THE newly-opened Makan Kitchen (www.makan-kitchen.com) at Doubletree by Hilton is a melting pot of local cuisine, including the flavours of Kristang (Malaccan Portuguese), Nyonya Peranakan and Iban cooking.
The 350-seat restaurant has three interactive kitchens where diners get to enjoy a complete gastronomic experience.
Its marketing and communications manager Cindy Wong says diners select fresh produce from the "market style" showcases, choose their preferred style of cooking and then watch the chefs cook the food.
We started the gastronomic experience at the Indian Kitchen, headed by chef Prem Kumar Jeyaraman, who serves a mix of northern and southern Indian dishes.
It´s beautifully decorated with the ubiquitous five-nozzle kuthu vilakku (traditional oil lamp), a decorative kumbam (silver vessel decorated with coloured threads, silk cloth, mango leaves and coconut placed on banana leaf with rice) and pannir set (a tray filled with kumkuman/red powder), santhanam (sandalwood paste) and rose scented water in three different corners.
Prem suggests we try chicken tandoori which goes well with the naan bread and pudina chutney. He says that the kitchen staff prepare their own spices for the various dishes and offers up to 12 types of chutney and pickles.
He says tandoori chicken is marinated overnight with a mix of yoghurt, garlic, masala spices and others. The skewered meat is then cooked in a pre-heated tandoor oven. Tastes good eaten on its own or with breads like naan, chappati. Some prefer it with rice. Then there´s lamb kofta, fish and chicken tikka that go well with briyani rice.
Prem urges us to try pansoh manuk (bamboo chicken), a very popular Sarawakian dish, from the same kitchen. Wong says this signature dish, an Ibanese delicacy, is cooked in bamboo.
"The meat is marinated with ginger and onions before it is stuffed inside the bamboo. It is then grilled (for 45 minutes) and imparts a distinctive, delicate flavour. The tender chicken and broth are served with rice. The soup, which can also be consumed on its own, has a myriad of flavours - from peppery sweet to salty. It is a healthy meal as no oil is used."
Next is the Malay Kitchen which takes centrestage with kampung delights from the various states such as sup Pindang daging (clear beef soup), ayam masak kicap berkentang (soya sauce chicken with potato), gulai udang (shrimp curry), ketam goreng berlada (pepper crab) and more.
There are also local dishes such as ikan pari bakar (grilled stingray), satay and ayam percik panggang from Kelantan, noodle stations where chefs on duty will prepare your favourite bowl of Penang laksa or Sarawak mee kolo.
Satay chicken or beef is undeniably a Malaysian favourite. "We have turned this street food into a highlight of the Malay kitchen," says chef de cuisine Ahmad Nurul Azri Abdul Manaf.
From the Peranakan/Chinese kitchen, chef Kua Beng Hooi´s signature roasted duck with plum sauce and dim sum selections are some of the must-haves. It is the special sauce used to marinate the duck that makes it such a hot favourite. The roast duck is succulent with a deliciously crisp skin.
"Special herbs are stuffed into the duck before it is sewn up. It is then hung in a special chiller for a day to allow the herbal flavours to be absorbed," says Wong.
At the Chinese section, long curtains allow a more intimate dining style and a private room is done up in the traditional style of ancient China, complete with high back chairs and wooden doors.
In another section you get a more Malay feel while the third section replicates an Iban longhouse, albeit a very elegant one, with cushioned seats on planked floors and sunken section for the feet as well as handcrafted wooden chair backs to ensure that you dine in comfort, tatami style.
Diners can choose from the a la carte menu or have a full Makan Kitchen Experience with selections from the three interactive kitchens.