If I told you that on Sunday morning I was excitedly skipping my way down Oxford Street to Debenhams before it even opened, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I was an absolute loser. Now, throw in a bit of context (such as having been invited by Ping Coombes, winner of Masterchef 2014, to the monthly breakfast club at Chi Kitchen, her contemporary pan-Asian restaurant located on the ground floor of said Debenham’s), and you can replace that image of Fern the loser with the image of the completely chuffed and ready to get stuffed Fern smiling away for the treat that was in store.
First up was the lamb murtabak, a Malaysian flat bread stuffed with spiced lamb mince, served with pickled shallots and a red curry sauce. I wasn’t really sure how I would react to eating such ‘non-breakfast items’ at breakfast, but one mouthful of this first course and I was sold. The flat bread was absolutely bursting with flavour, not to mention packing a piquant punch that satisfied not only myself, but also my good friend The Kempner Kitchen who is one of the biggest spice fiends I know, so if she gave it the thumbs up that’s saying something. The pickled shallots added a nice crunch to compliment the tenderness of the murtabak, and the acidity worked perfectly alongside the harmoniously spiced lamb mince that was setting off all sorts of happiness inside my mouth. I thought this dish couldn’t have hit any more spots until I poured some of the red curry sauce over the flat bread. It was the perfect food marriage that will live happily ever after in my memory of that morning.
Next up was Ping’s hometown Ipoh’s most famous dish, the Gai See Hor Fun, otherwise known to you and I (unless you’re a Malaysian food fan) as soft rice noodles in a chicken broth topped with slitherings of chicken, prawns, garlic chives and drizzled with roasted prawn oil. I liked this dish, but I must say it felt slightly underwhelming after the flavour explosions I had just experienced from the lamb murtabak. The flavour of the roasted prawn oil came through heavily, but I felt it perhaps overpowered the umami of the chicken broth which I had been anticipating. The portion was generous, which is always a key factor to me, the prawns were succulent and had been deveined (also a big thing for me) and on paper all the elements were there… Unfortunately I just felt that they struggled to challenge the big dog lamb murtabak.
Dessert was something I have never even heard of, much less seen (granted I’m really not a connoisseur of the Asian food world so feel free to point and laugh if it turns out this dish is really well known, but my fellow bloggers also seemed somewhat curious upon the arrival of this dish, so I don’t think I’m that out of the food loop). Kuih Talam was described on the menu as ‘a two layered Pandan and Coconut steam cake’, but was nothing like the sponge consistency we were all imagining. This rice-based dish is cooked using the pandan leaf, which Ping explained to us is an ingredient she uses in many of her dishes, before passing it round for us all to smell in its natural, pre-cooked state. The dessert was so weird but so good… I was kind of like what the hell is this bright green and white Asian creation when it arrived at the table, and now I’m like where the hell can I find this bright green and white Asian creation again?!?! It’s a dense dessert, and so one cube per person was enough, but I felt like I had so much to think about as I was eating each mouthful, from the feasting with the eyes, to the flavour to the texture… This dessert was different, unusual, fun and completely charming.
We finished off with a shot of carrot, ginger and orange juice, which I felt was the perfect, refreshing end to a breakfast that I can only describe as having taken me on a Malaysian adventure through Ping’s culinary consciousness, through spicy, sweet and savoury flavours of meat, fish, noodles and dessert… Could you ask for a more comprehensive breakfast?!
What also shocked me was the value for money of this breakfast hosted by Ping herself who talks you through each dish. £20 per person gets you all three courses, the finishing juice shot and unlimited Malaysian tea or coffee, whilst for an extra £5 you can add in Sunday’s well-earned glass of prosecco, because what’s a Sunday without a bit of sparkle?!
Ground Floor Debenhams
334-348 Oxford Street
020 3841 6888