不忘初心,方得始终。从独木石路的一端推门而入,另一端的实力食力已在静静发光。Japan was Koh’s first true culinary love, an initiation that became a growing passion for modern cuisine with local produce, and a hint of Japanese.

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

话说大人我平素嗜好甚多,过去的一年里还抽空去学了五行八字命理这门课程,「才疏学浅的大人我如今也只是略懂皮毛。」那无端端为啥我会提起这事儿,因为日前碰巧与这儿的主人聊了一阵后发现,眼前这位来自柔佛永平、并在十四岁时就已打定主意成为厨师的腼腆男生,一路聆听他叙述了这些年来在东京、新加坡、纽西兰、丹麦再回国创业的经历后,才发现其身边贵人何其多啊!那可是常人求之不得的超凡履历,全都被他囊括其中了!

Throughout our career, we’ve been fortunate to have great mentors who were willing to take a bet on us and provide meaningful opportunities for growth. These mentors have not only taught us about what is essential, both personally and professionally, they have also given us several big breaks. While the same could also be said of a local boy from Yong Peng who had already decided that he wanted to be a chef at the tender age of 14, few can count iconic chefs and personalities such as Joël Robuchon and René Redzepi as their mentors.

 

这一次的餐聚里,来自不同文化背景的咱们围坐在一块儿,当 Chef Koh 以流利日语与友人芳子打开话匣子时,大人瞧见芳子脸上流露出一丝惊讶,原来 Chef Koh 於高中毕业后即动身前往东京深造语文与厨艺,尔后留守当地并师从日本师傅学习怀石料理,亦曾在东京六本木的丽思卡尔顿酒店里的米其林星级餐厅随法国名厨习艺。

四年旅日的经历让他在归来后,即投身彼岸那号称拥有最多米其林星级餐厅的已故名厨罗布雄於圣淘沙所开设的 Joel Robuchon 餐厅。一年后,带着满腔热情的 Chef Koh 又再度动身前往纽西兰的 Huka Lodge。位于陶波湖旁这得天独厚的地理位置的世界顶级旅馆,雅致的 Huka Lodge 所接待的宾客个个可谓声名显赫,从英国皇室至许多知名电影明星皆曾慕名到访,即可知为何这门禁深严的酒店能长期奠定世界十大著名旅馆之名了。

When Chef Koh Chin Hong greeted Yoshiko, a native from Tokyo and resident in Johor Bahru for the past 6 years in fluent Japanese, we were taken by surprise. Turns out that soon after he completed High School, Chef Koh headed straight to Japan and completed a year in Japanese language studies and two years with a top culinary school in Tokyo where he mastered the art of Kaiseki. A further stint with Hinokizaka, a Michelin-star restaurant that served Japanese-French cuisine in the Ritz Carlton at Roppongi provided him with the opportunity to meld this traditional Asian art of fine dining with the art of Western haute cuisine.

A chance to work with Singapore’s only three Michelin-starred Joel Robuchon Restaurant in Resorts World Sentosa brought Chef Koh closer to home. Still, the desire to explore the world to discover more cuisine took him to New Zealand a year later where he worked in Huka Lodge, one of the best luxury family resorts in the world popular with royalty and Hollywood celebrities.

而位于丹麦首都哥本哈根、世界各地资深老饕一生人得来朝圣一次的 Noma,即是让 Chef Koh 梦想成真的终极之处了。「想要在此用餐?预约时间可得用年月来计算!要知道能从每个月平均收获四千份履历的 Noma 中获得这一张实习入场券可有多难啊!」在频频获选为全球五十佳餐厅的 Noma 厨房里,每日十六至十八小时的实习工时可谓司空见惯,日子虽艰苦,但能随着世界厨界精英们一起工作的经历,磨练的不仅是厨艺,更是纪律,对此 Chef Koh 始终不言悔。

The chance of a lifetime came when Chef Koh was accepted to work with one of the world’s best restaurants in Copenhagen, Denmark. After all, it’s been a dream of ours to visit Noma ever since hearing about Redzepi’s cutting-edge restaurant, voted the “best in the world” by W50B no less than four times, a feat no other restaurant has equalled. “Noma only opens up its reservation system on the 6th of every month and receives over 20,000 calls on reservation day, so be prepared to be put on hold”, Chef Koh stated as a matter of fact. On average, Noma received over 4,000 CVs per month. Call it luck or whatever, Chef Koh receive a call for an interview in late 2017 before landing himself the job, a dream comes true experience for any aspiring chefs. Working an average of 16-18 hours per day under the instruction of celebrated chefs has shaped a sharp discipline in Chef Koh, and he’s more than ready to lead his own culinary team upon his return.

Until we’ve secured our own reservation, we can at least content ourselves with a meal here, the next best thing to savouring a taste of Noma, from a Johorean who spent over 3 months learning the skills back in 2018.

