PETALING JAYA, Sept 9 – When does a restaurant become more than just a restaurant?
With produce foraged from a place straight out of an Indiana Jones movie?
Or is it exceptional service that surpasses expectations?
How about a restaurant that’s never stagnant, or ever-changing?
From the team behind LI and Provisions, the newly-opened Locus in Damansara Jaya is where they aim to be "a centre place for food, drink, workshops and hospitality experiences”.
The front entrance of Locus. – Picture courtesy of Locus
It’s a project with origins that date back to before the pandemic: to have a space where chefs can stretch their wings, have the freedom to exert some creativity and explore exciting food in an intimate setting with diners.
"We want this to be a place that’s always evolving, with no ceiling in sight,” says Lee Ziyan, manager and one-third of the trio behind LI, Provisions and now Locus.
The kitchen team at Locus, plating.
Eventually, they plan to grow further, have guest chefs come in regularly and take over the kitchen, host workshops, classes and wine and spirits events.
"We’ve spoken to a few chefs, and are targeting somewhere in late October, early November,” says Lim Heng Kit, head chef at LI and the man behind the current menu at Locus.
This menu, which goes for RM255++, is reflective of his locally driven approach to food, but with lots of "global influence, especially in the techniques used”.
Locus is located in the row of shops just behind Atria Shopping Mall, facing away from it.
The counter seating at Locus. – Picture courtesy of Locus
Walking inside, the centrepiece is made clear: a sleek, black counter that stretches out from the kitchen.
It feels like if your "foodie” friend Chris invited you over for some drinks and a meal, except the food is far more exciting – sorry not sorry, Chris, but this is the third time you’ve made kimchi fried rice – and you’re spared from his opinion on why pineapple doesn’t belong on pizza (spoiler alert: no one cares!).
It makes for a cosy yet tasteful setting, which is something of a deliberate point for Lee.
She recalls a harrowing first encounter with fine dining while in Melbourne.
"The atmosphere was suffocating, almost, there was so much going on with the cutlery and everything... I couldn’t relax and enjoy it at all,” she says. "When we agreed to do this, I wanted to make sure we’re genuine and intimate, even though it’s refined.”
We started with a warm, comforting red snapper broth that was a welcome respite from the chilly rain outside.
It carried a gentle sweetness, helped by the inclusion of scallions and scallion oil.
The next dish was even better, a take on umai, a traditional Melanau dish of sliced raw fish cured in citrus juice and served with onions and chillies.
Red snapper 'umai', a dish that makes great use of local fruits and herbs.
Here, the red snapper reappears, this time cured in salt and kombu.
It’s emblematic of how ingredients here are used in a variety of ways, which is an approach that shows up again later in the menu.
The version of umai here resembled a reverse-engineered ceviche, with passionfruit used in place of lime and coconut milk to balance out the acidity.
Miniscule chunks of jambu bol were a great addition; they’re slightly softer than jambu air and added some sweetness to the cascade of bright, zesty and creamy flavours.
The garnish of wood sorrel proved a surprise star, tasting remarkably similar to kaffir lime leaf and adding a final layer of aromatic and citrusy notes.
After such a bright and refreshing start to the meal, we made our way inland for something much more intense and savoury.
Like a savoury 'tau fu fa', the soy milk egg custard is familiar yet exciting.
Soy milk egg custard, dotted with sliced shiitake, deep-fried tempeh bits and covered in savoury soy and shiitake sauce – my dining companion likened the texture of the custard to tau fu fa, to which I concurred.
Smooth, silky and pudding-like, the soy milk neutralises any chance of the dreaded "eggy” smell, usually due to sulphur compounds, and yields a creamier mouthfeel.
It’s the perfect canvas for the supremely earthy shiitake and soy, topped off with the incredibly nutty bits of fried tempeh.
My personal favourite of the night: Langit rice “risotto.”
Next up was a "risotto” with rice sourced from Langit Collective and prawns, cooked in dashi made from ikan bilis, with a watercress puree folded in.
On top is a drizzle of fish sauce caramel and kai lan done three ways: the bottoms are pickled, bits of the stem are charred and the leaves are dehydrated.
Chef Lim explains that it’s a homage to his mother’s spinach congee with ikan bilis stock, a childhood favourite.
The texture is somewhere between congee and risotto, and it contains an incredible depth of flavour despite its acutely green appearance.
Each grain of rice is dripping with salty intensity from the anchovies, bolstered by the bits of prawn.
The pickled kai lan bottoms were a revelation – crunchy and bursting with tartness, they elevated the dish from good to great.
Finally, there was a brilliant duck breast.
Locally sourced Cherry Valley duck, executed to perfection makes for a fulfilling and meaty way to close out the meal before dessert.
Taken from a Cherry Valley duck sourced from Perak, the skin was nicely crisped, and the inside was perfectly pink and juicy.
The accompanying citrus jus and a salad of radicchio, mustard greens and rambutan provided a symphony of sour, bitter, peppery and sweet flavours to round out the meaty duck.
Served at the same time were the most alluring milk buns, glazed with a generous coating of duck fat and paired with a delicious honey butter.
The soft buns were the perfect vessel to fare la scarpetta, soaking up every last bit of sauce on my plate before moving on to the sweet butter.
Ice cream for dessert never gets old, especially when it's topped with delicious local berries and balanced with bitter and sour notes from the Earl Grey caramel and lemon granita.
We felt stuffed to the gills by the time we got to dessert, but a bowl of rich house-made milk ice cream, sticky and slightly bitter Earl Grey caramel, lemon granita and local strawberries and mulberries was too good to resist.
It made for a decadent yet balanced end to what had already been an exceptionally balanced meal.
I moseyed my way out of the restaurant in a more than satisfied state, with Locus firmly front and centre in my mind for a repeat visit in the future.
72, Jalan SS 22/25, Damansara Jaya, Petaling Jaya
Open Thursday to Saturday, 6-11pm
Tel: 016-747 7950
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