Ondy Sweeting samples Tiger Palm and decides to occupy the Peninsula. Photos Lucky 8.
Cross cultural star chef and impassioned culinary explorer Will Meyrick knows a thing or two about Asian flavours and presents a persuasive gastronomic experience at his newest Bali venture, Tiger Palm.
Malaysian food is a simmering brew of ethnicity – the love child of multiple parents – starting with Peranakan Chinese or ‘Nonya’ folk who arrived in the region hundreds of years ago. Mate this with foods from the local Malay community, Tamil, Southern Indian and European eating traditions and you are getting close to contemporary Malaysia.
Tiger Palm’s menu reveals the delicious secret of this diverse cuisine with rich curries and braises, rarefied tandoori and roasts with complex marinated meats, fiery sambal stir-fries, crispy whole fish and delectable dim sum.
To open this elegant eatery on the forecourt of the new Seminyak Village mall, Will set off to further explore the region in an archaeological-like field trip to unveil secret recipes hidden in family archives or unusual offerings from street stalls.
“I went off to Penang, Melaka, Langkawi and Belu to research and I also cooked with the Malaysian celebrity Chef Wan. I worked on a TV show where I helped to decide what Kuala Lumpur’s signature dish was. This got me thinking about why a city needed to know this since it should be apparent, but KL is only 50 years old. Then I started to delve into the ethnic mix of the region, the religions, customs and different communities conjuring everything from my Bali restaurants Mamasan to Sarong and I realised that no one does Malaysian food here,” says Will.
Tiger Palm – which is named after the five points of a tiger paw – offers curries that are lighter than in his fabled Indonesian restaurant Sarong while the Drunken Chicken is a Hainanese yellow bean classic with a twist of rice balls ready for dipping into the ginger, shallot and soy dressing and a pot of crunchy cucumber sticks to create a balanced textural experience.
With remixed retro music and a hip aesthetic that flashes back to the 1950s – which is, incidentally, when Nonya people started to be heard and seen publically – Tiger Palm has a groovy vintage feel with blasts of Penang blue mixed with tin plates, Kevala stoneware and a wall of funky jars. The artwork is worth a visit alone.
But the food is something again. Dig into the Cheung Fun, a shredded braised beef with coriander and ginger rolled into a soft white noodle, steamed and set into a shallow soup. The stir-fried squid is delicately coated and flash fried to crispy perfection then pushed into the stratosphere by a fiery sambal that is hot and pungent.
A tower of salmon salad is no ordinary dish with chunks of velvety soft seared salmon interspersed into a tower of cucumber with lashings of fried garlic, sesame and mint, all dressed in a Malaysian mix of pickle, turmeric, chilli, vinegar, shallot and garlic. Below the mountain are pieces of pineapple that taste like they have been marinating in the juices of this dish for hours and are a flavour sensation.
Lamb shoulder simmered with cumin and coriander curry plus tomato and fresh coriander was medium hot with a lavish sauce covering silky sections of melt-in-the-mouth lamb. Garlic naan bread is lightly brushed with oil and flicked with freshly cleaved garlic and is the perfect accompaniment to this creamy curry, while the fat cheese-stuffed naan bread was virtually a meal on its own. Cast away any notion of gluten free and bury yourself into a Malaysian gastronomic extravaganza.
“I went to Melaka with chef Florence Tan – she is really the last of the true Nonya’s – and I learned so much about the culture and food. These people have very specific testaments to live by. They don’t believe that their people can inter-marry. So if a Nonya marries an Indian their children will be Malay not Nonya. Subsequently the food culture will die with these last Nonya’s. I believe that’s why so many recipes are being pushed out into the public with books and television shows in a serious movement to cement the culinary legacy,” he says.
Happily for Bali, its locals, guests and expats, Will Meyrick is doing his bit to help preserve this unique cuisine at Tiger Palm. The menu is packed with examples of Nonya dishes including fish curry with coconut milk, curry leaf and Indian spices plus steamed whole fish with pickled lime, garlic and hot and juicy green chilli padi. There is Indian rojak salad, crispy mamak fried chicken with curry power, Biryani egg and curry sauce as well as Peranakan fish with ginger flower, chilli tomato and tamarind. For something very different try a taste of lamb ribs with chilli padi, black vinegar chilli, hot bean paste caramel. These dishes are perfect for sharing.
During lunch, Tiger Palm has a special menu of laksa that will have the true connoisseur weeping with joy for the creamy coconut spicy noodle soup.
Desserts are an amusing take on the Nalu Bowls that fill Bali’s morning café scene. Instead these desserts are tropical coconut bowls that raise the bar when it comes to a unique melange of tastes and textures. The Bubur Madura has a black sticky rice lontong dumpling cooked in palm sugar with coconut and tapioca noodle plus coconut ice cream. It is literally amaze balls. The more conservative salted caramel and espresso martini are two balls of ice cream side-by-side and covered with cacao nibs, chunks of honeycomb with deliciously sweet black sticky rice beneath. Divine. The beetroot and yoghurt cendol piqued my interest but that will just have to wait for another sitting.
The superbly gifted chef and partner Palm Amatawet has ensured that Tiger Palm is another coup de gastronomique for the Sarong Group. Meanwhile, Will plans to open the restaurant as a western breakfast destination in the morning and develop pop-up restaurants within Seminyak Village.
In a push to create a rotating culinary scene, Will hopes to bring guest chefs, as well as local Ibu’s, into Seminyak Village to show their amazing skills in regular pop-up eateries and create cool social gatherings. Best watch this space.