Shangri-La Tanjung Aru’s Reimagined Borneo Menu Offers A Taste Of Living Heritage

Earlier this year, the lushly landscaped 25-acre Shangri-La Tanjung Aru in Kota Kinabalu became the first and only hotel in Sabah to be awarded the Green Hotel recognition by Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts & Culture. Since the year 2000, the resort has also been a winner of the biennial Prime Minister’s Hibiscus Award which recognises sustainability in environmental management, says Shangri-La Tanjung Aru’s director of communications Claudina Wong. And now, its executive chef Rohizan Ramli is adding to these well-deserved credentials by creating the Reimagined Borneo tasting menu. It is the result of his three years (and counting) in the resort’s kitchens. “Borneo is blessed with ingredients that are rich in taste and flavour,” Rohizan says. On the five-course Reimagined Borneo menu, the many facets of local sourcing are clear. The grouper and lobster come from waters off the Sandakan coast; scallops originate from Kudat; the organic kale is harvested from the Kundasang highlands; ginger comes from Keningau, while fresh pegaga and crunchy pakis come from local farmers. A seasonal fresh bambangan (wild mango) is used to create the exotic-tasting appetiser, with the chocolate dessert derived from the state’s bountiful supply of cocoa.

This limited-time menu (RM358 nett per person) is offered for dinner in June and July, in accordance with the availability of seasonal and hyper-local ingredients. On this menu, freshness is key and one of Rohizan’s responsibilities is to monitor the condition of ingredients as they arrive daily. “Simple but fresh ingredients make a very memorable dish,” he says.

Already, this menu has all the makings of a definitive fine-dining experience in the Malaysian F&B landscape by virtue of its ultra-ambitious approach to describe the main components of Sabah’s population through the language of cuisine. Across the five courses, Rohizan has carefully pieced a tribute to the various peoples of Sabah: the Kadazan-Dusun, Rungus, Bajau, Lotud, Dusun and Murut. Rohizan, who is married to a local Sabahan hailing from Kota Belud, vividly remembers his encounter with corn grown naturally on the hilly slopes of his wife’s hometown. “This corn is cultivated without the aid of fertilisers and has an interesting look with dark and white kernels. But the magic is in tasting the roasted version, which produces an original, sweet taste of corn with a firm texture even when moistened, making it unique.”

Chef Rohizan Ramli

As such, every bite and every dish of the Reimagined Borneo menu is a clear identifier of the style and components of food considered to be the height of delicacy among the various peoples of Sabah. The breads comprise wood-fired lavash, focaccia, sourdough baguette and grissini, with accompanying dips of Bornean avocado salsa, local green pesto and the native bambangan paste, the latter a signature of the Kadazan-Dusun.

That exoticism is heightened by a salad appetiser, a tribute to the ethnic Rungus, where scallops add the sensations of sea and shell, paired with organic kale puree, peanut sauce and micro herbs from the Kundasang highlands. For the next dish, the Bajau—otherwise known as the sea cowboys of the East for their horse-riding prowess—become the foundation of the clear seafood-styled soup, where poached lobster is paired with a cream foam of Asiatic pennywort (pegaga), an ingredient which Rohizan commends for its “slightly bitter but intensely fresh and rich taste”.

In the choice of mains, diners can access locally sourced seafood and meat, which are deftly transformed by Rohizan’s cooking techniques. The pan-fried red-star grouper, fished off the waters of Sandakan, is combined with a lobster emulsion and koftas made with prawns from Tuaran, a coastal town just 30km from Shangri-La Tanjung Aru. The alternate main of Beef en Croute—a form of beef Wellington—is from cattle grazing on the highlands of Ranau, heightened with truffle sauce and a fava bean puree. To finish, dessert is named The Textures of Keningau Cocoa Beans as a tribute to the Murut people, who largely dwell inland where cocoa plantations also flourish.

In the same vein of the farm-to-table menu approach, so too is the recommended pairing of wines, which Rohizan says was his biggest challenge to reconcile with initially. For him, the added dimension happens when the Reimagined Borneo menu dovetails perfectly with the largely Grenache-constituted 2019 vintage of the Château La Nerthe, Châteauneuf-du-Pape white wine (RM888 per bottle) and the 2016 vintage of Château La Nerthe, Cuvée des Cadettes, Châteauneuf-du-Pape red wine (RM1,688 per bottle).

“The history of this winery dates back more than 500 years,” says Yusuf Yaran, the resort’s director of operations. “We were looking for either organic or biodynamic wines to begin with,” he says of the wine selection process. “Château La Nerthe stood out for its strong personality for both its wine and brand.”

Bringing the wine’s temperature down by approximately two degrees Celsius, ensures all its complex layers and full aromas of earth, flowers and fruits are released. In the case of the red, Yusuf recommends decanting at the start of the meal, so that the wine hits its peak vivacity when the beef arrives. “These wines offer a profound character that stands out from the rest of the Rhône Valley. You taste the ripe berries and peppercorns in the red, while the whites offer pineapple and limestone.” For Yusuf, beyond its organic or green characteristics, the wines needed to have a strong story to justify their selection. He duly found it with its pedigree, beautiful chateau and well-respected standing, with wine critic Robert Parker calling Château La Nerthe “the only true chateau in Châteauneuf-du-Pape with its long history, produces magnificent wines”.

“When we first started, we compared Château La Nerthe with many other organic options, but we couldn’t find the depth that we found in this particular Châteauneuf-du-Pape,” Yusuf states, adding that another worry was that both the wine and menu, with their respective strong personalities, would overpower each other. “But to our surprise, they make a perfect couple.”

The Reimagined Boreno menu is available exclusively on Fridays and Saturdays in the Peppino pop-up dining concept located at Shangri-La Tanjung Aru’s Horizon Lounge. To reserve, email or call +60 88 327 868.

Shangri-La Tanjung Aru

Photos: Law Soo Phye/

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