Lifestyle Eat

Happy Days

Written by The Panda

This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct 2014 issue of World Gaming magazine.

The Panda ventured out of Macau with a short plane ride to the Philippines where he discovered a feast of flavors awaiting VIP guests at Resorts World Manila’s aptly named Happy 9 restaurant.

From the moment The Panda took his first bite, he knew he was in for something pretty special. It’s not every day that this bear travels abroad – for some reason the airlines don’t take too kindly to big furry mammals wandering through the business class lounge – but when the call came to try out the culinary delights of Happy 9 restaurant at Resorts World Manila it was an offer too good to resist.

The Panda had heard a lot about Happy 9. Blending Asian and European cuisines, it is the brainchild of Executive Chef David Choo Sam Chai whose cooking education has taken him all around the world. Born and raised in Malaysia where he developed a love for food in his uncle’s restaurant, Chef David moved to Paris at the age of 18 and attended the renowned Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School where he first began to experiment with Eastern and Western fusion.

He would later refine his craft in kitchens in Switzerland, Germany and Australia but was always keen to return home to Asia where he could present classic Asian flavors with his own unique twist.

So it was that The Panda sat down at Happy 9 thanks to the lovely people at Resorts World Manila for this sumptuous degustation. Happy 9 isn’t an easy place to get into. After all, it is located on RWM’s exclusive 3rd Floor which is reserved for VVIPs and sits alongside a members-only Whiskey Bar, Cigar Bar, Martini Bar and a small selection of other deluxe restaurants. With that much expectation to live up to, it’s fair to say The Panda was salivating by the time the first dish – satay skewers, dim sum dumpling and prawn coated in salty egg – arrived at the table. The portion was only small but was crammed with flavor and had The Panda craving more.

Next to arrive was a soup dish – Creamy Winter Melon with Crab Meat and Tofu – which was beautifully presented with its square of tofu surrounded by generous helpings of succulent crab. Although it looked quaint, it provided a tantalising mix of flavors and was one of the highlights of the meal.

This was followed by Beef Tenderloin with Rendang Sauce and Scallop which stood out for its burst of color, and Crispy Fried Lapu Lapu Fillet with Mango and Pomelo which was surprisingly fresh and fruity.

Such clean flavors are at the heart of what Chef David aspires to bring to his diners.

“At Happy 9 we focus on health and nutrition and we base all of our cooking from that concept,” he explained. “We do it in everything, from our soups and appetizers to our main courses. Healthy living and healthy eating.”

Happy 9 certainly succeeds in that pursuit. None of the food is oily or greasy and there are lots of clean flavors boosted with loads of spices.

Dessert for the day was a Hot Sweet Potato Cheese Dumpling with Fruit which was another beautifully presented dish and came with an unexpected surprise – cut into the dumpling and the cheese oozes out like a tiny river of golden lava. Delicious!

Sitting back and sipping on a delightful cup of Chinese Tea, The Panda was quietly content with the five course feast he’d just enjoyed … but there was one more dish to come.

Chef David has earned himself the nickname “King of Puffs” thanks to his world-famous curry puffs, which have been a favorite of everyone from Prime Ministers to royalty and are the perfect example of his East-West fusion style. He tells us that each batch of curry puffs takes two days to prepare in order to ensure the French pastry is perfectly flaky and the Malaysian-inspired filling moist and tasty.

“Part of my fusion cooking is bringing the concepts of Western and Eastern cuisine together to come up with something that is entirely my own,” Chef David says.

True to his word, the curry puffs are a delightful way to finish with their intriguing combination of sweet and savory, however Chef David is quick to point out that there are no “rules” at Happy 9 when it comes to how his customers should enjoy their meal.

In fact, Happy 9 specialises in “New Menu Dining” where, rather than placing a set menu or a la carte menu in front of diners, people are free to come in and simply tell the wait staff what they feel like eating. Chef David will then come up with a dish to suit their cravings!

To a very satisfied Panda, that sounded like an offer too good to refuse and rest assured he’ll be back at Resorts World Manila and Happy 9 the next time he is caught by the travel bug!