I have heard about Bijan so many times and I remember it being nominated multiple times for Best Malay food in Timeout KL (voted Best Malay Food in the Time Out KL Food Awards 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012) but I’ve never had a chance to check it out until last week when a couple of friends came up from Singapore. Figured it would be a nice place to chill, we surely didn’t expect a roaring crowd on a Monday night. Turned out, there was a party going on but nevertheless I was impressed that it was that busy. With the reservation moved to a later time, we were seated at a nice table right next to the bar. At first glance, the decor is pretty well thought out, simple and minimalist with bits of bamboo blinds, “batik” designs, and few traditional antiques.
When it comes to Malay food, there’s often no elegance about it (much like Chinese home cooking), it’s all about comfort and familiar flavours, so when the website specified home-style cooking but the restaurant looks clearly setup for fine-dining; I couldn’t help but chuckled a little inside. Before we started I was secretly hoping the pretentiousness won’t translate to the dishes.
Unfortunately, the starters didn’t exactly wow us. Take this “Otak Otak” for example, presented to us in a “Western” soup mug.
Immediately, I thought that this would not be good because the top looked exposed and dry, and the traditional banana leaves method is supposed to keep the fish mousse (if you will) aromatic and moist. And my suspicion was right: It was bland, and I couldn’t bring myself to have a second bite. The bits of seafood didn't help either. The bread on the side? Stale and tired looking and tasted horrible when paired with the Otak Otak. Let's hope it doesn't get worse from here.
Acar Tauhu was basically a dish of skewers of tofu cooked in coconut milk topped with Acar (unsure what style). The tofu itself was bland and I didn't taste any hint of coconut but the acar made up for it. It was sweet, sour but to be honest not spicy enough for my palate. But at least this is a good vegan dish to cater for the vegetarians.
Here's an appetizer platter that was not really that appetizing: Kepak Ayam Goreng (best dish on the platter, juicy fried chicken that was suffiently seasoned, but nothing out of the ordinary), Pulut Kuning Serunding (bland, the serunding didn't even taste like beef), Popiah Goreng (pretty much vegetable spring roll, that was ok, at least Frank liked it), Cucur Udang (ordinary, not seasoned well enough). The chili they provided was pretty lackluster too.
The Sup ekor (oxtail soup) was tasty enough, but it's a little more Western than Malay. At least the oxtail was lovely and tender and I enjoyed the depth of flavours in the broth.
Luckily, they do their main dishes well. Starting with this Pucuk Paku Goreng Tahi Minyak (Umm..... tahi minyak? Does it mean leftover oil? I surely hope not!)
Here the paku pakis (wild fern) was topped with some succulent prawns. I enjoyed this dish tremendously, probably because it's closest to the other variety of fern (Midin, only found in Sarawak too) which is still my favourite dish in Sarawak. There's a nice wok breath to the dish and everything is seasoned perfectly with a hint of spice.
Imagine my surprise when I found out that this dish is cooked with fermented durian! Masak Lemak Udang Tempoyak is one of their signature dishes, and I have said many times that I will NEVER try tempoyak, ever! But I ate my words that night because this was actually an excellent dish. The strong aroma of the durian was tamed by the fermentation process and the sauce was creamy, sweet and savoury. Quite addictive, actually.
Here comes a glorious serving of Bijan's famous Opor Rusuk: Stewed beef ribs in spices, toasted coconut, gula melaka and coconut milk. Simply put, this was amazing! Tender fall-off-the-bone beef in a Rendang sauce; Can anything be better than this? Only problem is that there were so many dishes I couldn't fit anymore beef in! Best dish of the night.
Ayam kampung Limau Purut pales in comparison (quite literally too) to the previous dish but the kaffir lime leaves did liven up the dish. Although they could cut down the salt level a tad.
I have requested for Nasi Ulam because I just love the aromatic herbs mingling with the rice. There were some dried shrimps in it too, which gave a little umaminess to the rice. Pretty good.
The Nasi Minyak was done well, with hints of lemongrass, onion, garlic and shallots, went well with most of the main dishes.
We asked for something vegetarian friendly and this was a nice little platter to suit the non-meat eater. I didn't get to taste any of it except the eggplant (how could I resist that!) but Frank the vegivore was in his little heaven with the vegetable curry. No complaint at all.
So after stuffing ourselves with the scrumptious main dishes, it was time for desserts! Frankly, I didn't even have enough space in my stomach anymore. But I figured I must try out their famous desserts, so the first one presented to us was the Sago Gula Melaka:
This reminds me of the Sago pudding at Nosh with the elegant presentation, but unfortunately the taste was not as good. I might be biased because my dinner companions enjoyed this.
The next is a platter of sort with Coconut Ice cream, a shot of Gula melaka and Gula Melaka cake.
I must say that the coconut ice cream was really tasty and creamy without being overly sweet. The gula melaka was there for us to adjust the level of sweetness. Although half of my dinner companions didn't enjoy the bitter aftertaste of the gula melaka: more for me! The cake was basically a plain cake baked with, you guessed it, Gula Melaka and you are meant to drizzle that same shot of syrup over if needed. It didn't really wow us.
Last but not least, this chocolate beauty bestowed upon us.
I was admiring the beautiful chocolate ganache until I took a bite and opened my eyes super-wide. It was a Chocolate Durian Cake! Oh Gosh, second time I broke my rule on the same night. And the lethal combination of chocolate and durian had me reaching out for water for the fear of instant sore throat. The only bite I took was enough to appreciate the richness of the dessert. Durian lovers will definitely get food orgasms from this.
Overall, there were some hits and misses during the meal but I can still see why this restaurant has won multiple awards: The service was impeccable, the ambiance was great after the rowdy party guests left and there is a decent wine list. But one visit like this probably will break your bank, so reserve it for special occasion. Just don't order the Otak Otak!