For all its frail credibility, something must be said for feng shui when done right. Fabricated to promote good chi, the water features surrounding Gooddam lull us with their swirling eddies and gel well with the restaurant’s au naturel vibe. Not bad for Miki Lie and Daniel Yap’s first ‘real’ home.
Self-congratulations are, nevertheless, escorted by sentimental feelings. The duo had to bring Pop-Up Dining KL, their project for the past two years, to a screeching halt in order to open Gooddam in November 2018. Something flickers beneath Daniel’s face when I ask how they’re adapting.
“With the pop-up, we learned to literally ‘pop up’ or transport our kitchen to different venues. Though challenging, it was fun figuring out how to cook with limited utensils,” he reminisces, betraying a sense of nostalgia for the road. Is what he’s feeling akin to trading one’s Airstream for an apartment?
With Gooddam, however, it’s so much easier for their friends and followers to pin them down. Stability will also allow them to tackle other goals. “Most Italian restaurants in KL are spearheaded by Italian chefs,” points out Miki.
“We want to prove that nationality alone isn’t a factor for good Italian food,” adds Daniel, who studied in Parma and staffed restaurants in Piedmont. “People equate Italian food with olive oil and lightness, but we actually use lots of lard and butter as our base." As if on cue, the black rice puff I've popped into my mouth crumples like a wet tissue, dissolving in a fog of fat. Verbania Pallanza, a small town in Northern Italy that Daniel once called home, is a short half-hour train ride to and from snowy Switzerland, so a reliance on blubber is understandable there. How about here though?
I'm sure many agree with me: creamy dishes can come across as cloying after one or two mouthfuls. Gooddam's wild rice risotto is surprisingly easy to shovel down though. That's when Daniel divulges a secret: save for some gossamer-like shavings of pecorino romano, the dish is dairy-free; glutinous rice is what lends the dish its luscious quality.
Other locally grown produce (think tender turnips and fennel flowers that make your tongue tingle) help the back of house strike a balance between fat and freshness, and ensure an absence of abbiocco (the Italian term for ‘food coma').
Crafted just the day before our visit, Gooddam's newest dessert glows like a jack-o'-lantern. Ribbons of pumpkin that have never seen the insides of a can fold onto each other like a bow gift topper. We unravel the strips to uncover fragrant rosemary ice cream studded with crunchy pumpkin seeds. Less an expression of Italy and more an ode to quality ingredients, the umami dessert depicts another of Gooddam's priorities.
By and large, the restaurant carries the spirit of invention and an awareness of ingredients, but like a new home, there is time yet for a hundred revisions and for a hundred visions and indecisions. Time is on their side.