大人仅花了数小时着墨几段 Chef Koh 的经历,张张记录着人生的日历却早已让家人翻撕了近十载的春秋啊!「我想,他是幸运的。」身为家中的幼子,有着家人无私的疼惜与支持,让他在追求梦想的路上,少了许多牵挂。

眼前这家融合现代欧日菜系、名为「初 Initial」的餐厅,即是永保初心的 Cheh Koh 归来后的自家作品。自五月起便矗立在这新山百合花园谧静的街道上独自发光,仅仅数月就吸引了各路探味饕客到此一尝。

Being the youngest son in the family, few would probably allow their children to be away from home at such a tender age, so Chef Koh probably counts himself fortunate to have the support of his family, given his exciting culinary journey that spans almost a decade.

Today, young chefs are a rarity no more, and the time has come for him to return home and to make his mark on the local dining scene. Having accumulated an impressive resume at some of the world’s finest restaurants in such a short span of time, Chef Koh contemplated doing something on his own. Full of fresh ideas and energy, it’s a true homecoming for Chef Koh to open his “Initial” restaurant in Taman Molek to serve his culinary creations with the support of his family. Having learned cooking methodologies, exquisite presentation skills, knife techniques and specialist ingredients whilst gaining a more in-depth insight into the seasonality consciousness for which Japanese cuisine is so highly regarded, it came as no surprise that Chef Koh‘s first restaurant would serve modern European cuisine with a hint of Japanese – a reminder of his humble beginning, and where everything began.

承载精致料理与远大梦想的所在,在这装置雅致地想让人缓步生活的餐厅里,仅可容至多卅人。只见每一隅的绿植在旁静静恭候着,全室以沉稳而内敛的暗黑与大自然粽木色妆点,与入门那纯白色的墙面与独木石路,形成强烈对比。

Spotting a “hygge” inspired concept from his time in Denmark, the premises at 初 Initial comfortably seats 30 guests and the restaurant decor is clutter-free with much natural wood and stone elements, both inside and outside, emphasising indulgence without extravagance. The white gravel zen garden on the outside also create contrast against a bold black interior, giving this modern monochrome design equal parts cosiness and conviviality.

大人一行人挑了张最靠近厨房的位置,种种身体语言显示,咱们应该是迫不及待想一尝 Chef Koh 的拿手料理吧!

Taking our seats next to the semi-open kitchen, we can satisfy our curiosity and find out what’s cooking and see our food being prepared by Chef Koh.

彻底实践「初」的信念,从挑选食材这章节上即不容马虎。我对 Chef 於这一点上的紧密把关抱持着极大的信任感,「从其每日风雨不改亲自到各大市场采购最新鲜的食材即知。」

「想做更多拥有马来西亚味道与特色的料理。」旁观者清,最好最鲜的本地食材往往在在地人眼里总是如此容易被忽视,这或许能解释为何「初 Initial」 鲜少获得本土的瞩目,反倒吸引了许多旅居本地的海外饕客的眼球。依循马来西亚目前的食尚趋势,从千里之外迢遥而来的矜贵食材反倒成了主流的局面屡见不鲜。

From hawker stall to haute cuisine throughout our “Find-Dining” journey, our favourite food involves the least possible culinary intervention, i.e. dishes where the quality of the ingredients is allowed to speak for itself. Sharing our sentiments, Chef Koh emphatically shares about his daily routine in seeking different local produce, fresh from the sea and local farms, so that we will be served with only the best.

Drawing inspirations from his diverse culinary experience and borrowing flavours from other cuisines, especially Japanese, Chef Koh aspire to offer a new take on modern Malaysian food at 初 Initial, using only the freshest locally-farmed ingredients of the highest quality, so we can be sure we’re getting good food. Do not be surprised if you catch him in the local markets daily for the freshest produce possible.

过往的精彩经历足以让好滋味信手拈来,「以前在纽西兰工作的旅馆里便有自建的农场,里头有着被黄梨饲养的鸡只。本地其实也有品质优良的猪肉,唯身价不凡,是一般猪肉的三倍。」而大人最常点选的时蔬与渔获 (海鱼),Chef Koh 也坚持天天上市场采购而不假手于人,就是为了让饕客们尝到最鲜的实力食力。

Looking back at his days in New Zealand, “Some lodges have their own vineyards, extensive gardens or farm their own produce, and we even welcome guests into the gardens and kitchens to forage and learn alongside the chefs,” Chef Koh recalled. In fact, local farms are also capable of rearing high-quality pig and poultry, though their premium price tag can put off some restaurants due to a lack of critical mass at the moment.

