KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 26 — A decade ago, the perception of French cuisine in Kuala Lumpur was that it seemed largely confined to the white tablecloth and expensive silverware of fine dining.
Options for traditional, but unpretentious French cooking seemed limited, but nowadays, we seem to be witnessing a desire to depart from the rigidity and formality of fine dining across various cuisines, French included.
Today, it is easier than ever before to find "French food” or at least, French-inspired or adjacent food, in any number of self-labelled bistros and brasseries.
So where does one go to eat their fill of escargot, gorge on duck confit or indulge in a classic tarte Tatin?
Filtering through le bien et le mal (good and evil) to find simple but refined French cooking in a relaxed, almost modest, setting, I find myself at an inner corner of Jalan Bangsar Utama, down a staircase and into a lovely place that is almost completely hidden from view after dark.
Welcome to Chez Gaston.
Chef and founder Florian Nigen, originally from Brittany — the renowned home of crêpes and my favourite pastry, kouign-amann — is no stranger to Malaysia.
He was previously at the helm of Rendez-Vous, which similarly served traditional French cuisine in a laid-back setting in Bangsar.
It later closed, and in 2018, he opened Chez Gaston by Rendez-Vous, carrying on where he left off, serving classics like coq au vin and bouillabaisse.
Once you find the restaurant, you’re greeted by a chalkboard of the day’s specials, a series of well-spaced tables, small and large, and a sky-high ceiling that makes the dining room feel much bigger than it is.
There are no QR codes in sight.
Instead, in addition to the clipboard menu, there’s another chalkboard for the cuts of beef available, which the extremely helpful staff will bring around.
Our server, Don, took exceptionally good care of us throughout the night.
Starting our meal was a trio of Escargots Bourguignon (RM29), Terrine de Campagne (RM24) and Mousse de Volaille Goût Truffle (RM29), with the latter two served alongside gherkins, a baguette, halved lengthwise and a jam of shallots and red wine.
Prepared in the classic Burgundy style, the delicate snails are buttery and tender, with each bite providing an explosion of garlic and parsley.
Firm and chunky but still moist, the country-style pork terrine was particularly subtle in flavour; by contrast, the chicken liver mousse was smooth, intensely earthy and savoury, with notes of truffle and iron bursting through each smear.
Both were enjoyable with the plain and simple baguette, which was thankfully free of the sadly soggy or bone-crushingly brittle plight that is most restaurant baguettes in KL.
The jam on the side was a welcome addition, though the mousse was so good on its own that I found myself scraping, digging and licking the jar clean long after we finished the bread and jam.
Canard Confit (RM67) is listed as the "people’s favourite” on the menu, and it’s easy to see why.
Sporting an immaculately crisp exterior, the duck leg is golden, brown and delicious, propped up on a bed of sauteed potatoes.
The flesh is juicy, moist and tender — just brilliant execution, top marks all around.
The kitchen proved just as adept with fish, as shown by the new addition of Daurade a L’escabeche (RM58), a pan-fried fillet of sea bream served with a sweet and sour capsicum based sauce.
Clean-tasting, flaky white flesh pulled apart easily on the fork, complemented wonderfully by the piquant and tangy sauce, though it wasn’t as sharp as other versions of escabeche I’ve tried, which was a good thing.
When I ordered the Grilled Beef earlier, I opted for the Argentinian ribeye (RM120) that was available on the day.
It arrived a perfect medium rare, as recommended, with thick-cut chips and an inconsequential salad.
While I usually dislike steaks with grill marks on them (I prefer a hard crust and char), I find myself full of praise for what was, at the end of the day, a perfectly cooked piece of steak.
Juicy, tender and full of flavour, it bore all the hallmarks of a good steak.
Offered a choice between pepper or béarnaise sauce, I chose the latter, a decision which I did not regret.
Once again, the simple stuff is done remarkably well here, with the light and creamy egg yolk-based sauce being the latest example.
Of course, we couldn’t leave without dessert, and once the Apple Tarte Tatin (RM26) caught my eye, it was a no-brainer.
Topped with a single scoop of vanilla ice cream, the rich, amber hue of caramelised apples gave way to a single bite of sweet, sticky decadence.
Layers of unmitigated bliss include cold, creamy ice cream, syrupy glaze, soft apples and buttery pastry.
Chez Gaston by rendez-vous
Open daily, 12-3pm, 6-11pm
Tel: 011-3993 0036
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