Fazal Mahbob is watching me intently as I slurp up a bowl of Penang Assam Laksa.
“What do you think?” he asks, fingers laced together as he leans forward in eager anticipation.
Fazal is Malaysia Airline’s Hub Lounge Manager, a job which has given him the opportunity to steer the direction of the airline’s Golden Lounge menu.
The Golden Lounges are Malaysia Airlines’ spaces for First and Business Class passengers which are beautifully appointed, with unsurpassed views of flights taking off and landing. They are designed for passengers to relax and unwind before flights, as well as sample the food on offer.
Members of the airline’s loyalty club, Enrich, are also able to dine here for a fee which varies from airport to airport.
A trained chef, Fazal studied at Le Cordon Bleu in London and worked with renowned chef Anton Mossimann (the man who cooked for the wedding reception of Prince William and Kate Middleton) for a few years.
His culinary tapestry has been formed from a melting pot of influences which shows up in the Golden Lounges’ rebooted menu which he helped to put together.
“The new menu was introduced as part of efforts to enhance customer experience,” he explains. In line with that, many new dishes are now available at the different Golden Lounges.
The most distinctive introduction to the Golden Lounges at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) is the Laksa Bar, which was started last December and features four popular homegrown laksas – Curry Laksa, Penang Assam Laksa, Laksa Johor and Laksa Sarawak.
“When we introduced the laksa varieties, we thought Malaysians would be the only ones to appreciate them as abroad – in Sydney and London, and other cities around the world – laksa is represented just as curry laksa. So we were surprised to learn that the Europeans were enthusiastic to try the different laksa types.
“By offering them at our airport lounges, we hope to showcase to the world that laksa comes in many variants,” he says.
The laksas are all actually really good, especially the Penang Assam Laksa, with its heavy quotient of tamarind and the Sarawak Laksa with prawn paste from Kuching. They both taste like the real McCoys.
The Curry Laksa is brimming with spicy coconut milk-infused flavours and is the biggest hit with international passengers.
According to Fazal, the Laksa Johor received the most feedback from passionate travellers from Johor. The dish has a rich fish broth just brimming with flavour.
The laksas have been a big hit, with around 1,500 bowls requested a day across KLIA’s three Golden Lounges. The noodles have even found a fan in renowned chef Michel Roux (of Le Gavroche, the first three Michelin-starred restaurant in Britain), who loved all the four laksas he tried at KLIA.
Other interesting new additions to the menu are the Hainanese-style Poached Chicken Salad, which is reminiscent of Hainanese chicken rice, and Grilled Seabass with Pineapple Chilli, Mint Salsa and Masala Potatoes. Drizzled with tomato oil, this is a dish that successfully marries Asian flavours with Western presentation. Introduced a few weeks ago, the dish is available at the First Class Golden Lounge.
Then there is Poached Cod and Prawn on Wantan Noodles with a black bean dressing, a dish inspired by Anton Mossimann’s steamed fillet of seabass with black beans. “We were trying to aim for Anton’s cuisine naturelle approach,” said Fazal.
The fish is soft and flaky, is perfectly cooked, and the black bean sauce harmonises with the fish in perfect synchrony. It’s a simple dish, but one that is packed with flavour.
For dessert, there is the to-die-for Tropical Fruit Trifle. The trifle was developed based on Fazal’s childhood experience growing up on a plantation where there was a Scottish lady who made trifles every Sunday. The dessert blends the classic English trifle flavours with local produce – coconut and strawberries from Cameron Highlands. The main flavour is of coconut – creamy coconut custard and coconut flakes that will send your palate on a delightful trip to the tropics.
In Kota Kinabalu and Kuching
The new menu additions highlight the heart and soul of Sabah and Sarawak. Mee Udang and Fish Head Noodle Soup are bowls packed with flavour.
The Mee Udang features a soup base made by slowly simmering prawn shells for five hours.
The Fish Head Noodle Soup is another fabulous dish that makes use of local Sabah ingredients – red snapper bones to make the stock and queenfish fillets.
In the Kuching Golden Lounge, the menu features the crowd favourite Chicken Congee with traditional accompaniments.
Mee Jawa is also featured, as the shrimp-broth noodle dish is extremely popular with Sarawakians.
Although the new menu additions across all the Golden Lounges are delicious, it is slightly strange that there is no convergence between the different lounges, meaning that you cannot expect a laksa bar in Kuching or Fish Head Noodle Soup in KLIA.
Fazal explains that this is designed to give passengers more options in different lounges.
“Our experience shows that our passengers travel frequently between Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Kuala Lumpur so the different dishes offer a high degree of variety which our passengers can savour,” he says.
KLIA’s Golden Lounges are due for a makeover. Works will be headed by interior design firm Duoz, who did the renovation of the Majestic Kuala Lumpur. Work is expected to start from the end of this year, with the final parcel to be completed by end 2017.
“The main feature will be a laksa bar incorporated as an island concept. The revamp will allow us to add more to the menu offerings like roti canai, murtabak, and roti jala, and have stations where chefs could demonstrate their skills.
“We want to replicate the Malaysian food experience in our Golden Lounges,” he says.
The main aim of introducing Malaysian flavours in the Golden Lounges is to share the rich local culinary repository with travellers across the globe, offering them a sampler of the country’s diverse gastronomic output.
“It’s nice to share that identity with the world, because it’s something that Malaysians are proud of,” says Fazal.
In Malaysia, there are Golden Lounges in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kota Kinabalu International Airport, Kuching International Airport and Penang International Airport. However, the menu at the Penang International Airport’s Golden Lounge has yet to be revamped.