KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 26 – From the arrangement of fresh flowers on the table to uniquely designed menus doubling as individual place cards, no detail is spared. You might think this is a typical scene at one of Kuala Lumpur’s many fine dining restaurants, but you’d be wrong.
Instead of some posh F&B establishment, my dining companion and I are at a nice condominium just outside the city centre for dinner. A most unusual dinner: You see, we only received the address to the secret venue the day prior; we have no idea who our fellow guests are. Welcome to the world of secret supper clubs.
The name of this particular supper club is Transparent Apron, the brain child of Nicklaus Au and Ryonn Leong. The two culinary partners first met while performing with the Young KL Singers choir group six years ago.
Au says, “We realised we both shared a love for cooking. I had graduated from a culinary arts course but never had a chance to utilise my skills professionally. When Ryonn pitched the idea of starting our own supper club last year, I jumped at the opportunity.”
What is a supper club though? From secret restaurants concealed in tiny Hong Kong apartments to family-run paladares in Cuba, this underground dining scene has been thriving in recent years. While some supper clubs are invitation only, Transparent Apron allows the public to make reservations on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/TransparentApron).
This means, more often than not, you will be dining at a table of strangers. Au believes that this is part of the charm of Transparent Apron. “Strangers are the perfect guests for a supper club environment. For example, you would never pull up a chair, sit next to a complete stranger in a restaurant and share their bread and wine. But when you’re at our place, you are welcomed to do so; in fact, it’s encouraged!”
Leong agrees, “The conversations and interactions just flow with a more intimate setting. When there are guests who are couples, we don’t place them next to each other. In fact, this is better as it creates a different, exciting dining experience.”
Transparent Apron serves mainly Euro-American cuisine with heavy Italian-French influences.
However, given that every supper club evening is different, and some come with specific themes, anything goes. Expect Bavarian-style fare for Oktoberfest or Peranakan dishes to celebrate Nyonya Baba night.
As the one doing most of the recipe research, Au notes, “We rarely cook the same thing twice since there are many recipes that we’d like to try out. That being said, we’d like to revisit some of our past dishes and see how we can improve on them. Right now, my most memorable dish is an adaptation of the Momofuku pork bun made with miso paste and confit pork belly.”
Leong adds, “For the past year, there are new things that are incorporated into every dinner we hosted. I guess this is our signature now. It should have an experimental element. And experimenting drives all sorts of thought process to translate into execution.”
Seasonality plays a big part in ingredient choices for the Transparent Apron team. Au shares,
“As much as possible, we like to use local ingredients. I had always wanted to use peidan (century egg) for the longest time. Instead of inventing a new flavour pairing, what I did was to change the shape and texture of the egg and its accompaniment. That’s how I came out with a peidan mousse with ginger gel and sesame butter cake.”
We certainly can’t complain. Our appetizer, an apple salad and fish tartare with ginger-lime miso reduction, is refreshing. Dark ale cinnamon braised pork with mushroom-apple sauce on potato mash makes for a hearty main. If you ask nicely, these vocally-gifted chefs may well serenade you with a song or two to go with your supper!
For such a small operation, teamwork plays a big part in their success. Leong says, “Nick takes charge of the kitchen while I assist him and manage the set up and the front of house.
Prior to serving, we will plan around our daily schedules to purchase ingredients and to do prepping. Over time, we have developed this understanding when we work. Of course, let’s not forget we make sure we have a good time in the kitchen too!”
Au adds, “After a year, we have a polished routine. We have worked out a lot of little issues that we faced along the way. Rarely anything throws us off our game anymore. We had learned to adapt and be less panicky in the kitchen. However, for anyone who is thinking of going into F&B, never ever underestimate the job and think it’s a walk in the park. It’s really not and often harder than what you probably have to do at work.”
Despite the challenges, this dynamic duo are still going strong and excited about their next supper club menu and the unknowns of what type of guests they will be serving. They are also open to collaborations with others such as a recent one with Chef Christian Recomio using ingredients from Southern Rock Seafood.
Leong says, “Working with a professional chef reinforced our vision and thinking process. Christian showed us some tricks and at the same time gave us insights about managing the kitchen, crew and food.”
Ultimately, the Transparent Apron boys are crazy about food. Au sums it up, “We want to serve guests with food we believe in. We are passionate about our little supper club; we consider our every menu to decide what will make a memorable experience our guests will talk about long after the dinner has ended.”
This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on October 25, 2013.