Kuala Lumpur – Melanie Pong and Damien Lee, the founders of the hugely successful modern Japanese cafe CC by Mel, have launched Zen by Mel, an upscale Japanese fusion fine dining restaurant. Zen – the art of achieving peace and tranquillity through food and culinary preparation.
Head chef Jordan Yap and sous chef Mohd Shafik Mohd Taufik lead an eight-person back of house team from Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Singapore. “Bringing in chefs from various backgrounds assists the team in completing whatever is missing to complete the menu R&D process. We are able to create a well-balanced fusion fine dining experience with everyone’s expertise!” say the founders, Melanie and Damien.
Zen by Mel serves an 11-course Omakase style, with an ethos centered on “curating dishes with a peace of mind and food being created with the basic elements – Zen.”
Launched in November 2022
Seating capacity at 19 pax, with Chef’s Orchestra at 13 pax, Zen’s Chamber (Private Room) at 6 pax
Area size (sq ft): 1,500 sqft
Number of staffs: 3 FOH, 8 BOH
Initial investment at RM750,000
Hear from Melanie and Damien
“As we have more margins on hand, we have more room to cultivate our young chef’s wild ideas while playing with a wider and higher range of ingredients at Zen by Mel, compared to CC by Mel. Our loyal guests’ desire to experience elevated dining experiences and willingness to try fusion food gave us the confidence to launch this concept. Most importantly, they want to see how the food is prepared in front of them.”
“It took us about 6 months to come up with the idea. It is unquestionably not an easy task. We bring in Chefs who specialise in various cuisines to make it happen. And we spent about three months curating them to get it right. Because Japanese cooking is so direct and basic, combining it with local ingredients and other styles of cooking requires a lot more effort. We were dissatisfied with the first few results because it was extremely difficult to perfectly harmonise the dishes.”
“When we got the news that there was a vacant lot available here at Bukit Jalil, it came as a pleasant surprise, as this area was flooded with tenants. So in a very short time, a matters of weeks actually, we have to come up with the interior design, renovation, menu, and so on. It was extremely stressful for us at the start because the expenses, such as rental and manpower were ongoing. We learnt that, for that next expansion, we should start planning it now literally, as we speak!”
Hear from Head chef Jordan Yap
“The menu is called Daiisho, which literally means “big-little”— a Japanese term for a matched pair of traditionally made Japanese swords (nihonto) worn by the samurai class in feudal Japan. It also means Chapter One, which is our maiden chapter.”
“Myself and chef Shafik strive to provide our guests with an experience that differs from the typical Omakase menus, and this is how the concept of Japanese with a focus on Malaysian influences came to be.”
“Chef Shafik and I work hand in hand for the menu. Eden of Zen is a dish that best represents me, and Ahiru Ume best represents chef Shafik. Eden of Zen is a contrasted, light and zesty dish, whereas Ahiru Ume is a bold, robust, yet smokey dish. I’m the more technical one, while chef Shafik focuses on flavours.”
Because finer details matter, we avoid using traditional plating methods.
“We try to think outside the box, which is why we use unassumingly simple ingredients like red beans and dry corn for our plating, as each one contributes to the overall narrative of Daiisho menu.”
“For example, the humble red bean is a staple Malaysian ingredient with a sweet history. We want to showcase this ingredient on our Seitaki tart (the first dish) not only for aesthetic reasons, but also to represent our struggles and local roots. Furthermore, the dried beans and corn represent the winter months in Japan, and are common ingredients during this season.”
“Explaining everything in detail is the key here. We want our guests to understand why they are paying such a high price for a meal.”
“As a result, all of our chefs would explain why the ingredients were chosen, where they were sourced, and how they were cooked.”
“We want our guests to leave with a better understanding of the whys behind our dishes, from the sourcing, produce to the techniques. So we explain each course as it is served.”
We also want them to leave feeling very Zen, at peace, and nourished. And also, to dispel the notion that fine dining is stuffy and intimidating!”
Spotlight on Shiro Umami
- The process of cooking is approximately 1 night in between 9 to 10 hours
- Using steam baking technique, where baking at high temperature brings out the flavours while steaming will maintain the condition of broth without drying..