在不上街的日子里,大人朴实地过着减醣的生活,唯独对于西式餐前面包总是有份无法割舍的情分。在 「初 Initial」,抹上了昆布牛油的自制餐前面包 Baguette,轻而易举打动了我。

As Chef Koh heads into the kitchen to prepare our meal, the Baguette slices baked in-house and served with a side of seaweed kombu spread offers a fascinating first taste of what is to come from the tasting menu at 初 Initial.

Entrée
PRAWN

率先上阵的第一道前菜,PRAWN (Stuffed Prawn Head, Tomato Salsa Lime Dressing, Charcoal Tuile, RM38) 自是肩负了开胃重任,挺直了身躯的虾子在墨西哥经典莎莎佐酱上依旧酸辣诱人,「原以为身躯是主角,岂知尔后送上的虾头部位才是重头戏!」藏匿了咖喱酱汁的头壳被大人送入口中后,一阵又一阵既香又脆的口感反复刺激每一分味蕾,颇有惊喜。

Our starter comprises two brainless large meaty PRAWNs on a bed of tomato salsa, drizzled with lime dressing and garnished with a piece of charcoal tuile. Turns out that the star of the show was actually the two stuffed crispy prawn heads (served separately) that burst into flavours of curry with hints of toasted dried prawns! What an explosive start!

Entrée
DAIKON

DAIKON (Eryngii, Charred Baby Corn, Aburaage, Dehydrated Enoki, Miso Dashi, RM34) 里,大人我看到了熟悉的身影。

DAIKON 在日语中为「大根」,意即咱们口中的白萝卜。啊!正当大人尚在仔细观摩碟中的食材时, Chef Koh 已在旁通报大人他即将为这道料理幸福加热啊!「这以味噌熬煮的酱汁顿时让食材们都化身成为了海绵,使出了全力汲取最鲜美的养分!」坐收渔利的大人我,直接把你们都送进嘴里就对了!

In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in DAIKON as a healthy food so we couldn’t be more pleased to see this Japanese white radish being served. Garnished with charred baby corn, Japanese fried tofu, eryngii mushroom and topped with sprigs of dehydrated enoki mushroom, we noticed that the chef only began pouring the miso dashi sauce upon serving. As part of his table service, Chef Koh insisted that the sequence is crucial so as not to “mess up” the dish, and provided him with the opportunity to explain the ingredients and techniques used that went into its preparation. Such was the attention to details cultivated during his formative years that we agree this has set his restaurant apart from his peers.

Entrée
EGG

大人嗜蛋如命,一天总要补充个两三颗才能心满意足。在众多蛋态里,最爱的莫过于温泉蛋,其作法乃是利用蛋清和蛋黄的凝固点,一般水温介于60-80度之间即可作出完美的温泉蛋,大人自知无法作出如此诱人的蛋体,只好到此点选这道 EGG (Onsen Egg Pineapple Chicken, Shimeiji, Snow Pea, Genmaicha Broth, RM34) !「原来里头还能尝到以黄梨为饲料的鲜嫩鸡肉,慢烹后的口感与香滑的温泉蛋相辅相成,看官们倒是说说,它们一家人的默契谁可攀比啊!」

We have a soft spot for eggs, in particular, onsen EGG with partially congealed albumen on the outside and custardy yolks on the inside. By slow-cooking the egg at low temperature (between 60°C-80°C), the preparation has evolved into an art form perfected through experience and practice as the warm gooey yolk oozed out as we lightly broke it apart with our fork and knife. Together with the chunks of Pineapple Chicken, shimeji mushroom, snow peas and topped with genmaicha broth, this made for a very satisfying bowl of happiness. Just to make sure we heard him correctly, Chef Koh clarified that “this speciality chicken, was not flavoured with pineapple, but actually fed on pineapple to give it a unique tender texture!” 

Main
PORK BELLY

颇有中式风味的一道料理,让大伙儿一尝即漾开了笑脸。以精选猪肉上桌的这道 PORK BELLY 果真与一般肉质有异,「撇开毫无臊味一说,搭配了咸香调汁与苹果泥后那入口即化的无腻口感,让大伙儿庆幸这滋味极好的料理份量颇巨,幸福的时刻立即获得无限延伸。」

A new addition to the menu, the PORK BELLY comes with a generous portion of slow-roasted pork complete with crackling skin on a bed of apple puree, with a side of charred cube of croquette, minced pork belly wrapped in Chinese cabbage and drizzled with a savoury sauce. Free from any gamey scent, we could appreciate why Chef Koh insisted on serving this main course as the succulent fats and meat can put us in a slobbery stupor.

Main
FISH

名为 FISH (Seasonal Fish: Seabass, Vegetables, Semi Dried Tomato, Saffron Beurre, Waterchest, RM78) 的这道料理,是那层次有力的酱汁让大人我可以全然不理会盘中以何鱼上阵,「真心不打妄语,这淡黄色的汁液实在勾人心魄,或许是性温的番红花在里头偷偷发威了吧,耐人寻味啊。」味蕾阈值各有不同,恰好这正中我怀。

Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, our FISH dish happens to be Sea Bass – the Catch of the Day – with a side of kale, semi-dried tomatoes and water chestnut. Drizzled with saffron beurre, the saltiness from the butter sauce provided on the side helped to enhance the sweetness of the fish further and worked up an appetite in us.

