Restauranteur, wine buff, world traveller and complete foodie, Yin-How Wong, has helped to revolutionise the dining industry in Kuala Lumpur. Eleven year ago, he launched Ribs, which was one of the first restaurants in this predominantly Muslim country to offer amazing pork dishes to KL diners. In the past, pork had been available only in Chinese eateries. Ribs offered an alternative, serving Western pork dishes with a twist on flavours to cater to the Malaysian palette. This pioneering restaurant is now a popular and infamous dining spot, tucked away behind a row of restaurant in Damansara Heights.
I first met Yin-How in his second restaurant venture; Vintry by Ribs, located in the Jaya 33 mall in Petaling Jaya. As I walked into this atmospheric wine bar, I spotted him stood amongst the rows of wine bottles; completely in his element. After brief introductions, we sat down to a wonderful spread of porky delights, from crispy thin pizzas and bouncy noodles, to succulent meats and an intriguing sweet-and-savoury fruit salad, all the while sipping on a selection of fine wines, while Yin-How transfixed me with his tales of travel, culture and cuisine.
How did you get into the F&B industry?
My parents always exposed me to different types of cuisines, ranging from simple local hawker fare to fine dining. It helped that my brother was already in the industry so I had a stepping stone into the world of the restauranteur.
Food seems to run in your family. Does this come from your childhood? Is your mum a great foodie/cook?
Yes indeed, food was always a central part of my childhood. My house was always the gathering point for the whole extended family and my mum took it upon herself to cook up a storm for a big group of people. Preparations for meals could start days before the dinner. My dad, a man of few words, would always ask me have I eaten, am I full. So I guess for me I was taught to live to eat from a young age!
And run in the family indeed it does; Yin-How’s sister is a master baker with her own bakery in KL, while his brother trades wine.
What is your best and worst food experience?
My worst experience was not because the food was bad per say, but simply I had not taken the time to research more on the local cuisine. The dish in question was a bacalhau or salted cod fish, which I had in a small restaurant in an alley in Lisbon. It was drowned in olive oil and as bacalhau is, very salty. I returned the dish, suitably put off, and I could not understand why the owner of the restaurant was rather puzzled!
My best experience was at this grill house called Asador Etxebarri outside of San Sebastian. It was my idea of the perfect meal. Every dish was grilled ranging from vegetables, to sea cucumbers, galician prawns, smoked mozzarella cheese and the piece d’resistance, the beef chop. The flavours of each ingredient came to the fore with such clarity that it made me smile with every bite. I return almost every year to dine there and it is the ultimate soul food for me.
Your favourite wine?
Too many to pin down one. The main criteria is a wine which is transparent, speaks of its terroir and is never heavy or cloying, always maintaining a good balance between power and elegance. I tend to be an unabashed Francophile in my tastes in recent years; not because of the label, but simple the development of my tastes and likings!
I certainly enjoyed the Torres red that Yin-How suggested to accompany the delicious BBQ pork ribs! Vintry by Ribs stocks over 1200 labels; the perfect spot to discover your favourite wine.
Why did you decide to open a restaurant in KL?
KL is home and I returned for my family. I guess for reasons of ease of start up and having a good network of friends to tap on, it seemed like the safer option to start off. I also felt that KL needed more interesting concepts and Vintry and Ribs were both revolutionary in offering respectively a true wine bar experience and pork dishes cooked in a western manner. There was a blue ocean out there for both these concepts when we opened each outlet.
What differences do you see in the KL food scene compared to abroad?
The KL food scene is more languid, being a little more conservative in introducing new concepts. Having said that, the pace has picked up the past year or two due to Malaysians returning from overseas and bringing back more ideas from the travels and stays in other countries.
What is your inspiration behind your restaurants?
My main principle in my restaurants is that they are offer a good quality-to-price ratio and also elements of comfort food. I don’t aim to be the hottest dining spot in town only to fizzle out two years later. Ribs has been around for 11 years and Vintry for 8. I like my restaurants to be on a slow burn, always steady and a regular place to come and dine in a casual environment.
How much input do you have in the food/menu for your restaurants?
I have full input into my menus. I tell my chefs to experiment with certain dishes I have in mind and my head chefs are also given licence to propose new dishes. We taste as a committee, my partners and chefs, before deciding which dishes work or some which need tweaking.
The Vintry roast pork dish, a recipe from your mother, is a customer favourite at your restaurants. Is your mum proud and happy that you have one of her recipes on your menu?
Yes she is very proud indeed that her wholesome family dish has been a staple of the Vintry menu for 8 years now!
Many thanks to Yin-How for giving us an insight into the exciting world of food. We wish him all the best for the future.
Lot PG-02C, Ground Floor, Jaya 33
Open Mon-Sat 15:00-late, closed Sundays.
*See my review of Vintry by Ribs in the August 2014 edition of TEG’s The Expat Magazine (image below).