This Bukit Jalil Eatery Infuses Classic Malaysian Flavours With Sublime Japanese Omakase
Tucked away in a quaint corner of Bukit Jalil comes a luxurious Japanese eatery with a special Malaysian twist
From the outside, Zen by Mel has an unassuming presence. Clean and pristine, this isn't the founder's first time making an appearance on SAYS, as you may remember Melanie "Mel" Pong's other organic creation, CC by Mel.
Presenting an elevation of her ideas and a refined palette that goes along with it, Zen by Mel's aim is simple and unembellished: create refined food from the most rudimentary sources.
As we entered the establishment, we were greeted by a foyer with ceiling-high windows and an overflowing floral arrangement at the centre of the room. Seamlessly transitioning, a keen touch was a door to the dining area being concealed behind a wall, giving the exclusive feel.
The dinette itself is coated with gold and cream finishes from head to toe, with modern light fixtures and leather seating complemented by the finesse in elegant crockery and tableware.
The main dining area sits 13 pax, with an open kitchen view for a front-seat view of the food preparation. However, a separate VIP room that can fit up to seven people is available for those who want a little privacy.
In a brief conversation with Mel herself, the curator explained how this eatery differs from her original baby, CC by Mel. "We were bound by every dollar and cent; food was being created as a lower price range standard. At Zen, our chefs have more opportunity to work their magic."
Hoping to explore different kinds of modern cuisine, Mel explained how she hopes to move towards fusion foods that bind different types of cultures, cooking techniques, and tastes into a singular dish.
Infusing these ideas with her plans to set up an omakase-styled restaurant, Mel was forthright in adding her own twist to Zen by Mel. "I realised that in Malaysia, there is an over-saturation of traditional omakase restaurants. Therefore, we decided to come out with a modern fusion omakase, so that the public can try something different."
Absolutely ravished by the thoughts of items coming our way, we recently paid a visit to Zen by Mel to see for ourselves if the standards of this opulent successor, lived up to the standards of its predecessor.
Seated and ready to eat, we were absolutely famished for our 11-course omakase that was carefully crafted by the chefs from Zen by Mel
Prior to our tasting, each diner was provided with a warm, damp towel to cleanse our hands. A neat touch, and one that definitely did not go unnoticed by us.
Opening with a few appetisers, we began the taste with the Amouse Bouce, otherwise referred to as a Seitaikei Tart. Radiant to the eyes, the item came layered carefully on a beetroot tart, which consisted of buri, smoked mushroom vinaigrette, kaffir lime, and lantana. Just before gulping this conceptual masterpiece, we received a generous layer of Iranian caviar, draped over the tart.
A savoury treat, this exquisite item should be consumed whole, but take your time to enjoy every bit that's relished within this piece. Through every bite came a new burst of flavour, surprising us at every turn. A banger to start the tasting, this was one item we'd eat in spades.
We then continued with tasting the two hot appetisers of the bunch. The first item was referred to as Adventure of Amaebi. A fusion of ideas, the bountiful plate came in a construction of lacto lettuce stem marinated in jasmine tea, laid delicately on a bed of amaebi, otherwise known as spot prawns. Beneath it was a pool of almond velouté with subtle drops of shisho oil. Tying the whole piece together was a sprinkle of Murray River Salt, that came straight from the land Down Under.
Initially mystifying, this item was a light and refreshing counterpart to the rich caviar tart that came before it. The simplicity of each item merged together seamlessly to create a dish of bountiful flavour, without overwhelming one's taste buds.
The next hot appetiser was the Ahiru Ume, which consisted of duck from Bidor, Perak, with a side of roasted momo peach, pucuk paku, and paku rawan, over a silky Cointreau jus. Soft and tender, this cut of duck was divine. Pairing well with the pucuk paku for an oscillation between soft meat and crunchy fibre, a true treat was in the roasted peach that glistened from its exterior, as well as the inside when we cut into it.
We then flipped over to a cold appetiser, otherwise referred to as a Hotate Picasso. A visual sensation, we were delighted to deconstruct every piece of this dish just with our eyes.
With generous slices of hotate (Japanese for scallop sashimi) at the base of the dish, the cut was generously coated with a layer of smoked uni paste directly from Hokkaido, Japan, and topped with a touch of nori purée. Adding dimension to the item was matabar red spinach foam drizzled on the side of the item.
Upon a single bite, each slice of scallop beneath the smoked uni paste made this buttery brine sweet and tangy. Despite the lacing of various crustaceans on our plate, none were overwhelming, providing just the right balance overall.
The final amuse-gueule on menu came in the form of a broth cleanser, Shiro Umami. Consisting of Zen's special broth with cuts of white asparagus, we were tickled by its presentation, comparative to a black dragon's egg straight from House of the Dragon (2022). Nonetheless, this hot consommé was just what we needed before diving into the main dishes.
