Tucked in a quiet corner just outside Starhill Gallery’s Feast Village is Le Petit Rococo. The eatery occupies an impossibly tiny space reminiscent of the hole-in-the-wall joints you might chance upon in Melbourne or Paris. On the wide pavement outside the eatery where huge trees cast gentle shadows and sunlight flits in and out, tables are set up al fresco style and a relaxed charm prevails.
The eatery is the brainchild of charismatic fashion photographer Daniel Goh, who has spent a considerable amount of time in France, where he worked with fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin, Prada and Gucci.
“After 15 years in fashion photography, I was bored of all the glamour and the superficial life. I wanted to do things more related to art,” says Goh.
So Goh started doing interior design, first working on six exclusive bungalows in Argentina, before moving on to projects in Hong Kong and China. Three years ago, he returned to Malaysia, bought some property and was offered the opportunity to become the creative director of Melange Hotel in Changkat Bukit Bintang. When he was done with the project, he decided to take charge of the rooftop of the hotel.
“I asked the developer what they wanted to do with it as it had such a nice view. And they said they weren’t going to do anything with it and were thinking of letting the housekeeping staff sleep there. I said, ‘No, it’s such a waste!’ So I rented it from them,” he says.
Goh used the space to create Rococo, a modern restaurant that imbibed his love for cooking and eating as well as his flair for artistic interpretation. But when the rent for the place went up dramatically (a 400% hike!), he was about to call it quits and head back to Europe when another opportunity arose and he was given the chance to open an eatery in Starhill Gallery.
Le Petit Rococo (“petit” means little) has been at Starhill for six months now and is the diminutive version of Rococo. In the daytime, this is reflected in a menu that is largely made up of homemade pastas, sandwiches and cakes.
At night, though, expect a totally different atmosphere as Le Petit Rococo takes on its Rococo alter ego, with a totally polaric menu that incorporates imported seafood and requires four-day advance orders.
The décor at Le Petit Rococo is made up of Philippe Starck Ghost chairs and lamps, gold-plated utensils and crockery imported from Paris. According to Goh, the set-up for each table easily comes up to RM10,000! Goh also goes to great lengths to ensure everything in the eatery is colour-coordinated and that there is a purpose for every element.
“I look at my chairs and lamps and then plan my food. Everything has a meaning. When you sit on a black chair, your food will be served in a black bowl. I do things in a more artistic way,” he says.
This attention to detail filters down to the food, which features wholesome, Mediterranean-inspired concoctions inspired by Goh’s years in France and his holidays in Italy. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, from the sourdough bread that Goh learnt how to make in France, to the soups, pasta sauces, butters and cakes, which are baked fresh daily.
As most of the hot meals are made to order, expect a wait time of at least 20 to 25 minutes for orders like pasta. To begin your meal at Le Petit Rococo, start with the brunch option of Buongiorno Rococo (RM25) which is available from 9am to 2pm. The eggs Benedict with homemade hollandaise sauce, home-cured smoked salmon and avocado, served with freshly baked sourdough bread is incredibly delicious. The eggs are poached perfectly and are silken soft, with yolks that spill over once a knife is speared through the middle. The hollandaise sauce is zesty with lemony undertones while the smoked salmon and capers offer salty bursts that meld perfectly well with its companions on the plate.
Next up, try the options on the lunch menu, available from noon to 6pm. The Super Zucca (RM21) is an ode to deliciousness, and features satin-smooth pumpkin soup with buttery undertones that just screams “satisfaction guaranteed”. On the side is a thick hunk of freshly-baked sourdough bread with perfectly salted homemade garlic parsley butter – both equally sublime and equally addictive (heaven help you, you won’t be able to stop eating this!).
The Grano Grande (RM24) may not look like much (my face fell the moment I saw it), but tossing together the lumps of quinoa, avocado, cranberries, pumpkin, sunflower seeds, balsamic vinaigrette and onions transforms seemingly unremarkable components into a remarkable experience that provides both flavour as well as textural definition.
From the pasta selections, have a go at the Risotto di Scampi (RM23), which Goh came up with in tribute to the versions he savoured in the south of Italy.
“When I travelled to the south of Italy, I always ate this risotto cooked in tomato sauce. I don’t like tomato sauce, but they cooked it very well – it was very rich and creamy and I found it very interesting. So I thought this might be attractive here because Malaysians are used to rich flavours,” says Goh.
The risotto is delightful – creamy with tomato undercurents and seafood running through its veins. It’s the sort of stuff that manages to be both rich yet light, allowing for gluttony to rear its ugly head as you ultimately lose the battle (and the will) to restrain yourself from eating more.
Then there is the La Rosso (RM19) or homemade beetroot pasta with roasted sunflower seeds. This is a meal that has “health fanatic” written all over it. As a result, although it’s fairly tasty – the mineral flavours of beetroot really shine here – it’s also decidedly one-dimensional and lacklustre.
The eatery also makes a smorgasbord of sandwiches, concocted using freshly-baked bread made in-house. Of these, the La Blanco (RM19) is a stand-out that features rye bread with fat tufts of Alaska snow crab in a starring role alongside a supporting cast that includes grilled beef pepperoni, avocado and coriander leaves. The bedfellows in this sandwich work together harmoniously to deliver pleasurable results that will leave you hankering for more.
Goh is a prolific baker who bakes all of the desserts on display himself, so you’d do well to end your meal here with one of his toothsome offerings, like the Torta di Carote (RM16) or carrot cake, which is moist and incredibly sumptuous. According to Goh, the cake is so popular that members of the royal family and other titled individuals often pop by for a slice!
Given the tiny little corner that Goh’s eatery inhabits, it’s little wonder that he is considering flexing his reach a little. Goh says he is already looking at potentially occupying a larger lot in Starhill Gallery, which – if it comes to fruition – will represent the rebirth of Rococo.
“When I had Rococo, we were on the top floor and our customers loved how exclusive it was. So that’s why I’m looking for a venue to fulfil that. The new outlet will be Rococo – it will be more refined food. Le Petit Rococo is more mass market, so the range of food is cheaper but we still make artisanal food from scratch here,” he says.
LE PETIT ROCOCO
Lot T-10, Jalan Gading (Bintang Steps)
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 011-2121 5617/012-974 0192
Open daily: 9am to 10pm