Grilled pleasures

Chef Ozzy presents his signature
char-grilled wagyu rib-eye steak
Gary Hong’s love for cooking shines through in his dishes, writes PEGGY LOH

THE menu at Grill Bar — an American Bistro, is an inspired blend of American, French, Italian and Belgian cuisines designed to tempt. I zoom on the desserts, adding two points to the score when I see American cheesecake among other delectable desserts like Belgian waffle, chocolate lava and strawberry sabayon pastry. Gary Hong, 29, comes over to introduce himself.

After 13 years working with award-winning chefs in renowned restaurants in Singapore, Hong (better known as Chef Ozzy), is ready to share his love for food with gourmets in Johor Baru. Cooking, clearly his passion, comes naturally to this affable young chef. I learn that it’s in his blood as he comes from a family well known in the food industry in Johor Baru.

“Let me show you how to enjoy meat,” says Ozzy who’s big on serving the finest cuts of fresh meat. Motivated by his mother, he doesn’t believe in short-cuts but uses fresh ingredients to make the sauce and gravy from scratch. When he talks about the joys of tasting fresh meat, chargrilled to perfection in his signature style, I can tell that he derives great pleasure from seeing diners end their meal, happy with his food. As he returns to the kitchen to whip up his specialties, I gear myself up to sample and appreciate the chef’s recommendations.

Soup and starters

American flat-bread topped half with Clorado spread
and the other with pesto, mushrooms and almonds!
I start light, with a refreshing salad of New York ice-berg wedge drizzled with tangy blue cheese dressing and happily chew into toppings of crunchy walnuts and small tomatoes. Grill Bar’s American flat breads come in various flavours and Ozzy obliges by putting two toppings on one for me to sample — half topped with Colorado spread and the other smothered in pesto, mushrooms and almonds. Another appetiser designed to whet the appetite must be the wild sweet salad of US seared scallop, featuring a whole scallop wrapped in a strip of bacon.

Grill Bar’s signature mushroom soup is made with white truffle mushrooms and served with slices of toasted garlic bread. When I try the Manhattan seafood soup, I take my time to savour the rich seafood broth while admiring how it is creatively crowned with a whole prawn resting on a calamari ring. I fish around, delighted to discover mussel, fish fillet, shrimp and squid as I shamelessly finish every last drop.

Meat and mains

Salty goose leg confit is so full of flavour
While Ozzy serves up a tidy grill selection and fresh seafood, there’s also a menu of pasta and vegetable dishes. With a keen eye for detail and good service that makes a meal at the Grill Bar memorable, he has a fine touch that lifts a dish from plain and ordinary to simply stunning.

Then Ozzy proudly presents his signature chargrilled wagyu rib-eye steak, served with caramelised onions, a side of sauteed French beans and whipped potato. I’m glad the rich gravy is served separately because I’m quite content to sink my teeth into each beefy bite that’s bursting with juicy, smokey flavours.

Grilled fish with seafood fennel bisque
When the salty goose leg confit is served, I learn that advance preparation has sealed all the natural flavours into the meat. The meat is tender and easily separates from the bone. For the best experience, each mouthful should be eaten together with the poached vegetables and lip-smacking gravy.

Grill Bar’s grilled fish with seafood fennel bisque changes my mind about fish because it is made with thick fillets of butter carp fish swimming in a rich seafood bisque. Served with a side of roasted new potatoes and a generous portion of vegetables, the creamy texture of the fish is simply irresistible.

Dessert and drinks

“This is the right way to eat it,” says Ozzy as he gently digs a well in the centre of the chocolate lava and dips in little skewers tipped with split strawberries. Crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside, it’s just as tempting as I expected.

This is the way to eat Chocolate Lava
The Belgian waffle is a tantalising tapestry of molten dark chocolate woven in contrast with white cream and served with a side of strawberry slices and a scoop of ice-cream. This portion is certainly enough to share.

Another interesting dessert is the strawberry with sabayon. I dip sticks of flaky puff pastry into sabayon sauce sprinkled with strawberry and almond slices and let it all melt in my mouth. The only way to end such a sumptuous meal is sweetly, with a hot cup of fragrant hazelnut coffee.

Fast Facts

Grill Bar – the American Bistro is at 202 Jalan Sri Pelangi, Taman Pelangi, Johor Baru. Open daily except Tuesday, from noon to 11pm on Monday to Friday and from 1pm to 11pm on Saturday and Sunday. Choose to sit in the outdoor section or dine in air-conditioned comfort. The weekday promotion, a three-course American set lunch (RM20, noon to 3pm), is very popular, so reservations are recommended. Tel:  07-333 3400 .

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Life & Times on 23 February 2011

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