Features 3 minutes 10 January 2024

Behind the Dish: Beta Kuala Lumpur's Kuih Loyang

MICHELIN-Starred Beta's Raymond Tham talks to us about the path to his culinary success and one of Beta's iconic dishes — the ever-changing Kuih Loyang.

Having been awarded its first MICHELIN Star in the MICHELIN Guide Kuala Lumpur & Penang 2024, Beta provides a captivating experience for culinary enthusiasts seeking to savour Malaysia's diverse culinary traditions with a refined flair.

At Beta, chef Raymond Tham creatively transforms beloved dishes from various regions, infusing them with contemporary techniques and elegant plating. Upon entering the restaurant, one begins his or her culinary journey in the lounge, where he or she can enjoy expertly crafted cocktails and appetisers, before delving into the main courses showcased in the dining room. It’s highly recommended to go for the thoughtfully curated cocktail and food pairing, where the tipples complement the sophisticated nature of the dishes.

The dining room at Beta
The dining room at Beta

Realising his chosen career path at the tender age of six, Tham says that he was mostly inspired by his grandmother’s cooking. The chef laughs as he recalls a memory when he was eight, almost literally burning down the house as a child, in his innocent attempt to prepare steamed pork and yam — the chef says he took a nap as he waited for the dish to finish cooking. Apart from his forays in the kitchen, Tham would also pick calamansi (a small, round variety of lime) from their garden, try his hand at making jams and jellies using agar agar (a gelling agent), and find the right ratio of acidity and sweetness in the process of doing so.

Looking back, Tham wistfully relishes these experiences and shares that though his grandmother has already passed, he still hopes he could prepare her boiled soup with lotus root and peanuts — one that she used to make for him while she was still alive. “She would cook the soup using very specific ingredients and methods, down to the charcoal. I hope I can create a modern version of this one day; it would mean a lot.”

Kicking off his culinary journey as a pastry chef with a degree in hotel and restaurant management, Tham built a strong culinary repertoire working in the United Kingdom and Bermuda. Tham professes that he has a strong affinity for Malaysian street food, with a particular fondness for chicken hor fun, nasi lemak, banana leaf rice, and pork chee cheong fun (rice rolls). “I know Malaysia is widely popular for its street food, and I love our local street food so much,” Tham declares. “However, I also feel that Malaysia has so much more to offer beyond street food.”

“We named the restaurant Beta for two very good reasons,” Tham continues. “Firstly, ‘Beta’ refers to number two, as this is our second restaurant.” Beta is under the same restaurant group (KARLS) as MICHELIN Selected Skillet, the group's first restaurant, which serves contemporary European cuisine. “Also, in the Malay context, the king will normally address himself as ‘Beta’; so at the restaurant, we believe that everyone should eat like a king,” Tham explains. “The flavours, inspiration, and the ingredients are locally sourced, and I would say that 80% are purely Malaysian ingredients.”

Beta's Kuih Loyang.jpg

At Beta, one will find Kuih Loyang (or Honeycomb/Rosette Cookies) as part of the menu. Usually a popular festive treat common in Malaysia and other neighbouring countries in the region, Tham shares that different iterations of Kuih Loyang are served in the restaurant, depending on the season.

Instead of its cookie form, Beta takes the Kuih Loyang a notch further and serves it as a frozen treat. “What we do is we soak a copper mould in liquid nitrogen, and then dip it back into a mixture of chocolate or coconut, depending on the menu’s current version. The idea is to have our local guests feel like it is such a familiar dessert, but at the same time, very special,” he says. “It’s also great to see the excitement on our foreign guests’ faces when they try it for the first time!”

Tham says that for now, he deems the Kuih Loyang as Beta’s signature dish because of the heritage it comes with, and also because it is an item that has consistently been on the restaurant's menu.

“The first and original version was made with a local single-origin chocolate from Pahang,” shares Tham. “The current version we are doing at the restaurant uses bambangan, which is a wild mango native to Borneo. It has a strong, distinctive flavour, and I pair it with Callebaut ruby chocolate.”

Another version of Kuih Loyang that might make an appearance on Beta’s menu soon is inspired by tang yuan (glutinous rice balls filled with black sesame), just in time for the Lunar New Year. Tham also hints that he is currently experimenting with a new abalone dish with fragrant local rice — a creation to look forward to at Beta.

Raymond Tham.jpg

What's the best part about being a chef for Tham? The knowledge that he has the platform to fuel his curiosity and creativity at the same time. He cites memories of himself and his mother going to the local market, buying ingredients they have never tried before, and experimenting with different dishes. One particular ingredient that Tham loves to work with is buah kulim (wild jungle garlic). “It has a truffle essence to it. We once made a dish using grilled baby corn from Cameron Highlands simply swiped with buah kulim oil," he shares.

Apart from taking his precious dog, Teddy, out for a walk, Tham also enjoys consuming media related to his work such as movies ("The Hundred Foot Journey is my favourite!" he shares) and books — he is currently nose-deep into André Chiang of RAW's Octaphilosophy.

With the many hats Tham wears in his chosen life's work, the chef shares that one thing he both loves and enjoys is learning. "Even during my downtime, I still like to learn. Being a chef and doing what I do… there’s really nothing else I would rather be.”


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