Although restaurants continue to face uncertain times, one of the culinary icons in town decided to brave the challenges by flinging the doors to his restaurant, Bouchon Enfin, wide open – at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur no less.
Coalescing the best of French and Malaysian cuisines, Chef James Won is introducing the unconventional, non-halal option yet startlingly familiar to his devoted patrons and the Malaysian palate.
Inspired by his grandmother, James seeks to recreate a sense of home comfort through spinning a local twist on traditional French regional fare. The likes of Chili Belacan Vongole, a Wild Rice Bowl with rice from Sarawak and Coq Au Vin featuring Fook Chow red rice wine spotlight Malaysian produce. Ingredients such as rice, golden corral snails and peppercorn are sourced from places as remote as Borneo highlands in partnership with social enterprises including Langit.
Bouchon Enfin is intended to be convivial, unhurried and conducive for family dining where sharing is encouraged. Designed by award-winning interior Swofinty Yik Design and enlivened with a unique wing installation and mural by renowned graffiti artist Kenji Chai, the restaurant is serving equally refreshing beverages to match its cool interiors. The expansive drinks menu lists gin, champagne, and Bouchon Enfin’s own renditions of classic cocktails from Earl G Sour to Gin Very Spritz.
“Our country has so much to offer in terms of produce and culture, so I want to bring all these aspects to life through Bouchon Enfin. We want a space that not only showcases the beauty in bringing two cuisines together, but also evokes a sense of conviviality and community in celebrating the rich diversity Malaysia has to offer,” James says.
We speak to James to discover more about his latest venture.
Tell us about Bouchon Enfin such as the concept, your vision, gestation period, etc.
The gestation period was over four years. It was a courtship between Pavilion and the BeKind Group, but we only started on the conceptual work when the right lot was available to us. We wanted a cozy space, good exposure as well as along the strip with other F&B outlets. Of course, we wanted to extrapolate on our vision of supporting local artisans, producers and ingredients.
We also wanted to feature a non-halal menu, where we can fuse two different cultures and cuisines, which being French and Malaysian. The concept of Bouchon Enfin is very close to Malaysians’ idea of dining out – a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner.
The menu evokes familiarity but it is done with a twist, such as French cooking using Malaysian ingredients and in the way of their presentation. It is a cheeky interpretation and play on cuisine. You can see that in our boeuf bourguignon which is served in a claypot.
On top of that, we wanted to feature local artists and designers, to bring together not just food but cultures from all walks of life. We work closely with social enterprises like Langit to bridge the gap between the producers in the unreachable areas and us in the cities.
The BeKind Group as a whole aims to contribute back to society in a more holistic manner, giving back directly with the support of our customers to those in need. One such initiative we have kickstarted in-line with this vision is our sandwich cart during the MCO, which provides free sandwiches to those who need them in the area.
How is Bouchon Enfin different from your famous restaurant Enfin?
Enfin by James Won is fine dining, focusing on haute cuisine and bringing together the best of the best in our country into one space, from ingredients to architecture.
It is based on the “it is time for Malaysia to stand up and shine” ethos, with the best practices and working with super brands around the world like Krug, Miele and Louis XIII. Enfin sets the platform for local ingredients to be featured on a global stage, and endorsed and recognised by other super brands. One example is our recipe of Malaysian Hakka Yong Tau Foo crowned with Malaysian tropical sturgeon caviar recipe in the Krug Single Ingredient book. We shared our food culture on Krug’s Instagram via a 24-hour takeover, through which we exposed the world to the different ethnic foods in our country.
On the other hand, Bouchon Enfin is relaxed, convivial, and all about the unsung heroes. It is a place to introduce Malaysians to French culture while still bearing the ethos of Enfin in terms of quality in cooking and sourcing. We bring French cuisine closer to the people in a more familiar setting, by making the menu more affordable to those who would like to sample French cuisine. More importantly, it is non-halal.
Can you share with us how 2020 was to you as a chef and entrepreneur, such as the lessons and values you learned? What are your hopes for 2021?
2020 was a true challenge and we learned that we needed to evolve. We needed to abandon fixed views on what dining is; the traditional methods of serving or delivering food are no longer confined to a fixed space. We pivoted and rose to the challenge with the launch of EnfinX as well as Bouchon Enfin to meet the demands of the changing marketplace.
We remain hopeful for 2021 as we plan on reconstructing Enfin with a new menu and dining concept in March 2021 or at the end of MCO 2.0. A healthy mindset is key to success and survival. We hope 2021 will eventually see us all be free of the pandemic, and we as an industry will rise. We wish everyone to be safe and well.