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Oct 22, 2010 12:30 AM

Laut - World's First Michelin-starred Malay restaurant

Frankly, I don't think I should be posting this on the China/SE-Asia board, seeing that Laut is actually located in E 17th St (between 5th Ave & W Union Sq), New York. But then, it's probably the first Malay restaurant in the world which has been awarded One-Michelin-star, as per the 2011 New York Michelin Guide . Brings to mind the excitement within the Thai food circles when Nahm in London became the world's first Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in 2006, or when Hakkasan in London became the first Chinese restaurant in the world to be awarded a Michelin star back in 2004.

Laut offers the usual suspects: Nasi Lemak, Beef Rendang with Roti Canai, Curry Laksa, Assam Laksa, Hainanese chicken rice (with roasted chicken, Malay-style), Mee Siam, etc. Didn't realise that Malaysian hawker food can garner one-Michelin-star!!

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  1. haha if they use the same inspectors in singapore, then we may have several michelin starred hawkers!

    but seriously, it makes a joke out of the michelin guide. how on earth is the french or american inspector in NYC going to credibly rate a cuisine that he's probably only sampled a couple of times in his life..michelin should preserve what's left of their credibility and not rate cuisines outside of their domain of knowledge.

    4 Replies
    1. re: sg_foodie

      sg_foodie, haha - you are certainly spot on! I am of the opinion that Michelin should just stick to French food, or at least places with French-influenced cuisine, for example Belgian, Luxembourgian, etc etc. In the old days, fine dning restaurants in Germany, Scandinavia, US or England are all French-inspired.
      Then Michelin started to expand their guides to places like Japan and Hong Kong, raise the ire of local gourmets by giving stars to luxurious places like Lung King Heen which frankly serves tasteless food whilst ignoring top-notch HK eateries which the locals thrive on. Of course, Michelin in a face-saving gesture started including these previously-ignored places in their Bib Gourmand guide. HUH!

      But back to Malay food, and in particularly Malay food in Singapore - because I don't think we have any Malay restaurant in Singapore which matches good ones in Kuala Lumpur, or even Johore Bahru for that matter. But, have you tried The Tiffin Club at Jiak Chuan Road, near Keong Saik Road yet?

      I noticed it because its chef, Iskander Latif, won the recent TV reality-cooking programme, The Perfect Meal Asia, on Channel news Asia by beating 5 other chefs. The finale saw Chef Iskander beating the equally skilled Chef Chintan Pandya of Yantra Indian restaurant. I thought Chef Iskander's French-Malay dishes on Tiffin Club's menu, like Laksa Croquette, Chilli Crab Toasties, and Duck Rendang with nasi ulam & petit salad/orange vinaigrette sounded delicious.

      Maybe Four Seasons or yourself can organise a Chowhound get-together there!

      1. re: M_Gomez

        i haven't been there personally, but my friends who have tried it were quite disappointed with the food...they felt the execution was quite poor. has anyone else been there yet?

        1. re: sg_foodie

          I was certainly planning to, but now that you've mentioned it ...

          1. re: klyeoh

            OK, I went there. The concept was there but, as sg_foodie said, the execution was poor.

            I went to Lau Pa Sat's Boon Tat street for satays a day after my Tiffin Club lunch. For comparison, I'd give Tiffin Club's satay platter (S$6.50 for 6 sticks) 10 out of 10 for presentation, but 5 out of 10 for taste. I'd give the Boon Tat satay stall (S$6 for 10 sticks) 5 out of 10 for presentation, 9 out of 10 for taste.
            Chef Iskander just really needs to put more authenticity (plus taste!) into his dumbed-down Malay-inspired dishes!

    2. Laut's Michelin star story was featured in key Malaysian newspapers so i checked out the restaurant's website and was horrified to see that Laut is Thai-Malaysian-Singaporean! Thai and Malaysian/SIngaporean cuisine lumped together just reminds me the kind of restaurants found in touristy areas around the world. Wonder why there aren't more French-Italian restaurants around? :-)
      Totally agree with sg_foodie and M_Gomez; Michelin outside of Europe is a bit of a joke.

      2 Replies
      1. re: KLfoodie

        Totally agree with you - I'm also taken aback to see Thai dishes on offer at Laut. I guess the only way for Malaysian/Singaporean eateries to attract American clientele is to also offer the better-known Thai dishes alongside Malaysian/Singaporean ones. I think I posted on the CH San Francisco board some time ago about finding Thai green curry used for "Sayur Lodeh" at the popular Straits (supposedly Singaporean-Nyonya restaurant) at the Westfield SF Centre. The owner was Singaporean-born Chris Yeo.

        1. re: klyeoh

          Whilst I am more than happy to chow on well-executed fusion cuisine (e.g., Cilantro in KL, Ame in SF), green curry sayur lodeh is plain ridiculous! Have successfully avoided Malaysian restaurants outside of Malaysia for many years now.

