Friday, July 27, 2012

Sagano at the Renaissance

Everything that Hanare and Tatsu were in Kuala Lumpur, Sagano at the Marriott's Renaissance (Hotel) was not.  Another Malaysia International Gourmet Festival participant and Japanese restaurant, Sagano was a very affordable option.  It was affordable for a reason, and that reason is that it was little better than average.  Apparently others enjoy it enough, see this blog here - though I stand by my do-not-recommend.
MIGF, or "restaurant week" for a month in KL, allowed the gluttonous to visit some prominent hotels and restaurants to order reasonably priced tasting menus.  My experience was not the best at Sagano.  First, I ordered the tasting menu, and found out it wasn't actually a tasting menu.  Although many menus said "or" along side courses that diners would need to select an option from, this menu made no such indication.  I was then forced to pick one, and of course I opted for Wagyu.  (This would not be a big deal, if it was clear.)
The waitstaff handled it interestingly, the waitress brought out a menu and rather unapologetically made me select one.  They then brought out a magazine to entertain me while waiting on the food.  The hotel felt a little past its prime in terms of decor, and there were very few patrons. The seat springs absolutely assaulted me. It was uncomfortable.  I was a little insulted when the waiter brought out silverware, assuming the white man couldn't use chopsticks. He apologized when I separated the chopsticks, collected his silverware, and scurried off.
With a better lens you'd see the seat is uneven, and not just the stains.
After making an effort to wave down the manager and a quick chat, I confirmed that the waitress either decided unilaterally that I wanted the light menu (although that is not why I ordered), or tried to save the kitchen food by making me chose a dish when it was in fact a tasting menu (aka, charging me full price for half the dinner).  The manager first seemed to indicate that I did have to make the choice, but once I actually pulled out the MIGF literature he apologized and proceeded to update the kitchen I would be having the full tasting menu.  It left me really wondering if everyone was on the same page.  I was lost.
So, this was my first Japanese restaurant visit in awhile, and I had to order sushi (over the top, I know).  I ordered the sushi deluxe, for about 130 Malaysian Ringgit extra (everything is just so cheap in Malaysia).  The price wasn't so bad by Western standards, but is a small fortune in Malaysia.  Unfortunately, it was anything but deluxe. It had regular tuna, flying fish and salmon roe, bass, and all, were - regular.  A piece of salmon was very good, but no different than what I get at home. I stole the shiso leaf from my other dish to add to my sushi to create one of my best sushi bites that evening.  I would never go here and order off the menu at full price if the sushi deluxe is any indication.  Moving on... 
The appetizers, unagi (eel) sushi and seaweed, deep-fried soft shell crab and sticky ginger soy sauce, and egg tofu and boiled live prawn with bainiku sauce were ok in sum.  The eel was quite good, the sauce with the softshell crab was bland but the crab was good, and the tofu was so-so. 
The best of these bites - Unagi
The salmon "starter" was nice, and I loved the 'char,' but there was just something off-putting about it. It was a medium rare Atlantic salmon with grated yam, hot spicy sauce, and ikura (roe).  It had a flavor that didn't belong, which may have been an enzyme from something with the salmon roe or just not fresh roe.  Alternatively, some other element in it might have not been good.  I couldn't be sure, but it was too bad that a full bite of the dish was less appealing than eating it piecemeal.
The main courses were simmered seabass and wintermellon with garlic crabmeat sauce, griled cod mentai mayonnaise sauce, wagyu striploin and trio of mushrooms with wasabi-teriyaki sauce, and diced chicken rice with herbs.
A winner
Weird mayo and veggies
The seabass was very nice, filled with pleasant subtle flavor.  The melon was a little lost in the dish, but the concept was sound. The cod had a crisp and delicious piece of lotus root and good flavors, but I would have traded the mayo and egg (flying fish roe or something akin to it) for crispy skin!  The wagyu was criminally, CRIMINALLY, overcooked.  It was about three shades above my order, but wagyu is just so juicy and soft that you needn't be too fussy about it.  The final main dish, the chicken dice, was a bit of a mess.  It was average, and lacking clarity, but I am a sucker for shiso and enjoyed the herbs.
Wagyu, overdone and bathed in sauce but still good
Bleh rice dish
The deserts were ok, but really not great. Kuzukiri in sugar syrup and red bean soup sounded good, but the red bean was too watery and the flavor was not developed. The noodles were a little unusual, and not bad.
Overall, the meal and service were average - but not worth the price.  Especially at full price. The flavor combinations, and development, were not expertly crafted.  At the conclusion of the meal, Chef (at the time) Mohd Zamri Abdul Rahman came out to speak with me and my neighbor for a few minutes.  He asked for our opinion, and I tested the water by saying the red bean soup could use a little improvement.  He informed us that it was "just like from Japan" and that they have weird things that wouldn't appeal to everyone's palate (not in those exact words).  I decided to simply thank him and call it good.  Unfortunately, it seems a few years at Hotel Nikko as a sous chef does not turn a Malaysian into a Japanese expert.  I can't say that I am either, but I know I haven't eaten something so bland and unskillfully combined in Japan as the red bean dessert soup.

Renaissance Kuala Lumpur Hotel
Level 1, West Wing
Corner of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Ampang
2 of 5 (on the back of wagyu that you cannot mess up)


  1. You really should be Andrew Zimmern's sidekick.

    After reading your description of the food, I don't know that I ever want to try it. It sounds like it was dreadful.

    1. My most faithful reader and commenter. Thanks. If A.Z. is ever hiring, I will out you in touch to compliment and recommend me. I doubt they have sidekick money in the budget though :)

  2. You should know I was fighting with my iPhone and lost. *put and not out. Also, I intended to say the place wasn't -that- bad, it just wasn't good. And KL is filled with great food, so why pay good money and settle for eh food? Not gross though. Just bleh.