Creating the ‘Dirty Good’ Flavour
Don’t let ATAS’ name fool you: The RuMa Hotel and Residence’s modern Malaysian eatery might hint at being ‘uppity’ in nature, but in reality, it’s nothing of the sort. “I like to call this ‘informalised formal dining’," explains executive chef Tyson Gee. “I don’t like to dine at places that are pretentious or too formal. I want to have a meal without all the formalities like a white tablecloth or a stuffy dress code behind it, but where you can still expect really great food."
That, for certain, is what you’ll find at ATAS, which has swiftly proven itself to be head and shoulders above your average hotel restaurant ever since it opened just over half a year ago. Within the open-floor plan eatery, Gee – who hails from Vancouver, Canada – presents his bold, clever interpretation of the flavours that define the Malay Peninsula, encouraging diners to approach local cuisine from a very different perspective.
It’s obvious that a good deal of thought has gone into ATAS’ menu, which is constantly updated and always features intriguing elements such as roselle jam, calamansi aioli, and charred coconut. “I didn’t want to be the outsider who comes in and cooks Malaysian dishes, and then gets scrutinised for bastardising an amazing food culture," he says. “Instead, I focused on using Malaysian flavour profiles and ingredients in a contemporary way, utilising my background and skillset but making it a bit more Malaysian-esque."
For lunch and dinner, dishes are divided into small snacks, interesting salads and entrees, and mains that make good use of the charcoal oven – a rare feature in Kuala Lumpur’s professional kitchens. All of them boast ingredients sourced from nearby farms and local suppliers, such as single origin 70 per cent dark chocolate that’s grown, roasted, and fermented by orang asli in Pahang. A combination of coconut charcoal briquettes and Japanese binchotan imparts what Gee describes as a ‘dirty-good’ flavour, rendering everything from salt grass lamb shoulder to soy-braised eggplant utterly irresistible.
The same applies to Gee’s penchant for lacing his creations with ingredients that contrast with and complement each other. “I like to play around with texture, and I love citrus. Some Malaysian food can be quite heavy, so by adding lime zest or a lot of fresh herbs, it lightens the dishes," he comments. Crunchy wing beans and sliced starfruit pair wonderfully with tender squid, torch ginger and lime heighten the sweetness of a Hokkaido scallop, while pomelo sacs cut through the rich nuttiness of a black sesame ice cream and olive oil dessert.