      2. Well, as a partial answer to the comments posted on this thread - here's an article from the NYT about Malaysian/Singaporean food in NY, led by KF Seetoh as guide:

        NOTE that Laut is NOT amongst the list of recommended places... :-) :-


        (Yes, perhaps Michelin should stick to French food)

        10 Replies
        1. re: huiray

          Thanks for the heads-up, huiray! I'd been to NY a few times, usually on business, but I don't eat at South-East Asian or Chinese restaurants, since I get better ones back home here (my last trip to NY in Dec 09, my most memorable meal was at Via Brasil, West 46th St - superb feijoada!). So, it's doubly interesting to read about NY Hounds debating about Chinese/Malay/Thai food in NY, Michelin giving recognition to Laut, Nyonya, etc.

          BTW, KF Seetoh is prone to exaggeration & over-selling his rather opinionated tastes. Lately, he even appears on Kentucky Fried Chicken TV commercials promoting the chain's latest menu items. How's that for a food critic?

          But I really take issue with his statement in NYT that stated:
          “Food is the greatest democratic institution in Singapore,” he said. “There is truly no bland food and no bad restaurants.”

          How wrong can he be?! Like any other city, there are loads of bad restaurants here in Singapore (most closed down within months anyway) and bland food abounds everywhere - even highly-rated claypot rice or laksa vendors!!

          1. re: klyeoh

            Very interesting, your comments about KF Seetoh. Is that a widespread view?

            There are folks of Malaysian and Singaporean background in the US (such as in NY) who do hanker for a genuine taste here of the cuisine from the two countries without making it themselves, and hence the chit-chat about places to get such you know, of course. :-)

            1. re: huiray

              I always felt K F Seetoh's "Ah Beng" behaviour is a put-on persona for television purposes. The Makansutra guide was useful because many hawker stalls were covered in the guide. But that's Seetoh's specialty right? Hawker food. I can't imagine him in New York to review restaurants!
              I used to go to Makansutra's website to find out about hawker stalls and what's good to eat. But it appears very commercialised now, and only point us to his products to buy, so I've stopped using it.
              Of all food critics in Singapore, the ones I'd trust are Geoffrey Eu and Jaime Ee of Business Times. Tan Hsueh Yun of Straits Times is wonderful. & she knows her food Wong Ah Yoke of Sunday Times' tastes either differ very much from mine, or else he's given star treatment by the chefs wherever he went, because his reviews always turn out to be duds. I wouldn't consider K F Seetoh as a serious food reviewer, he's more into clowning around. Ha-ha!

                1. re: M_Gomez

                  +1 about Seetoh. Case in point - did anyone happen to catch his appearance in the latest season of Top Chef?...

                  1. re: Whoiswen

                    Yes, of course.

                    FWIW, it may be of interest that various people on food blogs/forums in NA thought well of Seetoh as a guest judge/guide, complimenting him on his measured responses and helpful comments, as portrayed on the broadcasts of the two-part finale.

                    1. re: huiray

                      And not because Seetoh happens to be an Oriental who speaks good English?

                      1. re: penang_rojak

                        Well, I think there are vast numbers of Asian people (Chinese & others) who speak good English and many who speak it perfectly, both in Asia and elsewhere - so no, I don't think your conjecture would be a major factor, if it is one at all. He just happened to come across as more helpful than some other judges by comparison over the course of the series.

                        Look, I am not doubting your takes on Seetoh, I am merely saying that in the context of Top Chef he wasn't a bad guide or judge, which is different from treating him as the ultimate spokesperson for all SE Asian cuisine. All your comments above shall be kept in mind when I read about him in various situations and I thank you all for your opinions. Perhaps I should not have said anything at all.


              1. re: klyeoh

                Article on Seetoh's KFC ad. You'd probably have also seen the TV version over in Singapore, which we'd not see over here in Malaysia, as Seetoh's relatively unknown amongst us Malaysians:


                1. re: penang_rojak

                  You're right - I asked my Penang friends about Seetoh, and they have very vague notions about him - but they said the Makansutra series is telecasted over the Asian Food Channel in Malaysia, although few Malaysians actually watched it because the program only covers Singapore-based eateries.

            2. Article in The Star Malaysia today about Laut's Michael Bong:


              1 Reply
              1. re: penang_rojak

                Yes, I saw this in the Star Malaysia newspapers as I was vacationing/Chowhounding in Penang over the Deepavalli long weekend.

                Granted, what Michael Bong & his wife tried to do in New York was extremely ambitious. In Penang, I noticed that the hawkers all specialized in only ONE dish, i.e. popiah, char koay teow, curry noodles, etc. and they'd work on perfecting their art on preparing that one dish over 2-3 decades!

              2. this is a complete joke, i have never had much respect for the michelin guide as i always felt they places way too much emphasis on decor and service as opposed to the food.

                I live in NY, but i obviously spent a decent amt of time in Singapore and some time in Malaysia. While Laut is good for NY, in Singapore it would be considered an ok malay restaurant at best, no where near getting accolades etc.

                This is not to disparage Laut b/c i like what they are doing for Malay food and the state of Malay / Singaporean food is pretty bad, so this is definitely one of the better places in NY. That said you could find way way better food in Singapore or Malaysia.