By Alfieyah Abdullah
Warm your bellies with a smorgasbord of meats and seafoods.
After battling the bank of elevators that hides the true entrance to Shaw Centre, I finally make it to the third floor. Breathless and dazed, I arrive at Koal. The walls are covered in woodgrain, with amber-hued lights adding warmth to the ambience. In select corners, fun neon signs, one of them reading “Make the Cut”, are scattered across the restaurant, adding a pop of colour to the otherwise singular-toned wooden enclave. Bay window seats line the full panel windows on the far side of the restaurant, adding a rustic ‘80s atmosphere to the overall space. I sink into my seat, ready for what the night has to offer.
Koal is the newest restaurant addition under the coveted Les Amis Group. It has a fiery dedication to grilling over an open flame. The menu playfully combines Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Western flavours with the Konro grill – a squat countertop grill that glows with clean-burning, long-lasting binchotan charcoal. A beloved kitchen appliance amongst the Japanese, the Konro grill has been designed to allow the fatty juices of meat drip onto the binchotan during cooking, ensuring the protein absorbs a cloud of strong flavours.
A FIERY START
From light to night, Koal offers a range of grilled meats and seafood. I welcome a smooth glass of Sour Plum Sake before a prosperous pile of plates appear at the table. The first starter to hit the table is Koal’s signature Bread Rolls with Bacon and Grilled Spring Onions, Sour Cream and Chive Butter. Served in a miniature cast iron skillet, the bread remains warm enough to be relished with the accompanying butter. The saltiness from the butter does enough to cut the richness of the brioche in the most gratifying way possible.
Soon, a myriad of sharing plates, meat, and seafood mains descend upon the table. The Chunky Salmon Sashimi with Coriander and Green Chilli Dressing makes me reminisce cabe ijo or green chilli that comes with the Indonesian ayam penyet dish. The Crispy Pork Riblets glazed with Mala Honey will surprise any diner who turns his or her nose up at mala xiang guo. The sweet, spicy and sour glaze is an interpretation of the Asian barbecue sauce, and the pork is fall-off-the-bone tender – serving as a perfect base for the sticky sauce.
Signature meat plates include Grassfed Rib Eye, Hanging Tender, and Iberico Pork Collar. Proteins are served alongside a triad of artisanal dipping sauces: Yakiniku No Tare with Confit Garlic Sauce, Whole Grain Mustard Cream Sauce, and Sesame Chimichurri. The meats are grilled to my liking, seared just enough to reveal a tantalising brown texture.
Although the sauces aren’t included with the meats, each of them emits a distinct flavour profundity. The crowd favourite, however, is the Sesame Chimichurri; its diverse notes pair excellently with both the meat and seafood offerings of the night. Personally, the Whole Grain Mustard Cream Sauce is my ultimate favourite; neutralising the richness of the meat with its tang. Despite the intensity of the meat dishes, the seafood mains aren’t overshadowed by the meat fare. The Pan-fried Salmon served with smooth Kimchi Butter Sauce has a perfectly pink centre and flakes beautifully. It serves as an alternative for diners seeking a lighter dining experience.
A LIGHT ENDING
As the hectic dinner service soon reduces to a dull roar, a set of Freshly Fried Doughnuts replaces the slew of mains. Available with the Raspberry Coulis and Cheesecake Mousse filling, or Nutella and Banana Mousse filling, these morsels are chock-full of molten mousse. Don’t be deceived by the doughnuts’ chunky appearance; these babies are actually light and fluffy. For anyone opting to end the night with a melt-in-your-mouth dessert, the Hojicha and Whisky Tiramisu will hit just the right spot. Contrary to the everyday tiramisu, I admit, this particular rendition has my heart. The lightness of the mascarpone cream layers is balanced with the perfumed tea. The whisky adds a nice hint of bitterness to every bite, making it a well-rounded number.
Not only is Koal a place where meat and fire cross paths, the restaurant is a timely reminder for diners to truly “Meat Up and Chill Out”, and embrace the transformative culinary experience that beckons.