Moving on to the mains, we got the chance to taste a variety of meats from fish, to lamb, to chicken, and even crab
Our first main course was called Eden of Zen. Consisting of a slice of Hokkaido corn gently layered onto a cut of ikejime red snapper fresh from Kuala Selangor, the fish was cured the same way fish is prepared in Japan. With a base of tare sauce, this was a fresher item that made room for other recurring flavours in its sauces and dressing.
While the second main course was a choice between two selections, we were allotted the privilege to try both items, and we have all the details to spill. The first choice we tried was Aji No Shinen, which consisted of a juicy cut of lamb, paired with Saikyo miso curry leaf paste, mushroom pebbles, and glazed seasonal vegetable.
Falling off the bone with a gentle cut of our knives, this saddle of lamb was everything a perfect piece could be: golden-brown and shimmering on the outside, while being succulent on the inside. The miso sauce itself was a good pairing to its main item, though there wasn't much spice in the curry.
The second alternative was the Kōnfeddochikin, hay smoked konbu butter cornfed chicken with charred spring onion, maitake mushroom, and salsify saikyo jus.
Blowing us away with a single bite, this item undeniably rose to top item of the day. Tender and buttery with every chew, the burst of a colossal of flavours made this an item we'd return to Zen by Mel for alone.
The final main course was a special edition to the lot. Referred to as Zenraishii, this golden serving literally came to us within a golden crab-shaped crucible.
Divided down the line by Tobiko fish eggs, the right side consisted of warm Japanese rice while the left side was Zen's specially curated Japanese flower crab, which consisted of Amae ebi headroe sauce and furikake.
We were presented with pickled fuji apple sauce to be poured over our bowl. Then, it was time to get into it by mixing the ingredients to create a beautiful mess that was equally satisfying as it was delicious.
Stuffed to the brim, we couldn't resist the opportunity to taste the confectionary desserts that were coming our way
The first item was a sorbet cleanser that consisted of a Yuzu jasmine sorbet with berry crisps and a roasted walnut. Having satiated every dish entirely before this, we'd gladly admit our bias towards this tangy delight that gave us some relief. Nonetheless, its accessory items in the dried berry and walnuts also added an earthier texture to the entire dish.
Pushing forward with arguably the most intricate dish of the night was the Imperial Zencha. Consisting of a hemispheric matcha mousse on the outside with a raspberry compote interior, this dessert also consisted of adzuki red bean ice cream on a bed of crushed Lotus Biscoff pieces.
A heavy-hitter of the desserts, this dish came in a generous portion, and was complimented by the magnificent flavours infused within it. In simple terms, matcha lovers will soar while matcha deniers will be transformed into fans — real quick.
With a mellower touch of nuttiness, the cut into the raspberry compote adds for a piquant amount of sweetness that'll take you into ultimate bliss. As for the ice cream, the red bean flavours were imbued in a softer presence without being overwhelming.
The closing item, however, came in the form of Zen's very own Petit Four, otherwise known as the Mittsu Hoshi Wagashi.
Presented in a beautiful custom-made wooden box, a little garden of pebbles and beans greet whoever opens it. Of the pebbles, however, came three pieces of the petit four, that were artistically unmatched.
The three flavours were: shoyu vanilla cream, caramel adzuki, and strawberry yoghurt mochi. Adding a layer of contrive to the tasting process, this dessert was also served alongside a cup of organic matcha extract, deep green in colour.
Defined to us by our chef to be indistinguishable from one another, their only difference would be in physical presence, to which it was achieved. A milder dessert to the bunch, these three pieces of four were a grand end to our even grander tasting.
Overall, our omakase experience at Zen by Mel was delightful from start to finish — immersing us into a multi-dimensional flavour profile
The key concept Zen by Mel was seeking out was easily met, and then some — bringing Japanese cuisine to life with a Malaysian twist. While we were graced with the opportunity for an 11-course meal, a 10-course omakase at Zen by Mel is priced at RM498 for a single session.
Alongside the main course is an illustrious menu of drinks and alcoholic options for you to choose from and pair with your meal, including red wine, white wine, and various types of sake.
A mesmerising journey, we specifically tip our hats to the dedicated and humble staff of Zen by Mel for taking us on the ride of a classic Japanese omakase, through verbal interaction and a blissful ambience.
Set to open their doors today, 1 November, Zen by Mel will undoubtedly have a glorious premiere that supersedes its tough competition.
Here's where you can find Zen by Mel:
Before coming to Zen by Mel, we reviewed the food at Melanie's first restaurant, CC by Mel, when they first opened:
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