January 8th, 2021
Babe: Japas Fun Dining at Clearwater, Damansara Heights: Restaurant Review
Can you keep a secret? Babe – one of 2015’s most anticipated new restaurants – has declared a launch date of Nov. 20, but the truth is, it’s already open for business. If you’d like to visit while this venue is still free of crowds (all the better for enjoying an untrammelled 11th-floor view of the city from Damansara Heights), reserve a table for Wednesday or Thursday this week.
Babe’s chief asset is its chef, American-Japanese Jeff Ramsey, an affably approachable figure who helmed the kitchen of Tapas Molecular Bar in Mandarin Oriental, Tokyo, when it earned its first Michelin star. But his resume extends far beyond that – Ramsey’s career has now taken him from Chicago to KL, where Babe harnesses the sum of his expertise in everything from classic sushi to deconstructed food, with all the requisite froths & foams, to unleash an impressively imaginative experience.
Theatrical Food-Science Wizardry
Ramsey sets the stage for a meal teeming with theatrical food-science wizardry – the spotlight on ‘Japas,’ or Japanese tapas, hints at a heightened sense of humour & wonder, embodied by degustations priced at RM150, RM200 or RM300 per person (an a la carte selection will be introduced soon). Surprise is the key element to dishes such as this opening salvo of the most comprehensive 17-course, omakase-style dinner – warm potato mousse crowned with smoked coconut strips (their savoury flavour ends up evoking bacon, but with clear vestiges of tropical fruitiness), laced with slivers of clams & onion marmalade.
Seafood & Smokiness
The meal progresses with a confident logic & easy flow – Ramsey’s second course retains the motifs of seafood & smokiness: Oysters smoked to accentuate their brininess, balanced with yuzu sour cream. That’s followed by sashimi ‘cigars’ – spring rolls with a light, crisp skin, stuffed with a trinity of tuna, salmon & yellowtail, made nuanced with soy sauce gel & sparks of wasabi.
Plenty of playfulness ensues – the ‘curry buns’ comprise macaron shells constructed of baguettes, painstakingly transformed into crunchy-airy pastries through a complicated-sounding process, filled not with sweet ganache but a salty centre of Japanese pulled chicken curry. Practically everything here is a mind-teasing, palate-tickling combo of tastes & textures: Seared Wagyu beef presented in the fashion of sushi, on a base of crunchy potato croquettes that seem hollow at first but reveal a filling of potato mousse on the initial bite, followed by frozen spheres of romaine lettuce blended with Caesar dressing, sprinkled with parmesan on a cushion of crouton dust – it supplies the dynamics of a salad but the dimensions of a dessert.
Fish comes to the forefront for the compellingly aromatic cypress-smoked yellowtail sushi, konbu-marinated sea bream with with toasted rice puffs & a burst of liquid sour plum laced with shiso & tea, as well as a carpaccio of striped horse mackerel with konbu gel – each brings vibrant new-millennium twists to familiar sushi-counter traditions, marrying style with substance.
Charcoal-grilled Alaskan king crab legs & butter-dripped Wagyu beef pack a robust protein punch with a pleasurable chew.
The Manga Crab
It’s a long dinner, but fatigue doesn’t quite set in, since the food stays consistently engaging. We like the fanciful presentation of the Manga Crab – soft-shell crab that’s supposed to look like it’s been sliced with a samurai sword, with its green guts oozing out (actually coriander vinaigrette with turmeric mayo) over a plate artistically printed with edible charcoal mayo. Each serving is relatively small, but the sheer richness of the ingredients means that even heavy eaters might feel satiated by the time the ikura gohan – butter-seasoned rice blanketed with salmon roe – surfaces. But save space for what Babe bills ‘The World’s Juiciest Lamb,’ a succulent chop that comes with a caution attached (spoiler: the worst that happens is a spate of squirting).
Desserts are almost an overload of flashy flourishes, memorably living up to Babe’s tagline of ‘fun dining’ – in the months ahead, expect to see many social media videos of the smoking meringues; dunk each one into the liquid nitrogen for eight seconds, pop them in your mouth, & you’ll have instant ‘dragon breath,’ exhaling cold ‘smoke’ from your nostrils.
After many bite-sized courses, it’s a jolt to suddenly see an elaborate dish for sharing, intricately plated with complex ingredients – the centrepiece is almond brown butter cake, but the star is the Yamazaki whisky ice cream (indelibly garnished with a ‘broken bottle’). It brings this dinner full circle, with a beginning & an end that are both punctuated with smoky subtleties.
One more for the road: Miso butterscotch soft sweets with edible wrappers, popping-candy chocolate bars, & strawberry ’tissues’ with milk-scented paper. And with that, Babe does what not enough restaurants accomplish, managing a meal that’s strong from start to finish, successfully juggling inspirations from across the globe with innovative aplomb. It’ll be interesting to watch this place evolve; imminent plans include a full-fledged bar that’ll be whipping up molecular-mixology cocktails. A bit of trivia: Babe’s name is, unfortunately, not a nod to Take That’s second-best song of all time, but an acronym for Best of Asia at Be (Be is the wellness centre of the Clearwater Group that owns everything in this building, including the Ploy & Way eateries).
Location and Contact Details
Babe: Japas Fun Dining
11th Floor, Work @ Clearwater, Changkat Semantan
Open Tuesday-Sunday for dinner