Chong Yu Cheng was many things before he became a chef, and now chef patron at Terra Dining in Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI). An accountant by profession, he was also an aide to local politician Tony Pua, before he developed an interest in wine—which marked his entry into the F&B industry. He started Above Gastrobar in Ipoh, but wanted to do more after the pandemic caused a shift in the restaurant’s operations. Chong then applied for Restaurant Frantzén in Stockholm, one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and the rest was history.
Until he returned to Malaysia to start Terra Dining, that is. This is my review of the latest modern Malaysian restaurant in the city, Terra Dining.
Located along Jalan Aminuddin Baki in TTDI, the restaurant’s exterior nearly blends in with its minimal terracotta facade. A single lopsided “T” identifies the restaurant, with a heavy wooden door at the entrance. Ring the doorbell to be invited inside, a quiet enclave that seems miles away from the city traffic outside. We are ushered into the lounge area where the lighting is dim and the sounds hushed. This is all intentional, as the restaurant team wants you to relax in the lounge area instead of being rushed to your seats. Here, you’ll enjoy some welcome drinks and a trio of canapés while you view your menu and take a look at the key local ingredients that will be part of your dinner, arranged neatly in a wooden cart.
Once you’re ready, enter the main dining room through the curtains. My first impression was the feeling of comfort. Warm, woody interiors carry throughout the space with repressed lighting for mood, leading your line of sight towards the bright, open-space kitchen where you can see the entire kitchen crew at work. Despite the white tablecloths and the professionalism of the wait staff, the vibe is anything but stuffy. 80s soft rock music plays in the background and Han, another co-owner and also Chong’s brother-in-law, chats affably with us while introducing the wine pairings of the night.
True to its name, which means “Earth” in Latin, Terra Dining’s menu reflects all the goodness that the Malaysian provenance has to offer. As of now, there is only one menu at the restaurant, which is the 11-Course Tasting Menu (RM398++), with the option to add on the 5-Course Carte Blanche Wine Pairing (RM238++). We begin with the trio of canapes, starting with Beras Rumie, an heirloom black rice grown by the indigenous Lun Bawang farmers in Long Semadoh Valley, Lawas, in Sarawak. The rice is mixed with yogurt, dehydrated, and then deep-fried for a crisp texture. A mixture of bambangan and tiger prawns sits above the rice—in one bite, you get earthy, green, and herby flavours with the sweetness of Sabah tiger prawns. The next canape is a personal favourite, inspired by an oyster omelette—locally known as orh chien—from Penang. But this version contains no egg. Instead, breadfruit batter creates a fluffy texture, with Penang oysters ensconced within. As it’s cooked, oyster juice is released into the batter, resulting in a creamy mouthful of oyster goodness, combined with the sambal mayonnaise topping. The third canape pays homage to the Indian puri. A papadam tart is deep-fried and a concoction of onion jam, sugar, and tamarind is spread at the base, then salted egg mungbean curry mousse over it. Topped with cauliflower, this piece tasted like dahl but sweeter, and with a crunch.
Moving on to the mains, we start strong with three back-to-back dishes of seafood. I’ve had caviar many times prior, but I can’t say I’ve had the fish that bore these eggs. Chong has artfully started with aged sturgeon from T’lur, farmed right here in Tanjung Malim. The fish is topped with T’lur caviar, and then roselle kombucha is poured into the dish. I half expected a savoury broth, but the roselle kombucha was an interesting surprise. Instead of warm and hearty, the dish was transformed into a light and refreshing starter with the sweet-acidic flavours of the kombucha melding with the smoky sliced sturgeon.
From a light start, we jump into a full-bodied dish: slipper lobster from Sabah in an asam laksa bisque, with smoked fish oil droplets to mimic the mackerel fish element in a traditional asam laksa. The dish is rich, and I could taste the umami of the slipper lobster shell and prawn shells in the bisque, which made up the bulk of the body of flavour in this. This dish is paired with a sweet Pinot Gris to balance out the strong umami flavour in the bisque, and alternating between the two allows you to savour the bisque for longer.
