Gourmet living on a shoestring budget - Part one
Bang for your buck
One of the many reasons I've always cited in favour of residing in KL has been the relatively low cost of living versus the quality of life to be gleaned here, but my two recent trips back have done much to disabuse me of this notion. During these straitened circumstances when the cost of seemingly everything—except your salary—is escalating, can you continue to enjoy a gourmet lifestyle? It may surprise you to know the answer is a resounding yes. All you need to do is to think outside the box, for gastronomic solutions abound to ensure you can pursue gustatory pleasure, but not at the cost of your financial well-being.
Enter Cantaloupe at Troika Sky Dining (Level 23A, Tower B, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC, +603-2162 0886). While the good food association is obvious, this is not a restaurant you'd automatically associate with budget-conscious fare. However, probe a little further and you'll discover a monthly express gourmet menu that yields not just myriad culinary treasures but also a succinct snapshot of the gastronomic raison d'etre of a restaurant that continues to set the benchmark for other fine dining establishments to follow. First up, the price: RM120++ for eight courses, which spells almighty bang for your buck, considering an à la carte meal there could easily set you back RM400++ per pax, before beverages even come into play. And ere you go on about set meals and their dearth of creativity thereof, Cantaloupe's lunch menu is anything but lacking in thoughtful expression.
To wit: a venus clam soup with a nuanced garlic puree, bread and cheese crisp—as memorable as it is restrained—fires a powerful salvo for the meal to follow. Roasted carrots, that has as dance companions carrot coulis, black crumbs and carrot leaves, is more than adequate, but it's the prawn terrine, so exquisitely plated and so quietly reminiscent of my beloved har mee, that has me entranced. A lilting strawberry and raspberry granita that's zjooshed with mint soda cleanses the palate before a delightfully fleshy monkfish with prawn bisque, corn puree and lentils dances for your attention. And even though I cannot lay claim to being a beef aficionado, the wagyu à la plancha is neck and neck with the terrine for the position of my favourite dish du jour. A perfectly portioned piece of meat with ample but not excessive marbling forestalls the slightly queasy sensation that is the inevitable result of having had too much of a good thing, while texture is supplied by the haricots vert, and the sweet acidity of the truffle balsamic glaze finishes the dish to perfection. Two dessert courses—a sable Breton with raspberry gel and fresh raspberries, and a coconut cake, lime and mint jelly, lychee bavarois and ginger granita—complete the meal with a triumphant flourish. And while I've all too often suffered from jaded palate syndrome, this time I'm pleased to say that I was as entranced by the meal as I was by the view.
If you are unfortunate enough to have to return to work post lunch, I can at least promise you that you will not slump into a food coma at your desk the way you most assuredly would had you consumed banana leaf rice instead. Best of all, you now have bragging rights to having so recently dined at one of KL's best restaurants, and when you do return for another meal, you'll have a compass in place that will steer you to the dishes for which your palate has proclaimed preference.
And lest I be accused of neglecting vegetarian diners, next week I'll showcase a meat-free tasting menu that's as tantalising as it is considerate to your already beleaguered wallet. You're welcome.