Chef Toni Valero is boundless in his energy and passion – that’s my first impression of him as I observed him zipping around the open kitchen at Coquo. If the name sounds familiar, that’s probably because you have heard of this talented chef who used to helm the culinary team in Ohla at The Intermark. Chef Toni has since moved on to Coquo at Solaris Dutamas where he’s a co-owner and happily showcasing his masterful creations to delighted diners.
The L-shaped seating facing the open kitchen in Coquo allows diners to interact closely with the chef while the meal is being prepared and that brings the dining experience notches above any ordinary meal. But then again, having a meal prepared by Chef Toni is never just ordinary. And not because this talented chef has worked in world-class restaurants that other chefs only dream about (read: 3-Michelin-Stars El Celler de Can Roca and 2-Michelin-stars Mugaritz). It’s all about how Chef Toni presents his creations – dishes that make sense, where fresh authentic ingredients are allowed to shine and not be crowded by too many elements.
Far from being the typical snooty fine-dining establishment, the cosy intimate ambience of Coquo is just the perfect accessible place to enjoy a meal prepared with fine techniques and precise execution – traits that are second-to-none where Chef Toni is concerned. The dishes served looked deceptively simple but I do know the amount of time, work and skills, of course, that went into that bowl of Mixed Salad, for example.
Mixed Salad, duck ham, pickle radish & anise vinaigrette
The said Mixed Salad is part of Coquo’s Special Menu that’s available until 9 June 2017 only. The 4-course meal including an aperitif is priced at RM188++ per person. It’s really pretty good value, considering the fine food trademarked to Chef Toni. The duck ham in the salad has been dried and smoked in the chef’s favourite Josper oven before being left to cure in the refrigerator for a month. Using organic radish from A Little Farm On The Hill, the radish has been pickled for a fortnight in a marination of various herbs and spices before being tossed into the salad with lashings of star anise vinaigrette. Now, wouldn’t you totally appreciate the meticulous efforts behind this salad?
The following course of Roasted Eggplant topped with smoke dry fish sitting on a bed of crisp baby spinach leaves and drizzled with sambal oil isn’t any less easy. As we all know, the eggplant is pretty bland on its own and Chef Toni does a good job of infusing flavours onto it without compromising its natural form. The eggplant is roasted and smoked in the Josper oven for about 40 minutes and then topped with homemade smoked and dry fish from Pulau Ketam. This whole ensemble is further smoked at tableside and what I got to taste was a well-flavoured dish enhanced with wafts of enticing smokiness.
Roasted Eggplant, smoked dry fish, garlic baby spinach leaves & sambal oil
The main course is a fillet of Seabream in lemongrass bouillabaisse and topped with caviar with Sarawak laksa flavours. Using molecular techniques like spherification, the intense spicy flavours of the laksa are cleverly encased in gel globules which burst in the mouth for that surprising twist.
Seabream, lemongrass bouillabaisse & laksa caviar
When you dine in Coquo, do have an ice-cream. Simply because Chef Toni makes all the ice-cream inhouse using fresh ingredients with no added sugar. The Roasted Pumpkin Ice-cream is ridiculously smooth with light natural sweetness, caramelized from the roasting in the Josper. The delicate velvety ice-cream pairs well with colourful tropical Macedonia from tropical fruit juice frozen and transformed into cute little round icicles using liquid nitrogen at -19oC! To bind all this wizardry together, Chef Toni spoons in some house-made goat milk yoghurt.
Roasted Pumpkin Ice Cream, tropical fruit macedonia & homemade goat milk yogurt
Besides the Special Menu, I also checked out a few a la carte dishes. The Confit Mushrooms is an interesting dish. What looked to me like a bowl of braised “fuchook” (beancurd sheets) is actually milk skin cocooning fragrant mushroom duxelles cooked for hours using the sous vide method. Topped with dry mushrooms, toasted pine nuts and pea sprouts, it’s unique and nourishing.
Confit Mushrooms (RM27)
Using fresh shrimps from Pulau Ketam, Chef Toni’s Prawn Carpaccio is his reinterpretation of Sarawak laksa (yes, that’s his favourite noodles, in case you haven’t grasp that yet!). By placing slivers of the fresh translucent prawns seeped in laksa spiced oil onto rice crackers seasoned with prawn powder and topping that with some laksa caviar, it’s eating Sarawak laksa in a whole different perspective! The thing is, I need to share this platter with some friends because I find that this is one dish that cannot be over-indulged!
Prawn Carpaccio (RM38)
I have a thing about the good chef’s house-made ice cream and his Curry Leaves Ice Cream just proved the point again. The intense red sliced stewed strawberries are laced with Szechuan pepper which leaves an amazing trail on the tongue. You just have to taste it yourself.
Curry Leaves Ice Cream (RM22)
Chef Toni and Coquo are passionate about supporting local farmers and traders. Not only does he believe in connecting to the community, Chef Toni is a staunch supporter of sustainable farming and firmly subscribes to using fresh local produce for quality which can rival imported ingredients. He maintains that “if quality of local produce is equivalent to the imported stuff, why not use them as this also brings about affordable dining?” So, there you have it – creating and cooking fine food with the best local produce in a accessible place without busting the wallet – go Coquo.
COQUO RESTAURANT & WINE BAR
D1-G4-6 Jalan Dutamas 1
50480 Kuala Lumpur