TAPAS are awesome. Small and easy on the tummy, they allow you to get the best of every taste, albeit in smaller doses. And they’re great for sharing so you don’t feel so guilty when plate after plate appears on your table.
Another thing that’s ideal about tapas (snacks, canapes or finger food originating from Spain) is that because of the small serving size, you’re more encouraged to engage in conversation because everyone’s not so focused on eating an entire meal that’s set before them.
Dubrovnik in Solaris Mont Kiara, KL and Cheechah in Kota Damansara, Selangor, offer variations of tapas that are worth checking out.
This classy Croatian eatery in the upmarket enclave of Mont Kiara has always been a good bet for delicious desserts. But this time, Dina Djumic, the restaurant’s charming general manager, is keen to promote its tapas selection.
Tapas have never featured in its extensive menu but with people having seemingly less ringgit to burn these days, it may be a good time to introduce them. Djumic, who comes from a town north of the Croatian capital of Zagreb, says:
“We decided to go with something a little smaller so people can get the chance to sample a good range of the typical dishes that we serve rather than just one main dish, which may be rather pricey. It doesn’t work out to be too expensive because chances are you’ll be sharing the tapas.”
She adds that tapas are not really a component in an authentic Croatian menu. There’s not even an equivalent word for it. The tapas selection offered here is essentially smaller portions of the actual dishes in the menu. “Just for recognition-sake we call them tapas because they’re served in exactly the same way,” she says.
Some items are typical Croatian offerings, the sort that Croats generally eat at home, while the rest are bite-size favourites from the rest of Europe.
With its simple stone walls and high ceiling, there’s an understated elegance about the restaurant that I’ve always liked. The space is divided into three areas. There’s a lounge on the ground floor complete with tourism videos of Croatia playing on several small screens, and a cosy and elegant dining space upstairs. There’s also al fresco option on an elevated area outside facing the Mont Kiara bustle. Named after the southern medieval Croatian city of
Dubrovnik, one of the most popular elite cities in Croatia, the interior is influenced by the city which is surrounded by walls and it looks like a castle from the outside.
Bread filled with French salad: A traditional appetiser. French salad is a big thing in Croatia and is a staple item served up during gatherings and celebrations. Basically, it comprises boiled egg, potato, green peas and small cubed carrot and mixed with mayonnaise and mustard. The restaurant serves the salad rather uniquely – contained inside French bread.
Beef bacon roll with asparagus: Really tasty and another type of appetiser served in the Croatian home. I love the fact that the bacon is lightly pan fried, lightly moist and not chewy. The asparagus has a nice crispiness.
Smoked duck with salad: A great option for those who don’t want anything too heavy. I’ve never been a huge fan of duck but enjoy this one because there is no overpowering taste or aroma. The meat is very tender.
Bread and ajvar: A lovely combination. Ajvar is a vegetable salsa that’s literally the equivalent of our sambal belacan or chilli sauce, staples on my dinner table. This headily piquant salsa comprises capsicum, tomato, garlic, and eggplant — all roasted and then minced. Lovely as a dip for meat or bread, it’s normally served at the beginning of a meal.
Lamb meatball: Croatians love their lamb, especially when roasted or cooked in stews and it’s a meat for special occasions. This particular offering is a popular choice and comes in a rich, thick tomato gravy.
Quesadila and smoked chicken: This is one of the items on the tapas list, which is Spanish and Mexican-influenced. Really tasty, it comes with sour cream and salsa on the side for dipping.
I never thought there was such a thing as Malaysian tapas but the owners of Cheechah Restaurant (who come from Johor, Malacca and KL) obviously think otherwise. This rather cosy, Mediterranean style eatery located in bustling Kota Damansara, opened just over a year ago, prides itself on having just that.
Their take on tapas is interesting. Don’t expect the sort of fare you may be more accustomed to in typical Mediterranean eateries. Here, you’ll find familiar local tea-time snack favourites such as cekodok (Malay banana balls), cucur udang (prawn fritters), keropok lekor (fish crackers), popiah goreng and lemping kelapa (Malay coconut pancake). The menu is fairly vast, with the drinks selection alone taking up three pages, but most people come here to chill over these traditional light bites.
“When you think about it, tapas are really finger food, snacks and food that comes with dips… we have a lot of these in the typical Malaysian menu,” says Hazman Abu Bakar, the outlet manager. ‘The idea is to take our traditional snacks (yes, you can get these from the mak cik down the road) and bring them to another level with presentation and dining ambience.”
With rows and rows of Bengali bread and glistening silver packs of Muar coffee lining the shelves at the payment counter, a large feature wall depicting a traditional coffee-drinking scene, and a stylish colour scheme in black, white and blue, Cheechah Restaurant is, visually, rather pleasing.
The lighting is soft and the music mellow, befitting the owner’s concept of creating a space that people would come to and lepak (hang out) over light bites. It’s particularly nice in the evenings when they open the panels of the long white English door in the centre to seamlessly merge the inside and the outside, giving you the option of dining in or al-fresco style.
Cekodok: Simple ,and something most people can make at home but if you happen to be here, it’s worth placing an order for. I like the fact that the cekodok is not drenched in oil and that there’s actually plenty of banana in it. The combination of a lightly crispy outer layer and soft inside is very pleasing.
Cucur udang: Another traditional favourite that can also be rather oily and bland but this one’s not. Light and fluffy, it’s great eaten with a selection of dips. Try the sambal tumis – lovely. The only thing I would’ve liked would be for a bit more prawn but then I’m just spoilt!
Keropok lekor: This Terengganu favourite is made from fish paste grounded with sago and salt, rolled and shaped into long tubes like a sausage. It’s boiled and eaten piping hot with chilli sauce. Don’t worry if you’ve somehow left your keropok lekor to get cold. The ones here remain soft and crispy on the outside regardless.
Lemping kelapa: A childhood favourite. My mum used to make this simple Malay-style pancake for breakfast. I never thought it would get elevated to restaurant stature but it has at Cheechah. This is another must-order item. The serving is generous and the lemping comes with sambal tumis and chicken curry for dipping.