KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 19 — Pro tip: Head over to MoMo’s KL today where Penang’s Communal Table by gēn 根 celebrates local flavours in a fun, innovative manner.
The pop-up is part two of Taste of Tiffin’s “Penang Pening” event.
In Penang, gēn 根 (which means ground roots in Chinese) champions local produce in a creative way.
It is owned by Johnson Wong — a Le Cordon Bleu alumnus — who also worked at Rockpool in Sydney, Joel Robuchon in Macau and even staged at Noma in Copenhagen.
In 2015 he landed in Penang to head Macalister Mansion’s restaurant. After a two-year stint, the Johorean set up gēn 根, which he says, “is closer to his heart.”
Its off-shoot, Communal Table by gēn 根, is headed by Perlis boy Kevin Ng who cut his teeth working in the US Virgin Islands, Dubai and the Maldives.
“It is more towards Malaysian flavours and produce where it is more fun, casual and all about sharing as it is bite sized snacks,” explained Wong.
Unlike gēn 根 where dinner can stretch for two to three hours, Communal Table by gēn 根 offers more flexible dining where you can drop by for snacks or just chill with friends over a sharing plate of small bites along with their selection of natural wines.
The idea for this event was first mooted just after the dining-in restrictions were lifted. Wong explained that he felt it was a good opportunity to introduce Communal Table by gēn 根 in its first event to highlight that the two places have separate identities, despite a common interest in local produce.
For the pop-up, Ng has prepared a curated menu of six snacks at RM20 each. If you get three items, it is RM55.
Since the workspace is rather small, all the items were prepped first at their Penang kitchen and brought to KL
Nibble on the interesting O Kau which is Hokkein slang for Guinness stout and is the flavour of the creamy mousse filling for the charcoal choux buns with BBQ chicken jerky.
If you love something a little spicy, go for Fish For It which features layered seaweed crackers with green curry mousse. There’s also a hidden surprise in the form of latok or sea grapes sourced from Semporna.
Penang is famous for its addictive belacan chicken wings and you will enjoy Ng’s version. It is equally good and you will definitely want second helpings of the light crunchy chicken wing (deboned with just the chicken tip) stuffed with sambal belacan fried rice. On top there’s a touch of luxury with a spoonful of locally sourced T’lur caviar and gold leaf.
The Black Forest‘s highlight is the sambal made from black onions, fermented to give it a slight sweet and savoury taste. It is served on deep fried bread and garnished with cured egg yolk, fennel fronds and a touch of kelulut honey.
Refresh your palate with Ginger Flower where compressed watermelon is topped with ginger flower sorbet made with liquid nitrogen. A dash of galangal chilli adds a zing to the fresh-tasting snack.
If you want a bite of nostalgia, the Cat’s Ear pairs crunchy cat ear biscuits filled with neslo and mascarpone.
At both of Wong’s restaurants, there is a preference for team members to be from various states. “I prefer it that way. When you do Malaysian flavours and produce, you need people who have different ideas and different palates,” explained Wong.
Those palate differences bring forth different methods to prepare some elements for their dishes, where they end up voting on which one tastes better and adopting it.
“There is no reference or cookbook to follow for this type of restaurant so it is important for idea-sharing from the team and information from those selling the produce, to create new dishes,” added Wong.
Being in Penang is ideal for gēn 根 since Penangites view food differently from other states in Malaysia. “For them it is not only important but something they are proud of,” explained Wong.
Even the dining scene is a vibrant and growing one, fueled by many individuals filled with passion. Wong points out that most of the F&B owners start a business after a career change, learning the craft — whether it is baking, making coffee or cooking — and are heavily involved with all aspects of the business.
On September 29 and 30, Wong will be returning to KL to participate in a special six-hands dinner at Nadodi. The idea for an impromptu collaboration started about two weeks ago when Nadodi brand director Kartik Kumar suggested to Wong that they work together.
Once he got on board, Wong suggested inviting Su Kim Hock from Penang’s French restaurant Au Jardin to make it more special.
MoMo’s Kuala Lumpur x Taste of Tiffin’s “Penang Pening Part 2”: Communal Table by gēn 根 is on for September 18 from 6.30pm to 10pm and September 19, 12pm to 3.30pm and 4.30pm to 10pm. You can pre-register at Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/momos-kl-x-taste-of-tiffin-present-communal-table-by-gen-tickets-119577987981) or walk in depending on availability.