Duddha is a house of promising ideas – consultant head chef Jet Lo’s kitsch-rich, witty ideas. The menu is riddled with intrigue, with the kind of progressive-looking creations that are hallmarks of many contemporary East-West culinary marriages.
As with many newly-wed couples (the restaurant opened in January), it still seems to be finding its footing – although we do hold out hope for a long, happy relationship with the lovely Duddha, the restaurant’s feisty imaginary namesake. You’ll find her glaring fiercely from the comic-inspired feature walls, which combine with the mahjong tile-wrapped bar and clotheshanger lamps upstairs to create a breezy-fresh ambience.
Lo is a restless kitchen ingenue, fresh from heading the kitchen at Ding Dong, the reknowned modern Asian-flavoured restaurant in Singapore. Born in Sabah, Lo grew up in a family of food producers – Mom’s family had a home-made tofu business, while Dad’s family made fresh, springy yellow noodles for many of the restaurants in town.
“When I was 10, my parents bought over Fook Yuen, a kopitiam,” said Lo. “They have 10 outlets back home now, and my father is about to expand into China.”
A teenaged Lo put in his time at the family kopitiam, and osmotically absorbed many of the traits his menus display today – an attention to detail, and a commitment to making the customer happy.
He has clocked kitchen time in Australia and Switzerland, as well as Singapore, and KL is a brief stop before he makes his next move in April – this time, to Shanghai. That’s when Aisyah Ramlan will take over as head chef, although Lo will pop in periodically to keep an eye on things.
The menu combines fresh new ideas with inspiration from Lo’s travels, and his childhood, but for now, he is not looking at pushing the envelope too far left of centre.
“I’d say it’s about a 50-50 balance between new ideas and something people can relate to because we have just opened,” he said. “In time, we’ll push it further. We want to change the menu every four or five months.”
While the concept remains fun, fresh and young, Lo went old school when it came to the various components of his dishes – from pickling his own vegetables to making sauces from scratch. The menu pops with colour and humour, and is divided into small plates, both hot and cold, larger mains and desserts.
We start with two cold plates. While the deconstructed tofu with oyster sauce, homemade chicken floss, pickled cabbage, garlic and daikon water (RM26) is pleasant, it’s not an imagination-firing dish. It is however, homage to Lo’s family business, which gives it an air of being grounded in his identity – and the silky tofu is a likeable starter on a hot day.
An exercise in subtlety, the oyster sauce takes precedence in terms of flavour, while the firm, chewy chicken floss evokes dried prawns. The distinctive flavour of daikon is more discernible when you taste the liquid on its own.
Lo’s dishes tend to tip the scales on the subtler side in general. “I don’t want to overwhelm diners’ taste buds, I like to have a subtle balance of spices and herbs even in the stronger dishes which utilise spice pastes,” he said.
The second cold dish is a burst of bright hues on a plate – caramelised cherry tomatoes with black miso, sesame dressing, sansho peppers and watercress ice cream (RM33). Unfortunately, the clear sugar coating sticks the teeth together, and while the deep flavours of the miso are enjoyed, the sansho peppers don’t make an impact.
The tangy, fresh-tasting watercress ice cream saves the day somewhat – bridging the sweet caramel coating and the sweet-sour-umami of the tomatoes, and hardening the caramel in the mouth so it can shatter.
The next dish, from the list of small plates served hot, fares better – juicy fillets of lemon sole marinated in red curry paste, then coated in a batter as black as sin.
It’s understandable that the carbon-battered lemon sole with smoked garlic mayo and calamansi (RM34) has been sent back to the kitchen by some alarmed diners (who apparently overlooked the word “carbon” on the menu), but it’s their loss.
It’s a great take on fish and chips, with the faint red curry flavour melding well with the frothy, light garlic mayo and crisp batter (blackened with char-grilled bamboo powder).
From the list of mains come a beef cheek and a barramundi. The 48 hours beef cheek with puffed rice and crispy herbs (RM79) is robust and flavourful, served in pool of thick, concentrated gravy that balances sweetness and spices, with no trace of heat. It’s tender enough, but not quite fork-tender.
The green curry saltwater barramundi with coconut, bone marrow rice and pomelo salad (RM30) wins the mains showdown, the crispy-skinned fish retaining all its juices and flavour, a perfect match with all the components on the plate.
Special mention must go to the bone marrow rice, which is impossibly fragrant and just rich enough, without being cloying.
From the dessert menu, we have the caramelised pumpkin rice cake with smoked coconut ice cream (RM22) and the cempedak brownie with sour cream (RM27). While the crispy-chewy rice cake scattered with crisp pumpkin chips is very likeable, the ice cream has a bit too much smoke, overwhelming the coconut; the brownie, its rich chocolate interior studded with cempedak chunks, fares better and finds a nice complement in the creamy ice cream.
Duddha is the new girl in town, and while she may not be perfect, she is certainly ambitious and determined – definitely one to watch! Prices aren’t prohibitive, so you can safely experiment with a few meals here, and celebrate the adventurous spirit of the kitchen.
G48, Ground Floor
Kuala Lumpur City Centre
Tel: 03-2166 2257
Open 10am to 10pm