Japanese meets French cuisine enhanced with local ingredients
If you’re looking for a truly decadent dining experience, Chef James Won’s Shin’Labo should be on your list.
We were recently treated to an omakase with chef James Won at his latest posh joint, located on the ground floor of downtown LaLaport Bukit Bintang, and here is our review.
Transcendental is the word that comes to mind when entering James Won’s Shin’Labo. As soon as you enter the restaurant, the sensation is immediate – you know you are about to enter a lush experience. Located right next to the fountain at the main entrance to downtown LaLaport Bukit Bintang, Shin’Labo sets out to reinvent the omakase experience by marrying Japanese cuisine with French cuisine, while using indigenous Malay ingredients. carefully selected.
The name ‘Shin’Labo’ is a pretty clever pun rooted in the Japanese word ‘shin’, which can mean 真, “true” 伸, “extend” 新, “new” 心, “heart”. “Lab”, on the other hand, has the same meaning in Japanese and French: laboratory. True to its name, as soon as you enter the Shin’Lounge you will find all kinds of laboratory equipment such as beakers and conical flasks.
According to Chef James Won, foodie extraordinaire, the idea for Shin’Labo stems from his own aspiration to revitalize the yōshoku – Western-influenced cooking in Japanese cuisine – elevating it using modern French techniques. Thus, dishes such as Truffle Hayashi Rice and Orange Binchotan Duck grace the menu and are just a few of the many experimental dishes of what Shin’Labo has to offer.
For those who don’t know, Chef James Won is something of a force majeure in the Malaysian food scene, and his passion for fine cuisine dates back to his time in Champagne, France, where he first trained, then in some of Japan’s top 3-star Michelin restaurants, before acquiring his knowledge and experience in Malaysian lands. With Franco-Malaysian establishment Bouchon Finally under its belt, Shin’Labo is undoubtedly chef James Won’s love letter to Japan, particularly to yōshoku kitchen.
What you might notice even before entering Shin’Labo is its obvious lack of windows, and once inside you’ll understand why. What Chef James Won intends to introduce with Shin’Labo is an intimate ambience, the feeling of being on a gastronomic journey that should exist on a different plane than you know. The Shin’Lounge seats around 14 guests, evoking a sort of exclusivity akin to that of an invitation-only club.
Caspian Caviar House
Before going to Shin’Kappou — the only dining room in Shin’Labo, separated simply by a sliding door — we recommend that you head to the Caspian Caviar House. Set up as a luxury bar and caviar lounge, this is where you can see and taste premium purebred sturgeon caviar, grown and selected right in the heritage sites of the Caspian Sea. As Chef James Won affirms, the caviar on offer at Shin’Labo is the crème de la crème – whether it’s the strong Royal Beluga or the milder, milder Baerii, or even the rich, nutty Sevruga that is often incorporated into dishes served at omakase.
What makes a good appetizer? As chef James Won clarifies early in the evening, it’s about keeping us on our toes as we anticipate the main course; it makes us want more. So, to begin with, we were presented with a unique vision of the Omuricean omelette dish made with fried rice and scrambled eggs.
Chef James Won presents us with a tempura form of the original, deliciously deep-fried in batter and topped with several sauces that really complement this more nuanced version. Served with melt-in-the-mouth Hambagu and Koroke — the Japanese interpretation of the hamburger patty and the croquette — this trio of amuse-bouche launches the charm of Shin’Labo to subvert the expectations of its customers.
Moving on to main courses, the highlight of the evening was the Hokkaido Scallop and Caviar, which was absolutely to die for. Lightly drenched in sauce and topped with a generous heap of rich, nutty Sevruga caviar, the dish has our mouths watering before we can taste it. Chef James Won has cleverly portioned the dishes to allow us to eat the dishes in one bite, and let the flavors mingle in our mouths as we eat them.
At the heart of every entrée, there is a delicate balance between umami (the ‘essence of deliciousness’, often considered the measure of a food’s flavor) and amami, the sweetness that contrasts with umami. With the subtle taste Trio of sashimi and ‘dazzled’ Oyster — French or Japanese, given its freshness and seasonality — chef James Won continues to explore the harmony between umami and amami.
Straight from the Bincho grill, we were treated to Binchotan duck with orange, another omakase star. Seared beautifully on the Bincho grill, the duck meat is tender and juicy, finished with a subtle smoky flavor. As a fan of duck, Shin’Labo’s take on meat doesn’t disappoint at all – it dispenses with its usual gaminess and leaves you craving for more. Another dish worth mentioning is the blue shrimpgrilled to perfection and served with chef James Won’s version sambal olek which, although it does not contain belacan, retains that satisfying spicy flavor.
To try absolutely
The duck makes yet another appearance in the Truffle Hayashi Rice, which is the perfect comforting dish to end the evening, before moving on to dessert. Comprised of three layers: duck meat, steamed rice and topped with onsen egg and finished with truffles, Truffle Hayashi Rice is hot and hits the spot, like feel-good food for the soul.
Of course, an omakase with Chef James Won himself is not complete without a unique range of desserts: from very big and juicy Strawberry directly overflown from Shizuoka Prefecture in Japan and Chocolate pudding, to a special practice session with Teammaster Alan, who made us a cup of matcha; not sweet or bitter – just right.
From our first visit, it’s clear that James Won’s Shin’Labo has the potential to be a great place for the masses, whether you love Japanese food or want to try it. Like a yōshoku joint, Shin’Labo pays close attention to detail – craftsmanship and presentation are as important as taste. All in all, we appreciate the mixture of Japanese cuisine and French cuisine, the fusion of luxury and comfort from the moment you enter the establishment until the moment you leave.
Despite its high-end setup, Shin’Labo still does a great job of maintaining the warm and inviting atmosphere, especially with the intimate Shin’Lounge and Krug Ryotei when you’re looking to spend an evening with your very group of friends. united but still want that elevated experience. To sum up, is Shin’Labo an exciting new addition to KL’s foodie scene? Yes, we definitely think so.
All images: Shin’Lab by James Won
This article was first published on Lifestyle Asia Kuala Lumpur