewy squid with mounds of fried garlic. It has a decidedly spicy edge, with a deep flavour from sole and dried shrimp, shrimp roe, five-spice and mandarin peel – among a litany of ingredients.
For dessert, the almond cream with egg white (RM10) is a very classic dish, but may be an acquired taste for those unused to soft clouds of solid egg white in their desserts. Nonetheless, it is very fragrant, made with Chinese almonds.
Overall, Starz Kitchen is the place to come if you want well-executed Cantonese food at pretty affordable prices.
Dining Loft (Level 7)
168 Jalan Bukit Bintang
Tel: 03-2110 6838
Open daily, 10.30am to 10pm