Dramatic, opulent and refined. Adjectives that immediately come into mind when I take a walk through Enfin by James Won’s visually enigmatic corridor, filled with generous lashings of ornate chrome. As I am early for the dinner seating, the wine sommelier of the restaurant shows me to the bar, currently occupied by white-collar workers sipping on artisanal apéritifs, their bellowing laughter ringing through the otherwise quiet zone. The long space overlooks a beautiful garden terrace, a cosy spot to enjoy your hearty French onion soup during a midday lunch break, but tonight the torrential rain ripping through the streets of KL calls for refuge inside the warm bar.
I sip on my gin and tonic in hand, which according to the bartender is a delicious blend of three gins with rosewater, concocted with skilful precision. Upon closer inspection, the ice cubes swirling inside the glass are no ordinary ice cubes as it has been branded with the restaurant’s name. Tiny details that may seem frivolous, yet they matter, forming a collective culmination of Chef James Won’s vision for the restaurant. Enfin by James Won stands as an ambitious feat that took three years to perfect as Won finally opened the doors of Enfin early this year, which aptly means “at last”.
There’s more though. Thoughtful touches easily dismissed by the naked eye such as the bag caddies disguised under the lamps are openly welcomed by the ladies to place their prized purses securely away. If you have not already guessed, the new Enfin boasts a strikingly different environment from Won’s former Brasserie Enfin establishment, as polished Luzerne tableware, hand-cut mirror ceilings and plush velvet carpeting dominate the restaurant’s interior.
I take my place at a table that overlooks the glass encased kitchen, the chefs moving with formation under the guidance of Won himself, though what is missing is the high pressure drama akin to a Gordon Ramsey show – pots being flung across the kitchen, a long string of curse words and tempers at an alltime high. A pianist takes his spot at the grand piano, proceeding to play a soothing selection of jazz music to set the mood for the evening. Won finally emerges from the kitchen, a relaxed figure armed with charisma, unmistakably valiant, yet like most chefs there is a faint aloof that stems from his confident personality. “Every detail in the restaurant represents me,” he says in reference to the bespoke lighting right down to the branded ice cubes and music selection. The old adage “Dinner is not what you do in the evening before something else. Dinner is the evening” by Art Buchwald best encapsulates the spirit and essence of Enfin as the entire experience has been thoughtfully curated by Won himself.
The former Brasserie Enfin was established to be a training ground for Won’s chefs and service staff team, as he now proudly declares that he has a 100% Malaysian team, a near impossible feat in the ever fickle local dining industry. However, he is adamant that this project is not about him. “If I don’t build the platform now, who will? Nothing makes me happier than to see my team achieve something,” he says with a hint of pride. His fervent determination to showcase the best of Malaysia’s talent and tirelessly educate them is an effort that should be applauded, as most chefs opt for the easy route out by seeking opportunities abroad in a dining landscape that may seem more mature for such a grand scale restaurant.
Dinner at Enfin is serious business, as you will be greeted with a chef’s note at the beginning of your five course degustation menu. Enfin boasts one of the most comprehensive inventory of wine, single malt whisky, champagne and cognac in the city thus it was only apt that I opt for the pairing menu to elevate the experience further. Upon first glance, the degustation menu is a culmination of flavours, textures and vibrant colours, leveraging on sustainable ingredients and fresh produce using sophisticated techniques to bring out the best in French cuisine while showcasing an Eastern heritage twist. A collision of two worlds, juxtaposed in perfect harmony.
The wholesome artisanal breads at Enfin freshly baked in-house are worth a mention on its own as Won does justice to its sacred status bestowed by none other than the French themselves. The amuse bouche of fluffy brioche toast with creamy scallops , cream cheese and sweet strawberries prods on the richer side of French cuisine, washed down with an equally rich yet refreshing Martini Blanc featuring mushroom infused soju that provides a savoury touch.
The entrées are a star on their own, as there is an interesting display of various techniques and interplay between the distinctive elements on the plate. The triple caviar combination featuring a medley of ikura, tobiko roe, lemon and parsley tapioca accentuated with creamy notes of black garlic and almond tofu is an audacious attempt that somewhat reminds me of a modernist cuisine, as the tofu-like texture has layers of green pigments extracted from the parsley’s chlorophyll.
The next entrée is a hot and cold dish - Argentinian prawns and crispy soft-shell crab paired with a ‘kerabu’ inspired salad complete with fresh slices of green apple, papaya and violet topped off with a shellfish sabayon. Won recommends to savour the freshness of the Argentinian prawns first before moving on to the soft-shell crab, relishing in the balance of flavours and texture.
A personal favourite is the handmade pasta with leeks slow cooked with XO and topped with decadent sea urchin. Watch the glory of this dish unfold when you break the slow cooked duck egg yolk as it oozes over the pasta. Mix well with the charred leek powder on the side and do not forget to savour the little orange discs on the side made out of duck egg yolk as well. All entrées are paired with a well deserving glass of Krug Grand Cuvée.
A choice of four plat principals are presented and includes proteins such as roasted Bresse chicken, beef cheek bourguignon and tongue, duck confit tower and Abura Bouzu (skillfish) served with cod fish sperm sack for the more adventurous. My curiosity with the skillfish and cod fish sperm were satiated during a Krug luncheon pairing previously but that shall be a story for another day. Knowing that the wagyu will not fail to disappoint, I made my choice. One part of the wagyu cheek had been slow braised for hours together with heirloom carrots and candy shallots for that extra sweetness. The result is a delightful tender beef cheek with hearty bits of fat clinging onto the meat that gave the sumptuous richness to the overall dish. Another part of the wagyu was grilled until a rosy pink to keep the meat juicy. Fluffy truffle yam pillows completed the main dish, though a guilt trip may be in order next. I take a swig out of the glass of red to wash down the meal before I groan gratefully at the sight of the Opera chocolate dôme à la Enfin as the final epilogue for the night. A decadent white chocolate opera dome topped with gold flakes, encasing a delightfully light cake served as the ideal closure for the night. The final roundup is a glass of Hennesy X.O cognac to enhance the slight bitterness of the chocolate.
If there’s one thing to conclude, the exclusive dining experience at Enfin showcases the drama, refinement and skilful precision associated closely with fine dining. The journey is akin to a roller coaster ride where it gradually builds up as the flavours grow bolder and progressively sophisticated until it reaches the pinnacle. “You start with a spectacular beginning and end almost passed out from the extravagant experience,” says Won with a laugh. That said, the audacious chef is not ready to hang up his apron just yet as there is more work to be executed. Has he achieved what he initially set out to achieve? The answer is a resounding no, but patience and hard work will eventually unfold greater things in Malaysia’s booming dining scene.