Upperhouse @ Telawi, Bangsar (A Discussion on Abstraction)

Takeaway:

Upperhouse serves, amongst other things, some very prettily plated desserts. We dissect their artistic merit and proffer suggested pairings with other works of art.


Miles Davis and Coltrane trade lines on Bye Bye Blackbird. Not over the speakers at Upperhouse, mind you (it’s more of a Top of the Pops vibe there), but over mine at home as I type this review. I’m in a pensive mood. The sugar has long dissolved away into my blood stream, or whatever it is desserts do once they enter my fat-laden sludgepile of a body. I stare at my notes (Uniball Signo DX 0.38, brown, on a Mossery mini notebook). They’re not much help. They’re concrete words, lines on gridless paper, expressions translating the experience from the realm of ideas to the structured land of the living. But that’s not quite sufficient to accurately encapsulate our time at Upperhouse.

Upperhouse is, we quickly came to realize, a parlour of post-painterly abstraction with desserts as the medium of choice. Here, the shortcake is deconstructed into the ideas and preconception surrounding the notion of a shortcake – and reconstructed to challenge the modern viewer (or, in this case, eater). And indeed each person comes to the plate with their own worldview-crafted lens through which they view the dessert, and leaves with a unique impression and a lighter wallet.

It’s reflected in their interiors too. The decor seems scattershot at first glance, a potpourri of influences and child-friendly nooks and Wesselmann without the male gaze. Peer closer, work that noggin harder, and you can just about see a net of connections in the metaphorical madness. It is what you bring to it, and what you bring from it afterwards. Also, it’s very baby-friendly.

We started with some liquid nourishment.

First order of business: kombucha. The green tea unadulterated kombucha to start with. The first sip of a kombucha is always the most interesting one, before your palate acclimatises to the batch at hand. This one has a strong head of vinegar, a sort of general fizziness around the body, and the slight trace of tea around the end. More zippy soda than sparky fermentation. Also, kombucha always makes me think of that line from Amanda Chong’s Professions: “I imagined our intestines lighting up with neon gardens // bouquets of cells watered by milky elixir beginning an interminable dance, spinning into trillions.

upperhouse bangsar

The passionfruit and mint kombucha is a more noteworthy entry. The vinegar is offset by the mint and the passionfruit rounds out the body with a sweetness that is generally welcome though may be overwhelming for some. To the desserts then.

 

APPLE

Foodgae’s suggested pairings: Xiu XiuPlays the Music of Twin Peaks; Seamus HeaneyNorth

If reconstruction is the new black and Fast Good is the new reconstruction, then maybe the humble apple deserves its time in the limelight of re-imagination too. Here we have hazelnut, chrysanthemum, vanilla and an apple celery sorbet at the centre. The sorbet is more resistive and crumbly than smooth, more like the pulp or the essence of biting into a fleshy apple and around it are the thin slices accentuating the illusion, and the nuts giving it a very, very necessary weight.

And after all, what makes an apple an apple? Is it the apple itself or the sensation and belief that one is indeed eating an apple? APPLE suggests it’s the latter. These are RM18 of non-apple elements thrown together to reference – subtly or otherwise – the mouthfeel and the texture and the smell and the feel of an apple, and create the symbol of an apple from without. Does it work? Quite.

 

CARROT

Foodgae’s suggested pairings: The Wooden Wolf14 ballads Op. 1; Deborah Levy Hot Milk

Robust (apologies to Veep). There is a solid heaviness to the plate – or, well, what’s on the plate itself. And that’s walnut, greek yoghurt, honeycomb, and burnt honey ice cream. It’s like taking a bit of a carrot cake, slapping on a good yoghurt parfait and finishing it off with some good (but a bit cloying in large portions) burnt honey ice cream. An accomplished dish. It whets our appetite for more. And more we get, followed first by the

