Imperial Evolution

Chakri Palace has been in operation for (more than) 16 years. It’s time to shake things up.

Take a lift or escalator ride all the way to Level 4 of Suria KLCC, and you will find a rather well-decorated Thai restaurant, with its gold hue and yellow lighting drawing you to step foot. Imperial Chakri Palace is more or less a permanent fixture of Suria KLCC, and is still going strong even after close to 17 years. It's the only restaurant other than Spring Garden (also on Level 4) that is still open since the mall's beginning. Not a lot of eateries can make that claim.

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Your golden gateway to Thai cuisine.

Of course, what worked almost 17 years ago may not work in 2016. Growth means breaking out of the same-old same-old and trying out something new. For the case of Imperial Chakri Palace, that means creating a new exciting menu, thanks to a young lady meeting Royal Thai celebrity chef McDang. But before we proceed to the past, let’s look back (trust me, it’s related, and it’s interesting).

Chakri Palace (and by extension, the Chakri brand) was founded by Dato’ Garry Chua, the Managing Director of Rotol Group, a well-known name in the building industry.

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Dato' Garry, Managing Director, Rotol Group

Prior to Rotol, Dato’ Garry used to do sales in the paint industry. “[Sales] is where you learn the art of human dealings…I’ve seen the best; I’ve seen the worst. You meet so many people!” he comments on his past experience. “It’s interesting to study people’s character.”

He recalls vividly too about dedicating what would be happy hours to most people to his paint job of getting more sales and securing a wider geographical mileage for the company. No doubt, his experience in sales has helped him build and grow Rotol tremendously.

Then, the 1997 Asian financial crisis hit.

In the midst of this particular troubling time, Dato’ Garry decided to diversify. He decided to open Chakri, despite not having any experience of opening a restaurant.

“I decided to move on to something extra… besides, I had time since it wasn’t so busy. Initially, I had to make multiple trips to Thailand to get the artifacts and carvings, and interview the chefs…” He recalls.

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As a first-timer in the F&B business, he was taken aback by customers’ response.

It was packed from Day 1!

As for why he decided to start a Thai restaurant? “In the 90s, the top two cuisines in the world were Chinese or Thai”, he said, so based on that statistic, Chakri seemed like a sound business decision.

The first few months, like any business, proved challenging. “During the morning, I was in my office (Rotol), and I’ll be here during lunch hour – wearing my tie! I told all my staff then – don’t tell people I’m the boss; I’m the manager.”

He has since passed the reins of leadership to his daughter, Caleen, current Director of Rotol Food-Chain (M) Sdn. Bhd, the F&B arm of the Rotol Group. A former Senior business analyst and project head for an Australian consultancy, she came back to Malaysia because of family.

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Caleen Chua, Director of Rotol Food-Chain (M) Sdn. Bhd.

“I wouldn’t call it taking over the business. I'm happy to assist my father as I thought that it would be something fun and new. I didn’t expect that it would be so much hard work!”

Just as her father had his own challenges starting Chakri Palace, Caleen also has hers in revitalising  the business. “My main focus was to refresh the brand, which is why we came up with this new menu. Also, getting a team of my own who can follow and make our vision come to life.”

Remember where I opened this piece saying something about a young lady meeting a chef? Well Caleen’s the lady who came up with the idea of updating the menu, and consulted Royal Thai celebrity chef McDang. “I met him last year (2015) by writing to him.”

She and McDang hit it off when they met. “He’s like a godfather to me! The first time I met him, I just sat there and listened to him for three hours on the Principles of Thai culinary, a book he published. I think I took that (curiosity and eagerness to learn) from my dad.”

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The updated menu adds 16 new items – one for every year Chakri is in business. The dishes feature ingredients such as king prawns, Australian lobster, sea scallops and crab meat.

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Both Dato’ Garry and Caleen agree that the most important factor of running Chakri is its people.

“I think we’re very blessed. We have a team that’s been with us for more than 12 years… many of them are still around!” Caleen says.

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Experience and innovation, all in one picture.

As for any opinion clashes between father and daughter, “Sometimes you have to find the middle ground… The older generation has the experience, but the younger ones can innovate… we must always be ready to listen to them,” explains Dato’ Garry.

In its 16 years of operations, Imperial Chakri Palace has also served many prominent figures, including royalty and celebrities. “Shakira came! But I wasn’t here… I didn’t know, by the time I found out, she left,” Caleen mentions.

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A gallery of influential figures and celebrities who have stopped by Imperial Chakri Palace for a meal – you're in good company!

The Chakri name has since expanded to Pavilion KL (Chakri Palace), Midvalley (Hwan by Chakri), Putrajaya and the KL Convention Centre (Chakri Xpress). The restaurant in Suria KLCC remains the flagship of the Chakri family, and comes attached with the regal “Imperial” moniker, making it Imperial Chakri Palace. The updated menu is only available in the Imperial branch, so there’s only one place to go if you want to try the best of what Chakri has to offer.

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Aside from a menu change, Imperial Chakri Palace is a place of constant evolution, having undergone multiple renovations to keep things fresh and to meet current customer demands. With new challenges and new opportunities presented in this decade, the Chakri brand looks like it is equipped to handle them. Oh, and the food’s pretty good too. ◆

The fine people at Chakri Palace have kindly provided a recipe for one of their dishes below, based on Chef McDang’s “Principles of Thai Cookery”. We hope you enjoy preparing this dish at home!

Chef McDang's Principles of Thai Cookery
Spicy Wing Bean Salad (Yum Tua Poo Goong Sod )

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INGREDIENTS

Paste Ingredients:
Chili paste (nam prik pao), store-bought – 1 Tbsp

Dressing Ingredients:
Coconut cream – 4 Tbsp
Fish sauce – 2 Tbsp
Tamarind juice – 1 Tbsp
Lime juice – 1 tsp
Palm sugar – 1 tsp

Salad Ingredients:
Wing beans, blanched and sliced diagonally – 1 Cup
Chopped roasted peanuts – 2 Tbsp
Toasted, unsweetened desiccated coconut – 1 Tbsp
Ground, dried shrimp – 2 Tbsp
Shrimps, peeled, deveined and blanched – 8 each

METHOD

  1. Make the dressing by mixing all the dressing ingredients, including the paste, in a saucepan. Place it on the stove, bring it to a boil and reduce it to a fairly thick sauce. Allow to cool. (Since this recipe serves four, there may not be enough ingredients to fill a saucepan. You can always increase the amounts of the dressing and make it to keep for later use.)
  2. Put the sliced, blanched wing beans into a salad bowl, add half the dressing and toss. Add the peanuts and toasted coconut to the salad and taste. You will know if you will need more salad dressing – if you do, add more. If the salad is not crunchy or nutty enough, add more peanuts and desiccated coconut.
  3. Add the shrimps, toss and spoon the salad onto a plate. Dress with a little bit of the leftover dressing and sprinkle dried shrimp on top.

 Note: Green beans can be a substitute to wing beans. If substituting, reduce the amount of sugar in the dressing.  Serves 4.