Steamy affair with coconuts

The relaxed sun baked coconut has finally found its way into our steaming hot pot, and making our favourite family dining affair even better.

Traditionally only associated with the beach, sand and sun, the modest coconut has in recent years rapidly rolled towards a more significant presence in our everyday life. From quickly filling up the shelves at the supermarkets with beauty products as the likes of skin moisturiser and hair conditioner, the tropical fruit is fast emerging as the latest darling of the food and beverage industry across the globe.

2987844        As it builds on a growing fan base, particularly amongst the health conscious community seeking healthier alternatives and functional food products, the fruit is claimed to be an elixir to treating many illnesses and ailments that affect the stomach, liver, kidneys and pancreas.

Based on its varied composition of vitamins and minerals, including being rich in protein and dietary fibre, consumers are relying on it to help increase the body’s resistance to viruses, boost metabolism, control diabetics and improve their digestive system.

Such is the extent of the coconut’s rise in popularity; a Malaysian entrepreneur has turned to it in his quest to transform a much-loved communal dining activity into a premium experience. “Steamboat has always been about family and friends coming together in a very open and often boisterous affair. In many ways, it’s the embodiment of our culture, which revolves around the family and good food,” explains Dax Lee, director of The Group (F&B) Sdn Bhd, which are the owner and operator of YeZi.

2987883Pronounced as “yeh cee” — as in the Cantonese word for coconut – the new restaurant is located on the top floor of 1 First Avenue in Bandar Utama, making it The Roof’s sixth and latest food and beverage outlet.

“YeZi completes The Roof’s 360-degree integrated entertainment concept as we knew from the start when we first conceptualised this place that it will have six F&B outlets coupled with the presence of a Chinese cuisine outlet,” explains Lee. In addition to YeZi, The Roof at present houses Signature By The Hill, Score, Malt & Leaf, Stratosphere and Play.

Being aware that steamboat dining is already an established and popular concept in the country with several operators having already cemented their brand presence over here in recent years, Lee decided to turn to China for new ideas on what he could offer differently to Malaysians.

After tour of several cities, it was finally in Shenzhen where Lee along with Katrina Wong, the outlet’s director, experienced how steamboat could be served as a fine-dining experience combined with the use of coconut-based broth.

2987865“Foremost of all, we wanted our first outlet to be positioned as a more sophisticated location with emphasis on the freshest and finest ingredients. We saw the opportunity to serve the business market segment that want to entertain their guests to an enjoyable steamboat session but in a more stylish and refined environment,” says the 39-year-old Lee, adding that they had initially invested approximately RM1.5 mil to get the place up and running.

Calling itself a premium specialty steamboat restaurant, YeZi’s uniqueness clearly lies in its broth. While most steamboat operators would dispute over who has the tastiest broth, the chefs at YeZi are contended to serve a port of unadorned soup made simply from coconut water, bamboo shoot and water chestnut.

Unaccustomed to this concoction, the broth indeed starts off somewhat bland but as dinner progresses with more farm fresh items added in, it certainly manifests into a distinctly flavoursome broth that gets heavier in essence and aroma as the night goes by.

2987850However, Wong, who supervises the outlet’s daily operations, admits that her team is striving to manage their customers’ expectations especially with most people being used to the existing types of broths served by other operators.

The enthusiastic lady sees this as an excellent opportunity to explain to her customers of their brand positioning, the freshly prepared ingredients, and also what she terms as the “YeZi story”.

“Rather than focus on the soup options, such as Tomyam or clear soup, as those served by others, we are more concerned of preparing quality handmade food items, of which the customer can enjoy fresh, clean and quality foodstuff instead of simply having frozen and pre-packed items served at most steamboat joints,” remarks Wong,

As for what goes into the hot pot, this is where YeZi markedly stands out from the field. With most of the restaurant’s ingredients purchased locally, all of them are handmade daily by the kitchen crew while ensuring no food items are kept overnight if not consumed at the end of the day.