STRAWBERRY

Foodgae’s suggested pairings: Meg MyersSorry; Lena Andersson – Wilful Disregard

Hi shortcake. Hi exploration and evisceration and amputation of said shortcake. Homemade strawberry sorbet. Refreshing. Cotton cake. Juxtaposition. Of many things, but particularly of the dried and fresh strawberries. The former is sour and resistive to the bite. The latter is sliced and small and tart. I say let’s get drinks and you ask where. Hazelnut. Again the hazelnut, but this time in a different context. It doesn’t ground as much as lift. Basil, across the plate, drawn in scraped lines, and you say you wonder where they’re from, these people standing around the bar, and I’m not sure. Watermelon. Wait, watermelon? It’s there. We return to the cotton cake because it sticks to the teeth. But that’s not the cotton cake. The cotton cake is fine. It’s tasty. That’s the stick of white, soft, candy-whatever. Is it necessary? It’s here. It’s here anyway. Vanilla? There are flowers. Maybe it’s not necessary, but maybe the point isn’t if it’s necessary. Maybe the shortcake isn’t necessary in the grand scheme of things, and maybe few things are, and maybe it depends what the grand scheme even is, but it isn’t as sweet as I thought it’d be and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it and would recommend it.

Mille-Feuille

Foodgae’s suggested pairings: Low – I Could Live in Hope; Raymond Carver – Beginners

There’s hay ice cream in here. Hay! Is it the Hruskova-style infusion? Perhaps. It looks similar. It tastes like tea, but it’s sweet, very sweet, a sweetness that soothes at first then grows and grows and threatens to envelop everything. On to the mille-feuille itself then. It’s 2015 again. We crunch into the puff pastry, the orange milk chocolate mousse, the pineapple and almonds. It’s the 18th century again. But prettier, so much prettier.

Textures of chocolates

Foodgae’s suggested pairings: La Dispute – Wildlife; A girl who loves Bojack, dive bars, and Ann Dem

Here comes the burnt honey ice cream again. You remember it, of course, from CARROT. It hasn’t changed. Your tongue is quickly reacquainted with it. This time the supporting cast has changed. Or rather the point of the plate has changed. This is, as the name suggests, about the varying textures of the 70% Callebaut dark chocolate, augmented by the toasted rice strewn across the dish. And boy, do they vary. And also, what a pretty plate. They all are, really. The plating at Upperhouse is exquisite.

LEMON

Foodgae’s suggested pairings: Aiko Shimada – Blue Marble; David Maine – Fallen

One of our favourite plates, this. RM22 gets you a reconstructed lemon tart with a refreshing palette of complementary and contrasting flavours. Take for instance the soothing nuttiness of the coconut ice cream against the tanginess of the raspberry, or the vanilla and lavender on the tart lemon curd. Tasty stuff. And likely one of the more accessible desserts on show, which perhaps says a bit about our unrefined Gazer-palates. Would be wonderful after a savoury meal – which, incidentally, Upperhouse has too. They’re not just about desserts here, as we’d soon see with our final item:

Afternoon Tea Set

Foodgae’s suggested pairings: Bottomless stomach; A Sunday afternoon to spare

First off, value. We’re all about value here, mainly due to our penniless wallets and sky-high personal debt. RM65 for the tea set is pretty great value for what you get: two tiers of their dessert selections, one tier of savoury food, and a first floor view of Telawi. It’s really a pretty handy sampler set of Upperhouse’s offerings (Mille-Feuille, macarons, chocolate pralines, dark chocolate cake, passionfruit trifle, raspberry banana bread, Cacao Ravioli, sandwiches and parmesan breadsticks) and it’s our suggested entry point into the world of Upperhouse. That’s quite a wide spread, after all. Or, if you scoff at the idea of toe-dipping, you could dive right in with some of their individual desserts. You do you. 

 

Opening hours

Tuesday – Friday: 11am – 10pm
Saturday & Sunday: 9am – 10pm
Closed on Monday

Address 27-A, Jalan Telawi 3, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur
Telephone +6011-28720083

 

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