Modern Malaysian cuisine is not new. Many restaurants claim to reinterpret local flavours with contemporary flair but oftentimes, the dishes end up losing its unique Malaysian identity. In those cases, what part of ‘Malaysian cuisine’ is really being modernised?

At Atas Modern Malaysian Eatery, Malaysian ingredients become the main focus of each novel creation. As the main restaurant of newly opened The RuMa Hotel and Residences, Atas represents a strong local identity through its interior design and food. The space offers a fresh take on modern Malaysian cuisine through the eyes of Chef Tyson Gee who has been in the industry for over 14 years.

“I used to be very gastronomical and whimsical with my cooking but after spending years in Australia, I’ve grown to appreciate local produce and slowly understanding these distinct flavours,” shares Atas’ Executive Chef Tyson Gee who has developed a menu that truly celebrates fresh ingredients from unchartered corners of Malaysia. “Expect bold flavours, fun and exciting cooking, fresh produce and an interesting play on ingredients.”

Chef Tyson (in white) in action at the open kitchen.

Chef Tyson has travelled across Malaysia to taste, experience, study and source for unique and exotic ingredients such as various jungle herbs, wild Sarawak pepper as well as the different types of durian. In his creations, diners will be able to experience unusual pairings of uncommon ingredients with familiar flavours that Malaysians can never say no to – a good example being sambal belachan or gula Melaka.

Ambience

Tipping his hat to the historical heritage of Malaysia, British interior architect Andy Hall creates a homey yet contemporary space. The contrast between rugged texture on the walls and the sleek marble tables creates a beautiful setting in the dining area. Patrons will also be able to watch the chefs in action at the open kitchen that is embellished with pewter tiles from Royal Selangor – a nod to the tin mining history of Kuala Lumpur. Find a spot by the open garden (also where the smoking area is) for a view of the city or a cosier spot inside for a more intimate setting. Note: this is a casual dining space, so you’re free to roam around and make yourself feel like home.

Food

The chicken liver parfait (RM25) is the perfect starter. Robust creamy mousse served in a buttermilk waffle combines beautifully with homemade rosella jam that cuts through the rich flavours with a hint of tartness. If you’re a fan of this dish, the raw beef tartare (RM62) will pique your interest.

The chicken liver parfait dish is served in a buttermilk waffle, with a tarty roselle jam.

This tartare is very easy on the palate with deep-fried pepper leaf to add a slightly herbaceous note to the dish. The idea revolves around pepper, with the highlight being the wild Sarawak highland pepper that lends the dish a wafting scent of citrus – a cross between lemongrass and citronella. The meat is served with an assortment of herbs and aioli, as well as a drizzle of pepper oil and a puffed beef tendon to top it all off.

Chef Tyson puts the finishing touch to the heirloom tomato dish.

Vegans and vegetarian patrons can enjoy the heirloom tomato (RM46), which is surely one of our favourites in Atas. The tomatoes – come in an assortment of colours – are blanched quickly, skinned and served with salted plum dressing and perfumed with basil dust. What’s unique about this dish is the whipped tofu as a creamy element; replacing the need for cheese. You can call this a Malaysian version of the tomato and basil salad.

Atas is also focusing on cooking with charcoal — most of its meat dishes are cooked in a charcoal oven. This promises great flavours and a hint of smokiness that is elevated through this method. Take the 7+ Wagyu sirloin (RM350) and salt grass lamp rump (RM135) for instance. Both meat dishes are cooked to perfection – lightly charred on the outside and bright pink in the centre – just the way we like it.

Salt grass lamb rump served alongside jungle herbs, red curry sauce and toasted rice.
7+ Wagyu sirloin with tangy sambal assam and Asian greens.

The wagyu dish is served alongside sambal assam that has been rendered down to a nice consistency. The tamarind cuts through the fatty meat with just the right amount of acidity. The lamb, on the other hand, is eaten with a bouquet of jungle herbs comprising daun kesom, ulam raja, selom, semanggi and Thai basil. Mix it all together – toasted rice, greens, fried garlic and red curry sauce – to really enjoy this dish.

We can’t help it but notice a subtle hint of sweetness. “We actually coat the garlic with palm sugar before frying it to maintain a good texture to the garlic,” reveals chef Tyson.

The duck breast is dry-aged in-house in Atas.

Other locally-inspired dishes include the Jasmine rice salad (RM28) that is a spinoff from nasi ulam, and the dry aged duck breast (RM118). The rice salad may have been seasoned with a little too much of sesame oil, leaving the dish with an overpowering scent of earthiness. But the duck breast makes up for it with a celebration of textures on a plate – creamy parfait, crispy duck skin, tender aged meat (which can be slightly gamey because of its intentional ageing process), and the barrio red rice cooked al dente. If you like duck, this is a dish you cannot miss.

We also think that the meat-free dishes are super innovative compared to its protein-based renditions. The charred baby corn (RM28) ticks off everything you need in a perfect dish – texture, creativity, flavours and balance (you name it). Who would have actually thought that corn goes perfectly well with coconut? This pairing is enhanced with a slight tang using pecorino to tie the flavours together. While you’re at it, order the red braised mushroom (RM28) that is another favourite meat-free dish to add to our list. This dish features slow-cooked mushrooms, tender and silken with exploding umami flavours like a good old claypot dish.

However, out of all the dishes, Chef Tyson’s dessert menu shines through. All four of the sweet treats bring together a high level of sophistication and balance in terms of textures and flavour combinations.

Each of the desserts (RM40) come with a sorbet or ice cream – with flavours like jackfruit, roselle, coconut and D24 durian. These are paired beautifully with either a crunchy or a creamy element to give the final dish a great balance. Imagine a decadent 70% dark chocolate parfait with nangka ice cream and crumble, or pandan-infused crème caramel and peanut brittle with delicious coconut sorbet. It’s the perfect ending to a satisfying meal.

Verdict

As a non-Malaysian chef, journeying into the complexity of Malaysian cuisine may be quite a challenge. But according to Chef Tyson, his palate and appreciation towards Malaysian food and the unique ingredients have developed tremendously. After spending over a year in Malaysia developing a menu that showcases finesse, care and a great deal of respect to each and every element, the Canadian-born chef believes that he has so much more to offer in the near future. We believe that he is just warming up. As chef concludes perfectly: “My journey has just begun.”

Recommended dishes: Charred Baby Corn, Salt Grass Lamb Rump, Heirloom Tomato, Chicken Liver Parfait, Cured Ocean Trout

Noise Level: Relaxing and feels like home

Service: Attentive and friendly

The RuMa Hotel and Residences, 7 Jalan Kia Peng, 50450 Kuala Lumpur, +60 3 2778 0888 

Martin Teo
Content Editor
Martin loves traveling the world to see ancient ruins and classical architecture. He enjoys the culinary experience of various cities but (still) refuses to eat anything insect-like. On a daily basis, he finds time hitting the gym to compensate for the amount of food he needs to eat just to write an article.