2987874Currently supported by a team of six full-time kitchen staffs led by two experienced head chefs from Malaysia and Taiwan, the kitchen only sources the best quality produce that are available each day including the use of free range organic chicken, organic vegetables and fresh seafood.

Another stand out from its peers is that the restaurant also serves up a variety of charming appetisers, such as “tong sum” century egg with ginger slice, coconut bacon roll, shredded chicken jellyfish cucumber salad and beancurd skin with chicken floss roll. A must have is its signature pandan chicken and seafood wrap, which I found it to be perfectly seasoned and cooked just the right amount of time, making it truly irresistible.

Its current menu shows more than 20 different food items for the steamboat selection, highlighted by its signature dishes, which include the Imperial seafood dumpling, coconut dumpling and YeZi beef ball, with the latter brought in exclusively from Taiwan.

Its specialty lies in having a wide range of dumplings and balls including squid ball, Wagyu beef tendon ball, coconut dumpling, pepper cheese ball and mushroom chicken ball. So firmly rolled with quality ingredients, it doesn’t take many servings of these tantalising balls to fill me up very quickly. My best “ball” dish for the night was undoubtedly the innovative black truffle balls.

2987856 Of course, steamboat must always be accompanied by noodles and in YeZi’s case, some very innovative ones like fish and tobiko paste, black truffle squid paste and seaweed fish noodles. For the discerning foodie, there is also an array of premium seafood offering that includes air-flown Alaskan crabs, Australian lobster and Matsuzaka beef.

“This is what makes us different from the rest; our customers have a choice of having a RM5,000 to RM10,000 dining experience with us if they choose to enjoy premium food items, which they will never be able to do so at other steamboat outlets,” says Wong.

Another distinguishing component at the restaurant is its dipping sauce. Unlike most places that come with choice of chili paste, tomato sauce or sambal belacan, YeZi offers a singular soya sauce that has to be combined with homemade chopped sand ginger and lime to bring out the best essence of the dip.

The diner currently sits up to 200 persons at any one time including the availability of two separate rooms for private functions. Since its official opening in March, it has receives an average of around 50% capacity during dinner time; understandably owing to the cooking time required, the restaurant is not open for lunch.

Wong and her culinary team are already pondering over plans to extend the existing menu to include fast meals, dining for a smaller groups and couples, as well as to accommodate the vicinity’s growing supper crowd, particularly catering to The Roof’s patrons.

Lee, who has a finance degree and was trained as a banker, concurs: “While it’s ideal to stick to one unique offering, the reality in many food-related businesses is that we have to at times try to meet customers’ need as much as we can so that we can achieve a higher market reach.”

An example of this willingness to pay heed to his clientele’s wishes is its broth offering. While adamant that it would never change from a coconut-based soup, he has allowed the team to expand to five different variants for customers to choose from, including mushroom soup, Taiwanese beef soup and rice wine soup.

2987892Already planning ahead, Lee has already lined up nine outlets to be opened across the country within the next 24 months, with IOI City Mall in Putrajaya and The Club in Kota Damansara next on line to be opened within the next three months. Sited on a 6,500 sq ft premises, the outlet at IOI City Mall will even be larger than the current 4,000 sq ft outlet at The Roof.

Going forward, the team is still exploring various options for growth, including franchising, joint-ventures and even product merchandising for their homemade soup and sauces. “The key now is to foremost of all to focus on getting our food quality and menu choices right first before even going too far about expansion plans,” the Petaling Jaya resident asserts.

2987868 One item on the menu that definitely needs no further enhancing is its signature dessert – fragrant coconut ice cream. Scooped onto a halved coconut husk, this smooth and refreshing ice-cream is truly reminiscent of the yesteryears, before the rise of the horde of overzealous so-called artisan ice-creams peppered all around town these days. Unadorned and simple yet deliciously fresh and aromatic; an embodiment of what YeZi’s is all about.



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