- 6 types of mushrooms are used, with a combination of black dry shitake, fresh shitake, dry porcini/ cepes, dry boletus, dry black fungus, dry chanterelle. This combination brings out the several layers of taste profile on the tongue
- A local root, the Temu Kunci, is introduced to this dish for the earthy undertones. Commonly found in Indonesian and Malay cuisine was used the most, the team sources this directly from the makcik (aunties) in Chow Kit wet market at the heart of Kuala Lumpur
- The earthy undertones of the broth are provided by a local root, Temu Kunci, which is commonly found in Indonesian and Malay cuisine. The team sources this directly from the makcik (aunties) in Chow Kit wet market located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Spotlight on Aji No Shinen
- Zen by Mel is the first and only restaurant in Kuala Lumpur to serve Spanish lamb, the Agnei Ibérico lamb comes from specially selected purebred sheep called Rasa Aragonesa, in keeping with their ethos of showcasing the best ingredients they can source.
- In their green living environment at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains, they feed on a balanced feed mixture consisting of their mothers’ milk, cereals and sunflower seeds.
- The harmony between the animals and their living environment forms a firm foundation for the excellent characteristics of this breed of sheep.
“Instead of serving standard Australian or New Zealand lamb, we figured why not let our guests taste the best lamb in the world? And without the pungent lamb aftertaste.”
Here is the inaugural 11-course menu(RM498/pax) in sequence
Guests begin their evening with Amuse Bouche of Seitaikei Tart and followed by
Cold Appetiser, Adventure of Amaebi
Sitting pretty on top of an oyster-like plate, amaebi, almon milk, drops of Shisho oil, marinated lettuce leaf
Hot Appetiser I, Hotate Picasso
Velvety top-grade Japanese scallop, nori puree, smoked uni paste, with drops of kaffir lime leaf oil
Hot Appetiser II, Ahiru Ume
Locally sourced Bidor duck with roasted momo peach, greens, Aged Umeboshi Glaze, Cointreau jus.
Broth cleanser, Shiro Umami
A warm comforting consommé of 8 different types of mushrooms and cuts of white asparagus.
First Main Course, Eden of Zen
Catch of the day, topped with milky Hokkaido corn, served with Daun Selom and a base of tare sauce.
Second Main Course, Aji No Shinen
Greeted by a whiff of smoked apple wood to reveal tender Iberico lamb rack from Spain, with saikyo miso curry, crunchy bits of lamb fat and perfectly charred local greens.
Special Course, Zenraishii.
Japanese flower crab, garlic oil, house-made furikake, ikura, with a generous spoonful of amae ebi headroe sauce (prawn heads jus from a previous dish cooked with konbu and dashi).
Dessert, Imperial Zencha by pastry chef Jessica from Sabah
Matcha mousse is made from ceremonial grade matcha, Adzuki Red Bean ice cream, and circles of Raspberry Compote.
Petit Four, Mittsu Hoshi Wagashi
Like Russian Roulette, this is a playful finish where you have to figure out which is shoyu vanilla crème, caramel adzuki, and strawberry yoghurt mochi.
The next menu, called Niisho (Chapter Two) will be launched in early March 2023. It consists of more on earth elements, greens, forest which resembles Spring. The courses will be more towards forest ingredients.
Reservations for Daiisho menu is noe open through February 2023. Also, 7-course lunch Japanese fusion lunch menu is available at RM288/pax.
For reservations, contact Zen by Mel at +6011-5636 8875 or booked through UMAI here.
Terms & Conditions
- A booking deposit of RM 100/ guest is required. There is no refund in case of last-minute cancellation (i.e. within 24 hours) or no show (including sudden submission of positive COVID-19 results) and each RM 100 deposit is applicable to each guest and non-transferrable. Customers may change the reservation date if informed 2 days prior to the scheduled dinner time/date.
- Any changes to reservation date and time must be informed a minimum 2 days in advance to the scheduled dining date and time, or Zen by Mel reserve the right to cancel your booking and the paid deposit will be non-refundable.
Operating Hours: Every day except Tuesday. Lunch Menu: 12pm-1.30pm, 2-3.30 pm
Dinner Menu: 6-8pm , 8.30-10.30pm
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