Self-proclaimed “non-chef chef-owner” Chong Yu Cheng (also known colloquially as YC) aims to answer this question with Terra Dining, a newly opened restaurant in Taman Tun Dr. Ismail (TTDI).
YC’s entry into the industry began at the end of 2018 with Above Gastrobar, a rooftop restaurant in Ipoh Old Town. (Readers will recognise him from our most recent Chef on Chef episode!) Unlike other chefs who knew they were destined to create unforgettable dishes, this path was something YC stumbled onto. As an avid wine connoisseur, YC started Above as a wine bar, but it quickly segued into an establishment with a focus on food.
It’s clear that “curiosity and an internal calling for exploration into the food and drink realm” is what compels YC and his mission. From learning as much as he could from the Above Gastrobar kitchen team to his stage stint at Frantzén in Stockholm (sixth on The World’s Best Restaurants list) in January 2023, YC was driven to “research and rebel against the conventional expectations” of a meal, with “a spotlight on the excellence of Malaysian produce”.
Terra Dining currently serves an 11-course tasting menu priced at RM398++, with a wine pairing option at RM238++. Here are three reasons why you should check out Terra Dining:
1. Fuss free yet thoughtful in design
Terra – meaning ‘earth’ in Latin is housed in an inviting space with the aesthetic sensibilities of Wünderwall Design. The entrance is easy to miss as the external façade of the restaurant blends with its surroundings – with only the logo of two stones purposefully stacked to form the letter ‘T’ to mark its signage.
Ring the doorbell and you are greeted with a pestle and mortar on a pedestal which opens up to the lounge where you are ushered in and served canapes and kombucha. The cosy lounge is designed to feel like home where guests are reminded to shed all pretenses and fussiness, before stepping into the main dining room. With earth tones, clean finishes and lines and natural textures, the interiors are warm and inviting. In the main dining room area, the open-space kitchen is also on display where you can witness YC and his kitchen crew at work.
2. Where Malaysian produce and flavours take centerstage
“Homegrown joy” is what best describes the Terra Dining’s tasting menu. A heartfelt message is written to the guest from the team expressing: “We come together in celebration of the bounty with which our home soil has generously bestowed us.” Quite a wordsmith, these are YC’s own words as he articulated his penchant for writing as well. It’s clear that every dish and ingredient has been thoughtfully considered and utilised.
The main ethos of YC’s intention with Terra Dining is very much driven by tradition and invention working together hand-in-hand. It is conveyed here:
“Terra Dining is fuelled by a desire to elevate the local dining scene promising a symphony of Malaysian flavours, crafted with a nod to artistry and presenting in the most unexpected formats. Embracing influences from time-honoured Old World culinary arts and good ol’ reliable science, Terra Dining crafts seasonal tasting menus that are packed with variety and serving flavours that are unmistakably Malaysian yet wholly redefined in its delivery.” Diners soon discover this with the ingenious creation of a masak lemak beurre blanc, asam laksa bisque and asam pedas butter throughout the tasting menu.
Before the meal begins, guests are presented with the raw ingredients showcased in the menu on a trolley: dry-aged duck and fish, spices, herbs and grains. A ‘teaser’ of what’s to come, if you will.
3. Elements of surprise are infused throughout the meal
Why play by the rules when you can delight with surprises? While introducing distinctively Malaysian flavours and produce is the highlight to the meal, YC has opted additional elements to keep guests guessing.
The tasting menu begins with three canapes. The first is diced tiger prawns tossed with bambangan (wild Bornean mango) on a crispy beras rumie (heirloom black rice from Langit Collective) cracker. These lesser-known ingredients are even a delight to local Malaysians, many who are trying them for the first time. The second canape is an eggless Penang ‘or chien’ (oyster omelette) using breadfruit and sambal mayo. The third canape is a salted egg mung bean curry with onion jam and cauliflower on a poppadom – resembling a small tartlet.
YC is known to appreciate T’lur Caviar – it was the homegrown ingredient featured on his Chef on Chef episode. The sturgeon and its eggs from the Tanjung Malim farm make its appearance in this tasting menu in more ways than one – but YC adds an interactive element to this, cajoling diners to guess the ‘mystery fish’ for the fish course. He reveals the answer after, of course.
For the mains, diners get to choose between the duck breast or the wagyu picanha. For the duck, YC has found a solution to the dilemma of roast or braised duck: “By curing the duck in a soy sauce mixture and then dry-aging it, we get the crispy goodness of roasted duck skin, while the flesh is tender with a heady aroma thick with the full, rich notes of soy sauce. It is the best of both worlds.”
YC clearly does not play by the rules – but he definitely is playful, even for the often overlooked parts of a tasting menu. The bread course is smack dab in the middle of the meal. The petit fours are so inventive they overshadow the dessert (though this was a delectable finish in its own right). The cashew ‘cha siu’ praline in a snowskin angku petit four was a particularly amusing mix of flavours and textures.
While a tasting menu has its familiar structure and expectations, Terra Dining’s first one has been refreshingly delightful, inventive and exciting. It’s clear that every part of the experience has been thought through and infused with a lot of the team’s joy in innovating traditional flavours and textures.
Images by Terra Dining.