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How traditionalism and modernist cuisine coexist in today’s Johor Bahru @ Monaco?

How traditionalism and modernist cuisine coexist in today’s Johor Bahru @ Monaco?

[编辑 Editor 吕大人   英译 Translator 刘大人   摄影 Photographer 刘大人]

 

The Majidee Army Camp, one of the oldest in Malaysia, is one example of Johor Bahru’s heritage preservation gatherings of former military barracks, elegantly transformed into SouthKey. With an excellent mix of restaurants, cafes and retail outlets, this trendy lifestyle destination runs alongside a newly upgraded six-lane Jalan Bakar Batu which connects the Tebrau Highway and the Eastern Dispersal Link (EDL).

Located on a 330-acre site and dubbed as the “last remaining large prime land” less than 5km north of the JB city centre, SouthKey represents the best in mixed-use urban revitalisation in the heart of JB. We can still enjoy pleasurable walks at Central Park, interspersed with pockets of greenery, amidst a carefully curated collection of serviced residences, boutique pods, lakefront commercial lots, a specialist hospital, a university college, all in one charming and pedestrian-friendly location.

The recent opening of The Mall, Mid Valley Southkey, a strong magnet for many retailers nationwide and overseas to set up shops here before venturing to other places in the country also augurs well for us. Any successful commercial and retail hub often has easy access to parking, but the design and layout in SouthKey appear to dampen the visitors’ spirits. In fact, the commercial precinct currently provides amply covered car park with round the clock security so that we can shop, dine and chill to our hearts’ content at the latest lifestyle hotspot in town.

If all the restaurants and cafes in Johor Bahru are starting to look the same and becoming too mainstream, you’ve come to the right place. A casual, full-service dining restaurant overlooking the lakefront pedestrian-friendly boulevard, this is for intimate family dinners or hot dates and plates around town for that special occasion with our loved one. More surprisingly, we discovered the traditional method of brewing Hainese-style coffee is alive here, of all places! 😯

While the ground floor units are hugely popular with cafes and eateries, the folks at Monaco begs to differ and opt instead for the second floor at this Southkey Mosaic commercial lot. “We wanted to create an atmosphere where clear views of the street scenes could be enjoyed with our food through the full-length windows, while our pleasingly muted décor will augment your dining pleasure and experience,” explained Chef Tee.

Taking our seats among the early birds, we couldn’t help but notice how fast the restaurant begins to fill up with customers strolling in. From couples to families, single girls out for a night out or a group of guys fuelling up, being able to greet and cook for their customers and to see their responses is an immediate reaffirmation that Chef Koh and his partners are at where they belong since opening their doors in mid-March.

From left: Jun Wei, Chef Tee, Chef Koh and Tuan Xiang

Being high school buddies from their days in Foon Yew High School, Chef Tee and his food-loving gang made the crossing across the causeway to further their culinary interest and education almost a decade before returning home to set up shop in March. “Many people are still tuned with a traditional mindset that early school leavers will end up in the kitchen for life, but we can now see a lot of graduates from food-based studies at various positions at different levels, even up to the top management of leading companies,” Chef Tee remarked. Together with Chef Koh, Jun Wei and Tuan Xiang, the four good pals were reunited to set up Monaco offering modern European cuisine inspired by French, Italian and Spanish cooking.

Live to cook, cook to live; this lifetime dedication and food philosophy certainly impressed upon Chef Koh while learning his trade from celebrated French chef Bruno Ménard, a judge in MasterChef Asia and former three Michelin stars chef based in Singapore. Not one to compromise on quality, Chef Koh and his team work remarkably hard to maintain the standards. “Our set lunches is a monthly showcase of the best seasonal ingredients and fresh flavours by the culinary team who took pride in planning and presenting their ideas into the menu,Chef Koh beamed. Even as first-time restaurant owners, the young F&B startup seems to possess all the necessary ingredients to succeed!

“On average, we can accommodate 34 comfortably while hosting up to 48 pax for private parties or special occasion,” Chef Tee added. “Whenever possible, we may join them for late-night drinks even after we’ve called it a day. Great customer service and customer satisfaction will always be our top priority.”

“Our menu is the best way to engage our customers, but we also welcome their input on how they would like their favourite dish done, within reasonable limits and subject to the availability of ingredients of course,” remarked Chef Koh with a hearty laugh. With a varied menu that’s reasonably priced from RM30 to RM700, it remains to be seen if the portion on our plates offers excellent value for money.

 

Sangria + Root Beer

Mention root beer, and Sarsi, as well as A&W, are probably the first thing that comes to mind, but in Bundaberg Root Beer, we might have found the real McCoy. True enough, these premium root beers from Australia are in a different league altogether and boasts of having an authentic root beer taste, with sarsaparilla root, licorice and all the original stuff!

Looking for something more refreshing and crowd-pleasing, we definitely can’t go wrong with Sangria. Available in red wine or white wine, this Spanish cocktail delivers some serious party punch with a squeeze of fresh citrus, apple and other tropical fruits. Like a group of eight ladies before us who downed six pitchers which serves six glasses each, the white Sangria – a Mojito-inspired blend mixed with apple, peach and peppermint is our unanimous choice in this summer heat!

