Friday, February 01, 2008

So much food, so little time...

Been to many new places this last month since the last post and despite my best efforts to actually write up my thoughts on these new places, I really just haven't been able to find the time. Even my long-gestating Doughnut Dissertation post hasn't been published because I've just not been able to find the time to edit it.

Lest we we take the subject of writing about doughnuts likely, it is after all, the paramount issue of taste here. (and a recent re-tasting of Big Apple doughnuts confirms my conclusion - nowhere near JCo, and absolutely far below Krispy Kreme).

This week, the one place I have been to rather consistently has been a new restaurant at the Gardens @ MidValley, called The YogiTree.

A friend mentioned the place and I happened to chance upon them whilst they were promoting their food in the basement at a little stand in the Gardens. The Orange and Carrot Cake seemed quite good and being a sucker for all things cake, I ventured there to try it out for lunch.

And I've had lunch there about 5 times already this week.

Conceptually speaking, it is innovative for the Malaysian food scene, although the ideas they are promoting are strictly speaking, not all that new. The idea of eating slow cooked food (meaning food prepared ala minute, rather than with a great deal of prep and simply then reheated), and favouring organic and thereby seasonal produce, over commercially grown produce is not *new* per se. But it is quite revolutionary in Malaysia as far as a mid-range cafe goes.

YogiTree is not a pure organic cafe but it operates on the idea of striving to be as organic as possible, without having you essentially eat cardboard. I have lost count of the number of friends who look like I'm about to force wheatgrass down their throats when I suggest eating at an organic place.

Admittedly, most organic food shops don't have a reputation for making particularly tasty food (I have not eaten at Country Farm Organic Cafe so I can't compare the food but it's hardly the place where everyone scrambles to have lunch so...).

People seem to feel that healthy almost always necessitates a compromise when it comes to taste. Marmalade Cafe, which I frequent quite often, has positioned itself as a healthier alternative with 'healthy' foods but frankly there are some serious bombs on the menu, which no matter how 'healthy' they are, simply will be impossible to persuade someone to eat on the basis that it is 'nice'.

Personally, I maintain a limited selection of items I will eat at Marmalade because I believe health does not require a compromise with taste.

When I first encountered the YogiTree, I was a bit skeptical about the whole organic = health argument. This is a seriously *misguided* theory that people have, equating organic with health. This was especially the case after I had a squiff at the menu of the YogiTree - cheesecakes, fry ups and nasi lemak, even with brown rice, are not by any stretch of the word, 'healthy'.

But having eaten there 5 times this week, I've gotten a better understanding of the positioning, which is 'Real Food Cafe', and understand the concept behind it better.

The food is not healthy in the sense that it is not all whole-grains (they do serve white bread) and they do not compromise on their cakes in the cream, eggs and butter departments. You will not find a egg white omelette on their menu, or whole grain pancakes, although they do have muesli. The notion of healthy food at YogiTree is food that is free of the usual gunk you get in commercial kitchens (think MSG, artificial flavours and nuking food), and that with good quality ingredients, there's the need to do less with the food (less sauces to disguise bad flavour for example) in order to achieve more.

Like I said, it's quite an old hat idea, but new here in Malaysia.

The YogiTree does have some compromise items for the people who want to eat something that is unhealthy but which is done in a healthier incarnation, read, not the full-fat, artery-clogging, cholesterol raising form. Nasi Lemak is the classic epitome of an unhealthy dish that defies being made healthy, without some form of unacceptable compromise. But I guess it depends on the kind of person you are. If you think of eating nasi lemak as an indulgence, but would rather not go the whole hog, then this is the place for a 'health-conscious' nasi lemak.

Personally I reckon that if you are going to eat Nasi lemak, might as well just eat the artery-clogging variety. As Delia Smith said, roast chicken with butter once a week, rather than roast chicken without butter 3 times a week. Moderation is the key, but not all of us can quite figure out how to use it.

But in any case, I have found the food to be quite exceptional and of a higher quality and standard than Marmalade and Delicious (caveat: I revile the place...and so my viewpoint on the food in Delicious should be taken with a bag of salt). And it's not that its new-fangled or exotic although there are some interesting ideas on the menu (the Organic Grilled Chicken Salad with peanut sauce is an interesting fusion of Malaysian and Japanese flavours). But there are lots of easy choices - a chicken sandwich, jazzed up simply by a good mayonaise, a simple steak sandwich, quiche and a solid cheeseburger. The cakes are also exceptionally good, although the shortcrust pastry is a little on the dense and hard side.

And because my loathing of Delicious stems from an incident relating to their lemon meringue pie, I have to say, the lemon tart at YogiTree is above par. Not quite touching the sublime version at Bakerzin, but there. A buttery thick curd, with just the right mix of tart and sweet, with a slightly burnt sugar crust. A splash of cream on the side completes the dish quite well.

I don't usually wax lyrical about a place but right now, the YogiTree is getting my vote. It helps that the owners used to run The Social and the Ivy. Teething problems are still being ironed out - one of the problems they face is the challenge of getting all the food out all at once (improving the last time I went) but initial visitors might not want to chose to visit during a SHORT lunch hour, just in case.

Again, it harks back to the concept of slow food and not gobbling down your lunch/dinner/meal but alas, the reality of Malaysian life is that most of us are impatient with food and expect it to turn up at the table within 15 minutes of putting in the order. Which is a tall order for a place trying to do ala minute food, and minimise pre-prep of food, to keep it as fresh as possible.

It certainly is going to take some time for them to educate the public, a somewhat uphill battle in a land where many people think that they know what is good, simply because they know what tastes good, and where people have come to expect their food to appear at hawker-food speeds.

Read their menu here.

Meanwhile, I've worked my way through the menu and have found some favourites - despite the banning of bread on my diet, the hummus and moutabbel (aka Baba Ganoush) is excellent with both white and brown bread (ask for brown to feel less guilt). I also love the Grilled Mediterranean Vegetables Superfoods Salad (still trying to perfect it in my own kitchen - damn!). The cakes are also solid performers - simple ideas well executed. I've had the Chocolate Cheese Cake, Mixed Berry Compote Cheesecake and Carrot Cake, all which were well-made, which is really what it comes down to when it comes to a good cake.

The Segafreddo coffee is sorta growing on me.

The Grilled Organic Chicken Salad is also a winner. For sides, the coleslaw is excellent and the mash very tasty, whilst offering the sensation of healthiness (I'm sure there's butter in it but I didn't taste that much of it). I also like it that the mash is a textured mash (more crushed/smashed than mashed), which is a nice change. At least you know for sure it didn't come out of a box.

Although I haven't tried them out, there are also Daily Blackboard specials. Was nearly tempted by the baked organic potato with baked beans and coleslaw harking back to uni cafeteria days.

The YogiTree
F-237B, 1st Floor, (Isetan Side)
Gardens Mid Valley, 59200 Kuala Lumpur

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ahhhhh.....your little post highlighted Bakerzin and reminded me again of just how good the food there is. So I must go now....