The Star: Multi-course dining at a (low) fixed price

The Tiffany-blue suede chairs have a soothing influence, the fresh flowers on each table welcome and beckon, and the wait staff are friendly without being over-eager.

And then there is the jellyfish tank at the entrance.

The tank is clearly meant to entice, and has an almost magnetic lure, as crowds teem around it, staring in awe. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think people were trying to take pictures of a celebrity!

Meanwhile, the jellyfish float languidly in their watery bath, iridescent and magical, like something out of an underwater fairytale.

Marco Creative Cuisine is an F&B concept by Daren Leong, the eatery’s head chef. Leong cut his teeth at his family’s famed Aroma Nyonya catering outfit (the brand makes delectable nonya kuih), before heading to Singapore where he gained more experience in the F&B industry.

Upon returning to Malaysia, he co-founded Miam Miam, which was touted as a French-Japanese fusion restaurant. Miam Miam was later rebranded to Franco.

The brand was acquired by a department store, and soon Lee was on to his next endeavour: Marco Modern Café. The café gave him the chance to experiment and transition to what he really wanted to do: affordable multi-course dining. Which is how Marco Creative Cuisine came to be.

The eatery only churns out one multi-course menu for lunch and dinner. Leong says this is by design. “We realised customers always have this dilemma: ‘Should I have the soup or the salad?’ Shall I have dessert to go with it?’ So we thought, you come to a restaurant for the experience, why do you need to make difficult decisions that you already have to make at work?” he says.

The multi-course menu encompasses a palate cleanser, “bread”, soup, salad, main course, dessert and coffee or tea – all for RM78 (inclusive of GST but not service charge).

Within the one multi-course menu, diners can still weigh in on options for soups, salads, main courses and desserts, but it’s a much smaller list of choices.

“I think this is a pretty new concept to most diners, so we wanted to mention things like the palate cleanser on the menu to give people a clearer understanding of what they were getting,” explains Leong.

Most of the items on the menu, from the heirloom tomatoes and baby greens to the chicken and duck are sourced locally, to avoid having to jack up prices.

Although some elements like salmon are imported, Leong is striving to get more produce from good Malaysian artisanal producers, to keep his check and balance system at an equilibrium.

“We wanted to follow the mantra of AirAsia – everybody can fly! So we want everybody to be able to try a ‘finer’ dining experience. We think diners around here deserve something better, but we don’t want to make the price too high,” says Leong.

Each multi-course menu begins with a velvety matcha lime shooter – the palate cleanser. The zesty, refreshing opener offers an instant pick-me-up.

This is closely followed by a savoury éclair, a yummy pastry with a swish of aubergine caviar lending it a savoury, vegetal quality with hints of green chilli pesto giving it a rich, punchy kick.

Then there are the soups, which include options like strawberry gazpacho and truffled mushroom soup. The strawberries are mixed with capsicum, onion, red wine vinegar and olive oil, vacuum packed and left to marinate in the chiller for 12 hours. Just before serving, the mixture is blended and strained.

The soup is ice cold and refreshing, with flavours that marry well together – the strawberries provide sweetness that is balanced out by the red wine vinegar and onion, so you don’t feel like you’re eating a dessert.

The truffle mushroom soup is a more classic offering that hits all the right notes. The soup is a mixture of shiitake mushroom puree and brown mushroom sauce, so it is neither overtly chunky nor too thin and watery. Instead, it’s got a rich, smooth texture, lovely mushroom nuances and a touch of opulence from the drizzle of truffle oil.

Next up are the salads, the most interesting of which is the savoury ice cream salad, which boasts assorted baby leaves, heirloom tomatoes, seasonal micro greens and edible flowers served with savoury ice-cream. This is a very simple dish that is also a bit underwhelming, especially as the ice-cream tastes far more sweet than it does savoury. This gives the dish a weird co-mingling of flavours that don’t quite go together.

For mains, there are six options on offer, including salmon with jet black hollandaise – a squid ink hollandaise – garnished with pickled beetroot and green chilli pesto.

The salmon is perfectly cooked with a layer of crispy skin that readily gives way to soft, flaky meat. The green chilli pesto (inspired by the pickled green chillies of wantan mee) and hollandaise sauce complement the fish so perfectly that you’ll find yourself polishing this off with gusto.

If you’re of the vegetarian persuasion, you might want to try the vegetarian arrabbiata, which is composed of penne in pomodoro sauce, with aubergine, zucchini, shimeiji and hot sauce, garnished with parmesan cheese.

The pomodoro sauce is made in-house and is rich and sumptuous with a pronounced sweet-sour composition. The dish is a hearty, wholesome Italian offering that is satisfying from the word ‘go’, although it does seem a bit simplistic for the overall menu.

Once you’ve had your fill of the main course, it’s time to select quite possibly the best part of your meal – dessert! Of the dessert options, the deconstructed lemon meringue pie and raspberry cheesecake seduce the imagination the most

The pie offers tart bits of lemon curd, passion fruit gel, Italian meringue and white chocolate sherbet. It’s a nice little dessert that’s an inventive play on the traditional lemon meringue pie, although more lemon curd would have been nice.

The raspberry cheesecake is velvety soft and has strong berry flavours and cheesy undertones that work hand-in-hand to seduce your senses into total submission.

Leong says the menu will be updated on a quarterly basis to take into account what diners like and dislike and to introduce new concepts, like the omakase meals he plans to roll out sometime in the future.

“Most of us here at Marco are dreamers. We just want to do something different, and offer people a new experience – all the time,” he says.

Marco Creative Cuisine

Lot G146, Ground Floor (Old Wing)
1 Utama Shopping Centre
1, Lebuh Bandar Utama
47800 Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03 7731 8923
Open daily, noon to 3pm (lunch); 3pm to 6pm (coffee and desserts only); 6pm to 10pm (dinner)

Media: The Star
Date: 11 April 2017