You joined us for our visit to The Tokyo Restaurant before, now join us as we check out Toraji at Isetan Lot 10 in a review structured in similar form to The Poetry of Jaroslav Seifert.
The walls are angular. They are not real walls. Look closer. Look closer and they dissolve into dividers, geometrical semi-walls with cut-out holes like blinds against the afternoon sun. And in this way, the restaurant is dissected and spliced into individual dining spaces. Here: a table of people from a past life, friends of a person you held hands with until she slipped her fingers away. There: the DCM head grills meat opposite the 19 year-old escort from a Baltic state (advertised online as a Russian). In between: small birthday groups, a young-ish family, and a table of hungry wage-slaves trading time and words for a free meal. This is Toraji, and they’ve all come to dine.
Gentle reader, as you read these lines, reflect for a moment and note this down; the angular structure (less like solid slabs and more like semi-cages) is the town. This is your temporary grill-city for the duration of your dinner, the faux-walls a reflection of the grill on (in) your table, already heating up in the spitting flame.
The city of meat, marinated then sizzled over heat. A rain of sulphur, fire, thunderbolts (well, fire at least) from below: tiny circular charcoal balls, and a stove that sinks down into the table, the top level with the wood. Extractors circle the grill. No scent of hawthorn shrubs in flower or unwanted smoke filling the town.
What hurts most is one’s memory, and what one thinks will help (alcohol) never does. RM33 gets us a crisp Kirin on draft. The beer’s surfaces swirl like taut drum skins. The Kirin: a honeyed moon dripping sweet juices into flowers’ calixes. Except it’s not quite that sweet. It’s not quite that crisp. It’s not quite better beer: it’s a reminder of the festival that has been cancelled and with it the chance for another go at Pasteur St (would they have brought their jolly rancher and saison?) and the continued education of the Malaysian people. It’s still Kirin. It’s still good Kirin. We ask for more.
Apple Tree with Cobweb Strings
The diamond cut kalbi is marinated in sesame, black pepper, garlic and soy sauce. Like the apple tree – fiercely bowed down by age and fruit – the kalbi (short rib) stares back out from its bath of sauces, a crooked grin, a voice redolent of distance. I pick at it. I pick it up. I inhale its fragrance. I drop it on the heated metal, and it screams and writhes (do you stay mute when that seductive voice speaks to the vagrant in you?). I pick it up and drop it on the other side until it stops moving, apart from those final involuntary quivers and spasms. The skin blisters and darkens, from the pink of raw flesh to a deep brown hue as the marinade caramelizes. The reward is a sensuous cut of almost-candied meat. It pairs quite pleasingly with the lemon sauce which gives it a pang of (not-overly sour) liveliness, an invigorating acidity that successfully cuts through the richness, a sort of planned wedding that works out well against the odds (wait, don’t the odds say that planned weddings last longer?).
I sip my now-lukewarm beer.
(Breaking news update 24 Sept: we have been informed the diamond cut kalbi is using the “inside-skirt part”)
Dance of the Girls’ Chemises
They come in all at once and line up in front. Special Toraji, you are told. Kalbi, harami, loin, fillet. A dozen girls’ chemises drying on a line, that’s love, innocent girls’ games on a sunlit lawn. Love, which we inhale and feed on.
This kalbi is much tastier than the diamond cut.
There’s more fat, for one. It’s glossy and oily on the tongue. It coats the roof of the mouth as your fat-soaked tongue lashes against it. It’s rich. And yet, bizarrely, somehow, it’s simultaneously light. The fat doesn’t linger like cooled, coagulated lamb fat. It pumps and leaves. I like it.
Born of the buzzing hives and of the smell of flowers, honey’s little sister, honey-bathed for hours till from that fragrant bath, lifted by angels’ hands – and in the month of love, bees wove its garment strands: Harami. This is meatier. You bite it and it bites back. You eat it at medium rare, the only appropriate level of doneness for this meat and all meats. You bite into it and chew and chew again and it gives way in pulses of umami and sweet-meat and the cracked pepper on top crackles and pops like rapids against suturing boulders.
The prime loin is tender as anything. The seasoning is delicate, understated, brash and bold against the fiery heat that would make limestone blush. The flames are rose-coloured. The loin is like the start of a new long weekend, the month after you have stopped talking and are taking tentative steps towards planning for what will happen to your collection of works after you go. More than all the other meats, it most closely resembles a sliced-up “traditional” steak.
