Chef Chats: Communal Table by Gen
Conceptually different but manned by the same team, Communal Table by Gen and Gen are two restaurants worth patronising on Penang Island. While the former specialises in sharing plates, the latter follows a fine dining format. Both are the brainchild of Johnson Wong, who agreed to participate in Momo's Kuala Lumpur's Pening Penang series of food and drink pop-ups from Sept 18 - 19, 2020. Read on to get familiarised with the Penang-based eateries and the passionate people behind them.
Hey, chefs. How was the drive from Penang?
Johnson Wong: It was a smooth drive, but I had to stop midway to move things around in the boot. Our boxes of produce were making quite a racket.
Did you haul all your ingredients from Penang or do some grocery shopping here?
Kevin Ng: We already had everything we needed in our kitchen in Penang, so we brought it with us.
But drink pairings will be done by Momo’s KL?
JW: That's correct.
Does Momo’s make you nostalgic for your backpacking days?
JW: Things are quite different now. Back then you’d never find a boutique hotel quite like Momo’s.
Quite right. Student-friendly hotels might plan community events, but to host a restaurant pop-up is pretty rare.
JW: Nowadays you can find cool places to stay while sticking within an affordable price range.
Say someone hasn't been to either of your restaurants and wants to tick both off their to-do list; would you advice eating at Communal Table or Gen first?
JW: I would advise going to Communal Table first for the entry-level prices. When Freeform reached out on behalf of Momo's KL, asking us to bring Gen to KL, I suggested Communal Table, as it's more suited to the space. Communal Table's concept is more casual. Even our wine list is more youthful; we tailored it so there's only low-intervention and natural wines.
This is basically Communal Table’s first ever pop-up. It's a good opportunity to explain what the restaurant stands for, as there’s still a lot of confusion among people outside Penang, especially since Gen moved to The Prestige Hotel and Communal Table took over Gen's original address.
What are some best-selling dishes at Communal Table by Gen?
KN: The chicken wings stuffed with belacan fried rice and served with local caviar is a hot item.
Isn't that also on your pop-up menu for Momo's KL?
JW: Yes. What you'll taste at Momo's are existing dishes at Communal Table that have been tweaked for the two-day pop-up. For example, you would normally use a spoon to eat the Ginger Flower dish, which has cubes of compressed watermelon and ginger flower sorbet...
KN: ...but the plated dish will be presented as popsicles so you can pick them up with ease.
Can you shed light on a few more bites featuring local ingredients?
KN: There’s also a seaweed dish...
The one resembling a taco?
KN: Yes, with green curry mousse and sea grapes.
Sea grapes don’t travel well, so I've heard.
JW: It seems that seafood supplier Fish For It has found a way to safely transport it from Sabah to Peninsular Malaysia. As a giveback to them, we've literally named the dish 'Fish For It'.
KN: There's also a charcoal puff stuffed with Guinness mousse and barbecue chicken jerky.
JW: We use choux pastry for the puff, which reflects Communal Table's style of having fusion touches.
What's for dessert?
KN: Are you familiar with the 'cat ear biscuits' largely eaten by the Chinese community? We stuff those with a mixture of Milo, mascarpone and Nescafe.
I'm sure customers are surprised when they learn that you're respectively from Johor and Perlis, not Penang.
JW: I've liked Penang since returning from overseas. In fact, my first restaurant job in Malaysia was at a boutique hotel in Penang, and I had a good feeling about starting my own thing on the island. Now it’s hard to move away.
KN: I was born in Penang, actually, but grew up in Perlis. Gen marked a nice return to Malaysia after a long stint of restaurant jobs in Dubai, the Maldives, et cetera.
JW: I prefer to hire Malaysians from different parts of the country. Being from Perlis, Kevin's food culture is very different from my own. I believe you actually have an advantage when you pull different ideas from diverse people.