KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 4 — In the days following the Chinese New Year holiday, consider stepping away from the massive banquet halls and fine china and relish instead in the deeply human satisfaction of dining at an unpretentious dai chow like Restoran Lam Chye.
Pristine seafood, fiery flavourful cooking and bright orange plastic plates await at this Batu Caves establishment, which attracts a large crowd on most nights, so booking ahead is advisable.
There is an air-conditioned section, but I think you miss half the fun of eating in places like these if you don’t sit in the al fresco section and witness the frenzied symphony of big families fiddling with baby chairs, old regulars pounding down frosty beer and staff running around with bubbling, steaming and sizzling hot food.
Lam Chye, like most great dai chow joints, gets its hands on a wide variety of fresh seafood, including wild-caught freshwater fish, ocean fish (a tank of massive tiger groupers sit by the front) and shellfish.
Clams, usually lala, steamed in a clay pot with plenty of Chinese wine, garlic and cili padi is a popular preparation here, but on the night itself, our server recommended razor clam — also known as bamboo clam — citing less than ideal quality in the former.
It did little to impede the dish’s popularity, as we saw it on nearly every table, and ours too, in the end.
A small portion came to RM30. It arrived piping hot with a strong aroma of wine and chilli, a pile of juicy, meaty molluscs in their long, narrow shells.
They have a briny quality about them, and their natural juices added a savoury dimension to the garlicky cooking liquid that I don’t think lala is capable of.
It was a moreish dish, punctuated by spring onions and the occasional sucker punch of biting into fresh cili padi.
Next was a classic comfort dish, a Steamed Pork Patty with Dried Cuttlefish (RM23). In addition to the salty bits of cuttlefish, there were also dried shrimps strewn all around the patty.
It possessed a supple, springy texture which resembled a meatball, as opposed to a crumbly loaf. It’s a simple dish, executed masterfully and with a flourish.
The focal point of the meal was a Steamed Wild Patin (RM276 for just over one kilogram).
When prepared in the clean "ching jing” fashion, I think freshwater fish really gets a chance to shine, and a fatty fish like patin takes exceptionally well to seasoned soy sauce and simple aromatics like ginger and spring onion.
Such is the mildly sweet and mostly savoury sauce, it’d be a crime not to eat this with white rice.
The belly is my outright favourite part, where gelatinous flesh leads to a luscious, heavenly bite.
Leaner parts of the fish, like the back, are firmer and flakier, making for a less luxurious but clean-tasting bite.
Washed down with the umpteenth glass of ice-cold tea, it’s hard not to slink into the chair and let out an audible "Ahhh” of sincere contentment.
Bringing proceedings to a close was another dish in a clay pot. Yau mak, or romaine lettuce fried with dried cuttlefish, dried whitebait and plenty of cili padi.
They’re not shy with bold flavours here, and the dual-dried seafood approach yielded plenty of flavour in tandem with the heat of the chillies.
I enjoyed the deep, verdant flavour in the still crunchy lettuce, which avoided the soggy fate it is so often condemned to.
For Chinese New Year, Lam Chye is offering a jellyfish yee sang (RM68). They will be closed for two days, on February 10 and 11, before resuming business as usual on February 12.
Restoran Lam Chye 霖仔(家乡)饭店
9, Jalan SG 1/9, Taman Sri Gombak, Batu Caves
Open daily, 11am-3pm, 5.30-9.30pm
Tel: 03-6185 7210
*This is an independent review where the writer paid for the meal.
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