The third seafood dish leaves us in a state of curiosity, as we savour a mystery, unnamed fish served with creamy, masak lemak sauce cooked the beurre blanc way. While creamy, the silky sauce isn’t overly cloying thanks to the tamarind balancing it out with a juicy, acidic flavour. The fish is clean-tasting and has just the right amount of flakiness, served with blanched vegetables from Cameron Highlands.
The mystery fish, as it turns out, is tilapia fish, farmed in T’lur too. As for the reason why it’s unnamed? Chong wanted patrons to try it first, before disregarding it as a “cheap”, muddy-tasting fish. Indeed, he shared that when he named the fish on the menu, some patrons went as far as cancelling their dinner reservation when he was adamant not to swap it out. But what makes T’lur’s tilapia fish different from others?
For one, it’s fed the same fresh springwater as the sturgeons, and all waste in the pond is immediately flushed out so that the tilapia doesn’t inadvertently consume it, which contributes to its “muddy” flavour. The fish is also not gutted to preserve the skin’s integrity, so the kitchen staff can remove scales the Japanese sukibiki way. It is then aged for four days to impart a lovely texture and flavour. Acidic Chardonnay is served alongside this dish, which complements the masak lemak flavours perfectly.
After three courses, we take a break and are served a delightfully fluffy flatbread made to mimic roti canai, served with asam pedas flavoured butter. Serving bread after three courses and not at the beginning is a daring move, but somehow it felt right. Instead of filling up on carbs right at the start, the courses were well spaced out and flavoured, allowing us to savour the flatbread without feeling like I was all cloyed out.
There are two poultry mains to choose between: wagyu beef or Cherry Valley duck from Penang. I got to try both. A well-aged and cooked wagyu steak is served with palak paste (inspired by palak paneer), accompanied by a rendang brick, made out of compressed beef cheek and all the aromatics that go into a rendang. It’s finished with a gravy that feels unexpected and not something you’d pair with wagyu, yet surprisingly the entire dish came together seamlessly. It’s paired with a classic, full-bodied Grenache wine.
The duck, on the other hand, marries the execution of roast duck and braised duck. Marinated in soy sauce and aged for seven to eight days, it is then seared with charcoal skin-side down and finished in the oven. Served with a side of duck liver lor bak (five spice meat rolls) and herby Teochew braised duck jus, it’s a very contemporary styled dish yet its flavours are incredibly familiar to me. This dish is surprisingly paired with a natural wine, which suited its contemporary flavours just fine.
Desserts are kept simple and local, inspired by the borders of North Malaysia and Thailand: coconut ice cream with masala chai cake. The coconut ice cream is perhaps the richest and best I’ve ever tasted, and I later find out it’s two kilograms worth of coconut cooked down with palm sugar into a cream, and then a crumble reduction. Think nutty, caramelly flavours that present a fabulous finish to the meal.
But it doesn’t end there. To cap it off, we’re served Petit Fours, except they’re not your typical fine dining petit fours consisting of chocolates. Chong keeps the Malaysian flavours going here, and suggests that we eat them in a specific order to keep the flavour journey going. We begin with beras adan fermented with koji, topped with a dollop of caramelised banana. It reminds me of a specific kuih, almost like a combination of Seri Muka and cokodok. Next, we move on to a tartlet topped with grilled white corn made into a custard with century egg yolk—creamy, juicy, and slightly savoury. The savoury notes are amplified with the third Petit Four, a cute miniature angku kuih lookalike, except it tastes like barbequed pork inside. It’s a result of a little inside joke that Chong shared with his previous team at Above Gastrobar, but rest assured there is no meat within; it’s fermented bean curd, bean paste, and soy sauce. Finally, we end with Kelantanese chocolate truffles, sourced from none other than Chocolate Concierge.
This was a truly enjoyable dining experience. Speaking to Chong, it’s clear how much thoughtfulness goes into selecting each ingredient, as well as respecting them. Every course was well-paced out and the flavours balanced, so you never feel as though you’re too stuffed to go on. It may only be the first menu out for the months-old restaurant, but it’s already looking good for them. Make your reservations here.
Price: RM398++ (wine pairing an additional RM238++)
Address: 91G, Jalan Aminuddin Baki, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur
Operating Hours: 6PM onwards, Wednesdays to Sundays