I first experienced Esquire Kitchen, then known for introducing "Shanghainese" cuisine, heavily localised to suit local Chinese-Malaysian tastes, back in the late-70s - it was somewhere in Bukit Bintang. The last time I stepped into an Esquire Kitchen outlet was the one in Sungei Wang Plaza, probably around 1988-89 thereabouts during one of my rare visits to KL. The food tasted quite "different" from the Cantonese-influenced Chinese cuisine in KL then.
Well, since then, I'd actually made several business trips to Shanghai, especially in the past decade or so as China opens up to the world with a speed unimaginable previously. These visits also gave me the opportunity to experience the "real" Shanghainese cuisine, so to speak.
So, it was interesting for me to step back into Esquire Kitchen - this outlet is in Mid Valley Megamall - this evening, and savor its KL-style pseudo-"Shanghainese" cuisine once again. What I tried today:
- pork & lotus root soup, which was simple yet delicious. Dried cuttlefish and red dates were also added to give the consomme added flavors. Certainly *nothing* Shanghainese about this dish! :-D
- Dongpo pork (東坡肉), which really originated in Hangzhou, not far from Shanghai. I'd had some great dongpo pork in Hangzhou as well as Shanghai. The one at Esquite Kitchen curiously had a strong ginger scent in it which I found a bit disagreeable. Otherwise, the pork belly was perfectly cooked. It was served with steamed buns wich were soft, fluffy & slightly sweet.
- House special tofu, which was a large rectangular block of very soft Hakka-style tofu which had been lightly fried, giving it a thin crust (like Japanese "agedashi tofu") whilst preserving to soft delicate interior. The tofu was covered with crisp-fried minced dried shrimps, pork lardons & dried salted fish, and finely-chopped scallions, all bathed in a thin soy-based dressing. It was quite good.
Stepping back into Esquire Kitchen, and experiencing its somewhat multi-regional Chinese cuisine, injected with a lot of local Chinese-Malaysian flavors was very interesting & pleasurable indeed. At the table next to mine were two middle-aged Hainanese couples - speaking in their easily-distinguishable Hainanese dialect with its sudden inflexions, the men's voices hitting falsetto notes at times, amidst a sea of Cantonese diners with their confident, rapid-fire, staccato voices, was indeed an interesting experience for me. I also noticed that the Hainanese foursome were actually dining on Hainanese chicken rice - I suddenly remembered that the Esquire Kitchen chain had acquired Nam Heong (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/845453) and the latter's dishes were incorporated into Esquire Kitchen's menu. For a moment there, I actually felt a tinge of regret at not ordering the Hainanese dishes!
But my impression of Esquire Kitchen, pre- and post- visits to China in the intervening years/decades, had changed. I know now for certain that its cuisine was not genuine Shanghainese - to get that, one can go to the Shanghai Restaurant at JW Marriott (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/822408) where Shanghainese visitors and expats to KL would dine at. But Esquire Kitchen's food is pretty special in its own way - it's truly KL food as I remembered through the past decades which I'd visited this city, it is good in its own right, and is certainly one worth preserving.
G 025, Mid Valley Megamall
Old Klang Road
58000 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: +603-2284 7814