Alice might have uttered “Curiouser and curiouser” as she ventured deeper into mishap in Wonderland. In Margaret and HA Rey’s Curious George series, the Man in the Yellow Hat is always having to save the orphaned brown monkey from mischief and mayhem. Then there’s the sticky end of Wellington, the titular canine of Mark Haddon’s prize-winning book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Certainly, curiosity is not heralded as a virtue in literature. But when it comes to eating, being curious always pays off. And that was most definitely the case when I ventured to Tropicana Avenue for the first time recently, stumbling upon a new restaurant named Curious Kitchen. Done up in black, wood and metal, with a raw edginess to its décor, the restaurant’s layout is, curiously — pardon the choice of adjective — split in two. To one side is the main al fresco dining room where the big charcoal oak-fired grill action takes place while the other features a bar counter backed by a massive 30ft screen, perfect for entire kitchen buyouts and private parties.
The key names behind Curious Kitchen, Mark Lee, Andrew Lai and Natasha Choi, are actually the same talents behind Curious Grocer, an e-grocer startup that evolved to include private dining and catering under the Curious Dinners name. And if you have patronised Curious Grocer before, you would know that quality produce is its linchpin. Importing primarily from Spain and Japan, it’s all about the finest olive oils, Iberico and wagyu. Which brings us back to Curious Kitchen.
For a restaurant that was just a month old when we popped by, the service team was warm, welcoming and highly efficient. Ushered to our seats within a minute (we were seated by a big chiller containing two massive legs of jamón Iberico, lest one harbours doubts about the provenance of the pork), the menus were promptly distributed and, to their great credit, complimentary tumblers of water served, saving guests from having to worry about a huge Acqua Panna tab tagged on at the end of the meal or a 15-minute verbal volley on why potable tap water should be a given at most places. This welcoming vibe continued upon perusing the menu. Although the restaurant has a young, trendy feel, children are genuinely welcomed and this is demonstrated by the provision of a complimentary linguine (Bolognese or carbonara with truffle oil) for each child under 12.
A quick glance at the drinks list is also pleasing, offering a diverse range of decently-priced tipples. A Malbec by Catena which, in my opinion, is Argentina’s best producer of its flagship varietal, is just RM210 while an ongoing Veuve Clicquot promotion gets you two bottles of bubbles for RM620. I was also thrilled to see a Cab Sauv from Chateau Ste Michelle, a producer from Columbia Valley in Washington State, the US. If you don’t understand the reason behind my excitement, the American estate is one-half of the talents behind one of my most dreamt-of Rieslings in the world — Eroica — created in partnership with Ernst Loosen, which offers a veritable Riesling symphony of the Old and New Worlds. Alas, only the Cab was listed. Of course, if you want to splash out or pay tribute to the Iberico-heavy menu, go Spanish as its two best wines — Valbuena at RM935 and Unico at an eye-watering RM1,950, both by Vega-Sicilia — are also on the list.
As we mentioned, service is as flawless as can be for a fledgling restaurant that was running full the night we visited. The dishes came out in smooth succession, kicking off with a lovely Caesar Salad (RM26), all crisp leaves accented by strips of Iberico and cherry tomato halves, rich without being cloying in the least, followed by a wonderful East-West garlic prawns (RM32), swimming in an essence perked up by lashings of garlic and pimentos, accompanied by ciabatta slices. For mains, we decided to try three things: the Iberico top loin (RM77), a gorgeous piece of flavourful meat accompanied by garden salad, mash and a spicy green Kizami Wasabi sauce; the German sausage platter (RM50); and a bewitching plate of dark, almost molasses-like sticky ribs (RM45). All were delicious although special mention must go to the ribs, which befuddles me as it remains a “special” and is not featured on the regular menu. The good thing about big meat main courses is the opportunity to order heaps of side dishes and the truffled mash, sweet potato fries and sautéed mushrooms (all priced at a pocket-friendly RM8) didn’t disappoint. For those who like it, ratatouille is also available.
Another surprisingly good match for Iberico is whisky from Islay, and you can’t do much better than Lagavulin 16 (RM560), whose oily mouthfeel and hits of peat and smoke make a great match for heavy meats. And since Tun M is back on the political scene, you could cheekily pay him homage by subscribing to his old Look East Policy via a bottle of Nikka. Curious Kitchen offers both From the Barrel (50cl for RM450) and Pure Malt (RM576) versions.
For those who absolutely insist on a sweet finish, there are only three desserts listed: crème brulee (RM16), chocolate mousse (RM16) and lemon meringue pie (RM20). All were decent although, as chocolate purists, we could’ve done without the swirl of berry messing up the mousse somewhat.
The million-dollar question when doing food reviews is, of course, would one go back? The answer here is: yes, I would. But I’d keep things simple this time: focus on the star items (that is, two portions of the sticky ribs per diner) and forget about wines by the glass here (they tend to pour on the scanty side) and instead just get a whole bottle of red. Unless, of course, the well-connected owners manage to find a case or two of Eroica. What a ribs and Riesling kind of evening that’ll be.
Curious Kitchen, 2nd Floor, Tropicana Avenue, 12 Persiaran Tropicana, PJ. 010 666 1048. Tues-Sun, 5pm-1am. This article first appeared on July 2, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.