Once only did I see the sun so blood-red. And never again. It sank ominously towards the horizon and it seemed as if someone had kicked apart the gates of hell. And just as quickly, the fillet sizzles and sears and is plated. The tenderness is sublime. It’s intense. It’s almost like a mousse, a chunky cream, a tartare with the edges softened and brushed out with one of those blotting brushes. There’s not much depth of flavour to it and there’s no rich fattiness to be had here, but hey, the fillet is its own thing. It’s all about texture here.
The Striking of the Tower Clock
Pollan talks a lot about fermented foods and how incorporating them into the diet is vital for gut health. He’d like this kimchi thingamajig. I did. It’s probably the best kimchi/pickle I’ve had all year and that includes the sparkling bright cucumbers of Shokudo. There’s no alkaline grottiness here or excessive sweetness or overly tangy sourness that tastes like chugging a lemon. Each individual vegetable has its own flavour profile, robust crunch and unique texture shining through. The sourness is mild. The spice is deep and low and brooding. It’s very tasty.
The Bombing of the Town of Kralupy
As the non-dessert portion of the meal drew to an end, we drew from the spicy noodle soup. The glass noodles were more or less the typical glass noodles you get from most places (doesn’t stand out like, say, Chapter K). The broth, though, was surprisingly pretty good. It’s surprising because it doesn’t strike you right away as being exceptional. I notice the heat first of all. Perfect temperature. Leaves the eggs at that nice semi-scrambled texture without being overcooked. It tastes spicy. Not too spicy. Just right. I try again to verify. Yes, quite right. And I notice that I can’t seem to stop eating it. I want more, after every spoonful. It’s very strange because it definitely doesn’t seem to be that addictively tasty on the surface. And yet…the bowl is very quickly spent and we stare forlornly at it once it’s done. We ask timidly for more. Instead, we get
A Bach Concerto
Although I had not drunk any wine, I swayed a little and had to steady myself with my own shadow. In vain did the bells try to lift me up: I clung to the earth with tooth and nail. It was full of of fragrance and exciting mysteries. And when I gazed at the sky at night, I did not seek the heavens. I mean, I didn’t really gaze at the sky. Toraji is indoors. And indoors, I had the almond pudding with its almond liqueur-like finish. It’s not the smoothest pudding we’ve ever had at Foodgazer (less silk, more cotton if we’re talking about Naked & Famous’ silk-blend denim) but that’s not to say it’s bad. It’s rather decent. I longed for a quick instant of fleeting pleasure, said Jaroslav Seifert, and I suppose I got it. Bit like a smoother tau foo fah, with an almond liqueur aftertaste.
When I say Japanese, you say wasabi. Or is that horseradish? Or is that wasabi ice cream? This is wasabi ice cream. The wasabi is mild. Mild but pleasurable. Especially at first. Mostly at first. It starts becoming quite middling towards the end. Could be because it’s very one-note. After all, there’s not too much else that stands out here. Texture-wise it’s the usual grainy ice cream lacking the elastic bite of a gelato (shoutout to Jersey Jack) or the supple smoothness of a soft serve). Recommended to share this with a group of 3-4 people so you get through it while the initial novelty is still fresh.
And Now Goodbye
To all those million food posts in the world, I’ve added just a few. They were probably no wiser than a cricket’s chirrup, I know. They weren’t even the first footprints in the lunar dust. If at times they sparkled after all, it was not their light. But I make no excuse. I believe that seeking beautiful words (and food) is better than killing and murdering.
This is the vanilla ice cream and hot sweet potato. It’s nice. It’s sweet. Some may find it on the brink of being too sweet. Is that a subjective scale? Can a meaningful discussion be built around the ranking of too-sweetness and can there be an objective measure by which to determine who is actually in the right? Who knows. Not me. Not right now at least. That’s a discussion for another day. Can’t knock the fascinating contrast in temperature though. In your teeth go into the freezer-cold ice cream then wham bam whammy here’s the hot sweet potato now. It’s hot. It’s sweet (possibly too sweet). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is Toraji.
Toraji is open every day from 11am to 3pm, then from 6pm to 11pm. They can be found inside Isetan Lot 10, Bukit Bintang. Head up to the top floor (make a pit stop along the way to touch those incredibly fluffy towels on the 2nd floor).
You can make reservations online or call them at +603-2119 2626.