 

Coffee + Tea

Although Monaco may not be the place for good old local kopi and teh brewed fresh from a coffee sock, these are exactly what we have got. Hailing from a family-run kopitiam when he was a kid, Chef Tee really knows his Tea and Coffee well and insists on making the brew himself whenever he can because he wants to make sure that we get the cup of satisfaction we seek. Seriously, there are not many kopitiams (or cafes) out there where the owner still insists on pulling the coffee himself, let alone a barista who’s willing to ditch the Expresso machine to focus on making that perfect cup of authentic Nanyang-style beverages. Even without the customary soft-boiled eggs and kaya toast, there’s always this rightful dish which is coming up next…

 

STARTER
Pan Seared Foie Gras

The Pan Seared Foie Gras drew our attention instantly when we spotted it on the menu, evoking memories of our unforgettable first experience with the “fatty liver” in a Michelin starred restaurant in Hong Kong. With the call of the craving just too hard to deny, we allow ourselves the rare indulgence of this rich and creamy goose liver patty. Combined with the earthiness of the frisee salad, crispy crouton and sweetness of the berries sauce and candy walnut adding a fine finishing touch, it’s almost felt like having animal butter, but even richer. With a rather affordable price tag, we suppose even the none die-hard fans of goose liver would still take a chance on this.

 

STARTER
Chicken Martini

The Chicken Martini is an understated presentation and pairing of two very unlikely ingredients in jackfruit and chicken, and over here it’s given a touch of citrus mayo to amp up the tanginess. Packed with nutrients, including fibre and antioxidants, the newly minted “miracle” jackfruit is increasingly being used in many parts of the world as the flesh soak up flavour thoroughly and offer a “meat-like” texture and pairs well with the tender slow-cooked chicken breast. Meanwhile, the jackfruit seeds taste almost similar to chestnuts, and alongside the green apple, raisin and wolfberry, provide for the extra crunch. Although an unlikely combination, this cocktail starter served the all-important purpose of opening our appetites for the day!

 

SOUP
Wild Mushroom Soup + Onion Soup

The light mushroom soup and dark flavourful onion soup makes for an irresistible “yuan yang” pairing. The Wild Mushroom Soup’s consistency was silky smooth as the button mushroom was finely blended and glazed over our tongues, followed by a mild truffle fragrance – exactly what mushroom soups should aim to be.

The French Onion Soup, on the other hand, was steeped in sweet flavour yet not overly tiring. The onions are stewed for hours and repeatedly topped up to extract the sweet essence before placing a substantial piece of toasted garlic bread with parmesan and mozzarella cheese crouton on the surface. Talk about a flavour explosion!

 

TAPAS & SIDE
Gambas Al Pil Pil

The term “pil pil” is Basque in origin and sounds like the sizzling that takes place when the sea prawns are doused in olive oil, chilli flake, garlic, grilled capsicum and a splash of white wine, so that pretty much sums up the red hot nature of Gambas Al Pil Pil, doesn’t it? We loved that the sea prawns were sizeable, tender yet firm with a delightful crunch with each bite, and we get to suck out all that briny goodness from the prawn head too!

Need we mention the crusty bread to mop up all that delicious oil is a must too?

 

PASTA & RISOTTO
Black Angel

One of the most popular pasta dishes here, this briny Black Angel showcases a generous amount of mix seafood, composing of fish, prawns, scallops, clams and squid. Topped with parmesan cheese and tossed in squid ink in all its glory, every mouthful is infused with a naturally fragrant oceanic aroma. Love them or hate them, be wary of eating with a date though, as our teeth will probably be stained black! 😂

 

SEAFOOD
Miso Cod

Japanese black cod, organic black rice, grilled asparagus, dried bonito flakes and ebiko, what is there not to love about this Miso Cod dish? Marinated in miso and honey for hours before baking it, the hefty slab of Japanese cod rested on black rice with collagen-rich broth maintained its delicate texture and intense flavour and we could easily break off pieces of the flaky fish which was silky smooth and buttery.

Being in Asia and home to countless cultures, one ingredient that unites us all is having rice as part of our daily diet. With white rice taking a beating of late for causing health issues such as raising blood sugar levels due to its high Glycemic Index (GI), we know skipping it is too much to bear for some of us. However, that doesn’t mean we have to avoid rice altogether. Thanks to Chef Koh, we can indulge in the “forbidden rice” almost guilt-free as nutritionally, it has a low GI, contains three times as much fibre as white rice and is packed with multiple essential vitamins and nutrients. Needless to say, we’ve no qualms about polishing every grain off the plate for its firm texture and nutty flavour!

 

BEEF
Signature Steak (Ribeye)

Although technically not the most premium cut, our Signature Steak arrived glisteningly hot and topped with a pat of anchovy butter and torched to provide a smooth, buttery texture. Grilled to a perfect medium-rare, our steak was rested for a few minutes before serving, so we’ve possibly missed out on some red juice. To be fair, the Aussie ribeye was prepared well and flavourful, but a bit thin for our liking. We still prefer biting into a good mouthful of beef, but other than that it’s perfect. The accompanying sides of homemade mash potato, confit shallot and mesclun salad also adds to our satisfaction, so much so that we have some friends having a steak out on the very night we posted our pictures in our Whatsapp group.

We applaud Monaco for delivering excellent quality at pocket-friendly prices, and also serves wagyu steaks if you like very marbled and fatty meat.

Every now and then, we like to pamper ourselves silly with a dining feast that makes the daily grind seem worthwhile, filling up on delicious dishes and to satiate our need to feed our ‘gram at the same time! Actually, we spent a good 3 hours here just having lunch, taking photos and park here with a nice cuppa of kopi and teh, immersing ourselves into a good view of SouthKey above the city crowd. Although Monaco has been around for almost 6 months now, most locals still are unaware of its presence here in the heart of Johor Bahru. Not for long, trust us!

Monaco Dining Restaurant

📍 No 02-09, Block G, Komersil Southkey Mozek Persiaran Southkey 1, Kota Southkey, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor
📞 +6016-663 7004
🕙 12 noon to 3.00pm; 6:00pm to 11:00pm (Closed on Thursdays)
💻 Monaco Dining Restaurant

🍽️ NO PORK, NO LARD

 

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