Have you ever craved a touch of homely Malaysian flavours while enjoying a sophisticated Western dinner? To have that craving satisfied, look no further than the recently revamped menu at ATAS, the only restaurant in The RuMa Hotel and Residences in the heart of KL city that takes local ingredients to a higher level.
The Malay word ‘atas’ is often used to connote something snooty and upper-class. But Executive Chef Tyson Gee, born in Vancouver, Canada and trained in Melbourne, Australia, is down-to-earth and happy to share his experiences. For someone who’s spent only two years on Malaysian soil, Gee's knowledge and understanding of traditional Malaysian produce surprisingly runs deeper than my nyonya grandmother's.
It doesn't come across by talking to him, though – it shines through his cooking.
Take the snack menu, for example. The standout is a dish that sees morsels of Blue Tiger Prawn and a Charred Coconut Sambal sitting delicately on a Betel Leaf (RM45). We wrapped the toppings in the leaf and popped the whole bundle straight into our mouths – this gave us an explosion of flavours that celebrate the sweet flesh of the prawn, greenness of betel leaf and crunchy, smoky coconut.
Another delightful snack is the Pai Tee (RM30), which features a crisp squid ink shell filled with creme fraiche and topped with a pinch of homegrown caviar from sturgeons farmed in Tanjung Malim, Perak. The burst of salty brine from the caviar is a delicious contrast to the creaminess of the creme fraiche.
We also enjoyed the Raw Hand Dived Scallops (RM50), a subtle starter with slivers of sweetly pickled rambutan. Also try the Chicken Liver Pate (RM20), which was served in buttermilk waffles with a dollop of roselle jam, and the Cured Ocean Trout (RM55) that was complemented by a tangy sambal, puffed tapioca and the familiar taste of ulam raja and Thai basil.
When it comes to the mains, a crowd favourite and must-try is the Corn Fed Chicken (RM78). We were seduced by everything on the plate – from the distinct but not overpowering buah keluak gravy to the fermented chilli paste, which lent a creamy and acidic kick to the dish. These were complemented by the tender chicken, cooked in ATAS' signature charcoal oven, and fresh okra.
Next, an unassuming plate of Charred King Prawns (RM88) wowed our tastebuds with a rich belacan butter sauce on the side. The subtle flavour of the shellfish
Don’t be fooled by the simple name of the Jasmine Rice Salad (RM22) on the menu of sides. It is another favourite from the previous menu. One might dismiss it as a simple nasi ulam or nasi kerabu, but with 15 carefully chosen ingredients, you are guaranteed to enjoy a burst of flavour in every mouthful. Some memorable ingredients were mango, peanuts, chicken skin, spring onion, XO sauce and, of course, the flavourful rice.
Also on our table that night was the Tiger Grouper with a Tuak Dressing, Kaffir Lime and Wild Spinach (RM95), as well as Dry Aged Duck Breast paired with Kedondong, Mulberry and Bronze Fennel (RM105).
Fortunately, the dishes at ATAS are served shareable tapas-style, leaving us some room for dessert.
As a durian lover, I can confirm that Durian Ice Cream Sundae’s (RM42) reputation as KL's best durian ice cream is well-deserved. If you've ever avoided durian because you don’t enjoy peeling its flesh off the seed and getting your fingers messy, this ice cream is for you. Made almost purely from frozen durian flesh, it is paired with a housemade loyang biscuit and chopped pistachios for that crunch factor. Coconut jelly and gula melaka dressing complete the dish.
If you’re not a durian fan, your sweet tooth will appreciate this Mangosteen Parfait (RM36). Playing with the fruit in three different ways, the dish includes a light mangosteen sorbet, surrounded by delicate marigold petals, Thai basil and crunchy dehydrated mangosteen, all sitting on top of a fluffy purée.
We also tried the Bombe Alaska (RM36). Translucent calamansi paste and cashew nuts added a unique twist to an otherwise sweet combination of ripe mango and jackfruit.
ATAS is open for breakfast for hotel guests, lunch (express sets are available on weekdays) and dinner.
Just walk up the stairs once you enter the cozy lobby at The RuMa Hotel, past a unique gold kebaya sculpture designed by Bernard Chandran, to have your minds and stomachs taken on a gastronomical adventure.