French food, sans le snootiness, s’il vous plait
KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 — The indecipherable menu; the fancy bouteilles d’ eau; the fear of committing a faux pas like calling for the “mayder-dee.” These are a few reasons why many French restaurants get their snooty and exclusive reputation, which causes many casual diners from stepping into one regularly.
Exclusivity and snootiness is not the reputation restaurant owner Yeap Huey Yang wants to project with Topshelf, the casual French restaurant that opened in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI) a month ago.
Traditional French food is very simple, says Yeap, but many diners tend to overlook that point, having their judgement clouded by preconceived notions of what French food is: Classy, Expensive, and Hard to pronounce.
“I’ve always been partial to French,” says Yeap. “Unfortunately, it’s not very accessible here because of two things: intimidation of places where you go for French food, as well as the prices. That’s why you only have a certain sort of people who get to sample French food repeatedly.
“It’s a shame because French food is very simple, which suits the Malaysian palate well. I mean, we enjoy our seafood here, our Fatty Crabs, Lala Chong — and the French do this really well, except that they have to call it bouillabaisse-lah,” he jokes.
The introduction of casual and traditional French cuisine isn’t easy, especially among locals who love their Pasta Carbonaras drenched in sauce, or their pizzas stuffed with sausages and pineapples. The escargots starter, for example, is prepared in the classical way, which means it is not drowned in garlic-butter sauce.
“While the garlic and butter is what keeps us going for more, the escargot gets lost; it becomes the chewy stuff that gets in the way. It can be challenging to get customers to understand the way we prepare our escargots, but it gives us a starting point to get the conversation going,” says Yeap.
Then there’s the Marseille-style Bouillabaisse, which resembles “a big bowl of crab curry”, resulting in expectations of spicy bursts and strong flavours. “But that’s far from what it tastes like – bouillabaisse is very understated, so in a way, if you don’t prep a person for that, it can be underwhelming. Rather, it’s a balanced seafood stew where you can pick out the individual flavours of each component — the mussels, fish, crabs — even if it’s all mixed up. The seafood is not just the chewy stuff.”
A casual affair
Yeap is no stranger to the restaurant business, with Topshelf being his sixth following the now-closed Cincin Champagne Lounge in Changkat Bukit Bintang. Where the restaurants and bars in Changkat attracted a well-dressed, ready-to-party crowd, Topshelf is decidedly located in the low-key but affluent neighbourhood of TTDI.
Here, Yeap wants diners to feel unburdened and unpretentious; and the functional décor reflects that wish. The dining tables, for example, are custom-made from stainless-steel kitchen worktops; communal long tables facilitate large groups that want to mingle; there’s even a bar for sports fans to watch their “live” footie matches.
“We want to be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “It’s not a trend-driven restaurant; we want to be a fixture in the neighbourhood, which explains what he have on the menu, the prices, the way it’s done up. I’m not really concerned about what happens in the next six months as much as the next three to four years.”
Speaking of prices, where one would expect to pay a princely sum for a good French meal at finer French restaurants, prices at Topshelf are relatively affordable. Popular starters like escargots (RM24++) and Pesto Capellini (RM20++), combined with Bouillabaisse (RM43++), Duck Confit (RM33++), and Coq Au Vin (RM28++), and finished with Champagne mille-feuille (RM21++) or Panna Cotta (RM18++) can make for a fine meal that won’t leave you broke.
Another point of pride that Yeap wants to highlight is the small, but select wine list that was personally handpicked. “We have the time and environment — we don’t have a high turnover rate — so we can afford to introduce wines at the prices that we do. Nineteen ringgit for a glass of house pouring wine (RM98 for a bottle) is not expensive for anywhere you go, especially for Old World wines,” he says.
“I keep it well within the range of RM135 to RM145 a bottle to be shared among three friends, You can find comparable prices in other restaurants, definitely, but you won’t get the same quality wine on selection,” he says.
Topshelf Restaurant is located at 61 Lorong Rahim Kajai 13, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-77277277
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