PS: The Sea Bass may be substituted by Snapper or Garoupa on other days.

Main
BEEF

尝着尝着,大人领悟出了原来 Chef Koh 乃调搭酱汁的能人!几乎每一道料理都被其特调酱汁给丰富了层次,这一道 BEEF (Eye Fillet, Marrow Crumb, Mushroom Puree, Picked Japanese Artichoke, Wasabi Lebneh, House Wine Jus, RM128, Wagyu + RM60) 亦然。「不得不提那以骨髓制成的碎屑,这细节,不乏味。」

It is hard to pass up this BEEF dish at such attractive prices, so we ordered the Australian Eye Fillet. As with most tenderloins, the meat had less marbling but remained deliciously tender and juicy, and the beef is done medium rare to our liking. Presented on a bed of mushroom puree and spruce up with marrow crumbs, pickled Japanese artichoke and wasabi lebneh with a multi-layered potato gratin, we could also make our steak otherworldly by adding house wine jus to enhance the flavour.

PS: For those who prefer your steak to be intensely marbled or richly-umami flavoured, you can ask for Wagyu!

Main
PORK RIB

低温慢烹的 PORK RIB 才一上桌,大人咱一行人就被告知这澎湃料理即将成为绝响了!「入口即化!胶原蛋白在口中爆发力十足,搭上以绍兴酒腌制的茄子,这好滋味让大人深刻感受何谓临别依依了。」

不晓得 Chef Koh 可否愿意考虑将之列入大人下回到访的私房菜呢?

Thank goodness, we manage to savour this PORK RIB for our first and final time, before making way for new items in the refreshed menu. Cooked sous vide with kakuni style with a medley of taro puree, Shaoxing pickled eggplant, taro chips and finish with pork jus, the meat fell right off the bones. To say the meat was tender would be an understatement as it immediately melted in our mouth.

Hopefully, the dish can still be available upon request. What say you, Chef Koh?

DESSERT
Alaska Bomb | Orange Madeleine | Coconut Mousse 

「甜点时间,正要开始。」连番出场的主食到了落幕之时,三道精致的甜点 Alaska Bomb, Orange Madeleine, Coconut Mousse 让我尝得飘然欲仙,一度以为自己是只嗜食好糖的蜜蜂呢。

就大人我所知,「初 Initial」平日仅於晚餐时段营业,临行前才在台前询问发现,原来这儿亦刚推出了下午茶时段 (一点至五点),「他们家的欧式甜点让我好想拨快时针直接就到明天中午!」唯餐厅内的精致料理仍只限於晚餐时段才上映哦!

At the end of our meal, we were served with Orange Madeleine, Coconut Mousse and Alaska Bomb stuffed with pineapple and strawberry sorbet. Upon serving the latter, Chef Koh slowly pours the gin on the meringue while flaming it with a gas torch. The gin fire will create trails on top of the dessert, resembling the aurora in the Alaska night sky.

初 Initial also serves Afternoon Tea from 1pm to 5pm comprising freshly-baked cakes and pastries. Even with our tummies filled, we couldn’t resist and still manage to make enough room for a slice of apple tart!

纵观这几年来大人在新山所访过的现代欧式料理人,「欲取鸣琴弹,恨无知音赏」的剧情总是让大人我为有想法、有冲劲的主人家们着急。我一直都认为,以新山优越的地理位置,理应能容百花齐放,而非独沽一味。「初 Initial」美在质朴、妙在本味,我更愿其不忘初心,方得始终。想要一探初心面貌,除了到此一尝外,也能请 Chef Koh 为您量身打造精致餐聚的餐谱哦。

「言谈举止颇冷静的 Chef Koh,与其内心对于厨艺的那股热情,让大人我顿感,原来只要你想要,全世界都会来帮你。」

Recognising that people like a taste of the traditional when it comes to many of the world’s great cuisines, Chef Koh prides himself at choosing and letting the locally-sourced produce take centre stage. Sometimes customers want traditional things with a nuanced difference, so it’s very much up to the chef to highlight the local ingredients without excessively complicating the dish.

“I love the thrill of cooking, inventing and creating; and I enjoy doing it anew every time,” quipped Chef Koh. Talk about fortune favours the bold, and now, we favour you too!

初 Initial

📍 No.9-G Jalan Molek 3/20, Taman Molek, 81100 Johor Bahru, Johor
📞 +6016-247 0977
🕙 6:00pm to 11.00pm (Closed on Mondays)
💻 初 Initial

🍽️ NON-HALAL

 

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