Familiar festive favourites at Wan Li

The thought, “So much food and so little space!” come to mind when I glance at the festive menu at Wan Li Restaurant in the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel.

Entrance to Wan Li at the lobby level of Renaissance JB
Back by popular demand are the two choices of Prosperity Salmon Yee Sang and Auspicious Abalone Yee Sang along with my favourite banquet-in-a-basin, the Chinese New Year Fortune Treasure Pot or poon choy.

This traditional Cantonese preparation of a braised casserole of goodness brings back fond memories of our family feasting and I feel a sudden tinge of sadness, reminiscing on the good food shared and special times with dear ones who are no longer with us now.

Topping-off the Yee Sang with
ingredients with auspicious names
accompanied by auspicious words! 
I’m a Chef’s Table guest at Wan Li for a preview of the festive fare and looking at the interesting items in the menus, I can’t help guessing which menu the chef will be preparing for us. 

I’m told that in the olden days, the new year reunion dinner was the only meal in the year where the Chinese would indulge in a meat dish because it was an auspicious festive occasion.

And the Lunar New Year is traditionally, the only time of year that the Chinese take time off to celebrate and treat themselves to feasts with menus of high-value items. 

As I look at the merits of each menu designed for the traditional reunion dinner at Wan Li and wait in eager anticipation, I’m mulling over how different it is now compared to those humble times. 

Rates for an 8-course menu in Set A for 10 persons are at RM1,388++, RM888++ for 6 persons and for the 6-course Set B at RM1,688++ for 10 persons, RM1,088++ for 6 persons.

Businessmen have certainly adopted the Lo Hei tradition!
Since the Lo Hei tradition was adopted by businessmen to toss Yee Sang or raw fish salad, to greater prosperity and abundance at the start of the year, diners at Wan Li can opt for the their choice of Yee Sang to toss to greater heights of achievement in the coming year.

The Prosperity Salmon Yee Sang also comes in two sizes at RM78++ (Small) and RM98++ (Large) while the Auspicious Abalone Yee Sang is priced at RM98++ (Small) and RM138++ (Large).

When I discover that every order for a table of 10 of Sets A and B comes with a bottle of red wine, I’m smiling because raising a toast at this festive meal certainly complements such a happy occasion. 

A closer look at the Set B menu reveals that it includes some seasonal high-value items like pomfret fish caught from Pontian steamed in superior soya sauce, Cantonese-style Fortune Treasure Pot rich with dried seafood and eight whole abalone as well as dessert of chilled Bird’s Nest pudding.

An individual serving of double-boiled village chicken soup
with Matsutake mushrooms, ocean clams and chicken fillet
Diners may also place separate orders for the Chinese New Year Fortune Treasure Pot and they come in two sizes at RM388++ (Small) and RM688++ (Large).

To accommodate the modern trend of dining out for the annual Reunion Dinner, Wan Li offers two dining sessions on Jan 27, the eve of Chinese New Year, at 5.30pm and 8pm.

To add to the festive cheer, diners even stand a chance to win a 3-Day 2-Night stay at the Hua Hin Marriot Resort & Spa for every order of Yee Sang, Treasure Pot and Chinese New Year set menus!

Then the Sous Chef in Wan Li, Chef Lee Nam Sin was introduced and he made a quick exit to complete the preparations to serve us the Chef’s Table menu.

A festive favourite on the menu: Ho See Fatt Choy, the
auspicious name of this traditional festive dish
I’m delighted to discover from the Chef’s Table menu that the 8-course, Set A menu comprises items that are either fresh, double-boiled, steamed, wok-fried or braised!

The meal kicked-off to an auspicious start with the presentation of a platter of Prosperity Salmon Yee Sang with organic vegetables, fresh fruits and slivers of jelly fish. 

The serving staff then showed how each food ingredient, added as a topping to the salad platter has its auspicious meanings and demonstrated it by accompanying her actions with auspicious phrases.

I can still remember her final phrase in Mandarin, “Tian tian mi mi,” literally translated as, “As sweet as honey” to wish every diner abundance topped with sweetness!

Piping hot soup was served in individual ceramic bowls and I can see whole Matsutake mushrooms with ocean clams and chicken fillet in my delicious double-boiled portion of village chicken soup.

Steamed fragrant glutinous rice topped with chicken fillet,
mushrooms and abalone sauce, wrapped in a lotus leaf
For a while, the only sounds heard in the dining room was the delicate clink of ceramic Chinese spoons against the deep bowls as we scooped up all the goodness to savour and happily left the bowls empty!

A festive banquet is not complete without staples like chicken, fish and prawns and this menu comes with whole chicken – steamed with Chinese herbs – which is unwrapped before you. 

A whole Dragon Tiger Garoupa fish steamed with black fungus in superior soya sauce and Hong Kong style wok-fried king prawns in salt and pepper, brings out all the seafood’s natural flavours.

When I discover fatt-choy, a black moss that resembles strands of dark hair, with auspicious items like braised dried oysters, fish maw and mushrooms in the broccoli, I know that Wan Li is sticking close to tradition as these ingredients in this dish with an auspicious name like, Ho See Fatt Choy, augurs well for greater prosperity in the new year.

Just as I thought I couldn’t eat another morsel, my nostrils are assailed by the fragrance of steamed glutinous rice with chicken fillet and mushrooms in abalone sauce, unveiled from a split open lotus leaf.

Slices of nian gao, Chinese New Year glutinous rice cake,
coated in fine shreds of fresh coconut
“Two spoons,” I tell myself as I sampled a taste of the fragrant steamed rice with a delicious bite of tender chicken and mushrooms.

To end the meal sweetly, Chef Lee has prepared not one but two desserts.  A pink concoction in a bowl of chilled coconut milk with strawberry puree and sago beads and slices of auspicious Chinese New Year glutinous rice cake, nian gao, coated with fine shreds of fresh coconut.

From the start to its very end, the experience of this reunion meal is rich with traditional elements and familiar auspicious ingredients that augurs well for the start of a new year for progress in careers and personal relationships, and new beginnings for greater prosperity in corporate life and work projects.

Wan Li Restaurant [Pork-Free] is on the lobby level of the Renaissance Johor Baru Hotel, 2 Jalan Permas 11, Bandar Baru Permas Jaya, 81750 Masai, Johor.  For reservations, Tel: +607 – 381 3388 or email: shenynn.ng@renaissancehotels.com

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