Wowed By Grace

At first, I found it a bit quirky that modern European cuisine is served in By Grace Sweet Treats, a dessert bar in Johor Baru.

Facade of By Grace dessert bar that offers private dining
But in the past four years, this little dessert bar has been pleasing discerning diners with their exquisite range of desserts and menu of modern European cuisine.  Then I meet with Chef Gio Khor and his partner, Grace Lim, to get a clearer picture of why this couple is pressing on with such passion in doing what they do.

When I charted my route to By Grace, I realised that it is situated on a one-way street in Taman Pelangi and the most convenient route may be longer but certainly smoother.  By day, parking may be a challenge in this area but in the evening, there are ample spaces to park.

The strong partnership of Grace Lim [Left] and Gio Khor
serving up an exciting range of desserts and modern
European cuisine at By Grace
By Grace has two dining sections: an outdoor area that opens to the street and indoors in air-conditioned comfort.  The cosy dessert bar is furnished with wooden furniture and the d√©cor is eclectic with a soft-toy collection, travel souvenirs and a small structure that resembled a doll’s house.  

With Grace bustling about in her domain, there’s a homely feel about this place.  Later I discover that the doll collection belongs to Grace and the souvenirs are from their regular travels, particularly to Japan for fresh ingredients and inspiration for their food creations.



Sweet Treats

When it comes to discussing the desserts, Gio gently directs me to Grace, the dessert bar’s namesake and pastry chef.  Wearing a flowered apron over her dress, Grace is a young patissier with quiet modesty but a steely focus on creating cakes, pastries, ice-creams and yoghurts that please their sweet-tooth customers.

Uji Matcha Explosion, a Japanese green tea Lava Cake
with a side of frozen yogurt ice-cream
Between them, Grace and Gio have created more than 200 varieties of desserts in four years.  And rather than talk about her delightful desserts, Grace goes to their workstation – which Gio calls “The Lab” positioned in full view of diners – where she works with him to rustle up a range of their popular desserts.

I’m introduced to their Lava Cakes, a house specialty offered in eight flavours with a variety of presentations, each with a side of ice-cream.  They take pride in creating a range of ice-creams in unique flavours using the molecular gastronomy cooking concept where liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the ice-cream.  Each dessert creation is priced between RM17.70 and RM23.70.

Frozen Goji Berry Parfait
The Uji Matcha Explosion comes with a side of frozen yogurt ice-cream.  I gently cut through the side of the pastry to let the wobbly fondant flow out in its natural colour and when I taste it, I’m delighted with how its warm goodness is complemented by the cool ice-cream.

The serving of Frozen Goji Berry Parfait is topped with a scoop of salted caramel ice-cream and flakes of dehydrated white chocolate mousse while a dollop of Yuzu curd is sprinkled with edible silver.  Looking at its pretty plating, I get a hint of how fans of By Grace are appreciating this Japanese cuisine tradition of how food tastes as good as it looks.

Degustation Menus

An interesting presentation for "Garden of Tomatoes"
While Grace and Gio opened By Grace as a dessert bar, they are a strong team with a shared culinary passion in the sous vide method of preparing modern European cuisine.  Their skills and artistry in creating tailor-made menus for private dining events have since garnered a loyal clientele who liaise with them, mostly online, to plan their special events. 

Gio explains that for the time and effort which goes into planning menus that are both pleasing to the eye and palate, hosting such private events are limited to just once a month.  This evening, By Grace is hosting an event for a family of eight and I’m privileged to observe and experience how the meal is meticulously presented course-by-course in a 7-course degustation menu.

Four items in "Textures of Mushrooms"
Priced at RM250 nett per person, the menu includes two interesting starters, main course items of fish, prawn and meat, and of course, an imaginative dessert to enjoy with coffee or tea.  

As I watch the well-oiled teamwork between Gio and Grace, their passion for presenting customers with a unique dining experience, is obvious.  To let me have a parallel experience of the meal, they first served their artistically plated dishes to that family and I get a similar plate too!



Private Dining

Tender and juicy taste of salmon in a pool of Kombu broth
As course after course of the meal is placed before me, I’m asking myself, “Who would have thought that such an aesthetic meal is being offered in a dessert bar?”  For instance, a starter they named, “Garden of Tomatoes,” is presented as a bunch of tomato pairs that appears the same but tastes different.  When I slowly savour each glossy glober, I discover that each pair was created from tomato confit, basil and tomatoes and mozzarella cheese!

“Texture of Mushrooms” is another starter of four items in a variety of tastes and textures, served in a polished wooden bowl.  To best appreciate this dish, Gio tells me to start with the melt-in-my-mouth porcini meringue (shaped like mushrooms!) followed by the tangy crunch of pickled mixed mushrooms, then the smooth cubes of mushroom consomm√© jelly and to end with the truffle egg chips.

Mandarin Orange & Hazelnut pliable curd with a
side of calamansi ice-cream
After savouring the starters, I’m eagerly anticipating the main course items and when they are served, I’m not disappointed.  The Chilled King Prawn is an arty serving of chilled citrus infused prawn topped with caviar created from tangy melon and a side of charcoal and lime powder.  And when I sink my teeth into the sous vide prepared slice of salmon in a pool of Kombu broth, I must declare that this is most deliciously juicy salmon I’ve ever tasted!

Before the By Grace dessert experience, I’m served a pre-dessert of Roselle soup topped with Greek yoghurt spheres just to clean my palate.  I can still spy Gio and Grace, in their element, briskly preparing and plating the special dessert created with a delightful contrast of flavours in the Mandarin Orange & Hazelnut pliable curd with a side of refreshing calamansi ice-cream. 

When I sit back with a sigh of satisfaction and round off the meal with sips of hot black coffee, I’m thinking – If there's one word to describe this dining experience, it's simply, “Wow!”

WHERE
By Grace, dessert bar and private dining (Non-Halal)
93 Jalan Kuning
Taman Pelangi
80400 Johor Baru, Johor
Tel: +607 – 333 7773
Facebook: By Grace

OPENING HOURS
Daily 5pm to 1am
Closed on Sunday

GETTING THERE
Take the Inner Ring Road and filter left to Jalan Stulang Darat with Taman Pelangi on your left.  When you pass the Pelangi golf driving range, exit left at traffic lights to Jalan Serampang.  Slow down at intersection where Jalan Kuning is to your left and filter left to inner lane to reach row of shops where By Grace is situated.

WHAT’S COOKING
Modern European cuisine with a hint of Japanese

MUST TRY
Molecular desserts, lava cakes and interesting private dining menus

YOU’LL PAY
No corkage for private dining or RM20/bottle for walk-in’s and service charge; No GST charges

ATMOSPHERE
Fine dining in a dessert bar

FACILITIES
Disabled-friendly
High chair
Kids’ dining set
Smoking Area
No Pets
Credit card facilities

THE LOO
Shophouse modern toilet

SERVICE
English-speaking staff

OVERALL VERDICT
Go give it a try

A version of this was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 4 April 2016

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