30 hours in Desaru Coast for the Return of its Gourmet Series 2023

Desaru Coast Gourmet Series 2023 returns for a gastronomical adventure.

There’s just something calming about a beach getaway – the warmth of the morning sun on the skin, the serene sound of the waves crashing, and the beautiful colours in the sky. If you’ve been craving a break, this is the perfect time to book that plane ticket and beach resort you’ve been longing to visit.

On 26 May 2023, we packed our bags for a mini getaway to Desaru Coast, Johor. This renowned destination, located on the east coast of Johor, is well-known for its immaculate beaches and delightful coastal town. Apart from its luxurious yet cosy accommodations, the beautiful Desaru Coast is also famed for its family-friendly attractions. However, while we fairly enjoyed sipping our fresh coconuts and mouth-watering ice creams, we were there for one gastronomical journey.

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Introducing the return of Desaru Coast’s Gourmet Series 2023.

Titled “Gourmet Series: A Malaysian Journey”, Desaru Coast introduces its fine-dining experiences with three renowned Malaysian chefs: Chef Johnson Wong, Chef Su Kim Hock and Chef Raymond Tham. From 26 to 28 May, attendees were treated to the finest yet curated dishes that boast well-balanced flavours with a hint of nostalgia.

At Sea.Fire.Salt in Anantara Desaru Coast Resort & Villa, the Gourmet Series showcases the culinary talents of Chef Johnson Wong. Hailing from gēn and Communal Table by gēn in Penang, Chef Wong’s contemporary Malaysian cuisine is a true delight. We were fortunate enough to savour his exceptional dishes, divinely prepared by him and his team.

Taking inspiration from his idea of communal dining, Chef Johnson takes his concept from Communal Table by gēn into Desaru Coast. The menu revolves around the concept of “Straits Food Redefined” and offers a creative take on traditional Peranakan dishes. Here, you’ll find ingredients like coconut milk, ginger flower, keluak and pineapple as the highlighted elements to elevate your tastebuds.

Each bite is a delightful blend of familiar flavours and innovative twists. Additionally, Chef Johnson incorporates decadent ingredients into classic dishes such as Acar Nyonya and Nasi Ulam. Before we break down our favourites, here’s a glimpse of what we devoured throughout the nine-course journey.

What we had at Desaru Coast’s Gourmet Series 2023:

The menu features Penang Oysters, Acar Nyonya, Crab & Caviar, Longan-Scented Crudo, Nasi Ulam Claypot, Whole Ikan Bakar, Grilled Lamb Rack, Childhood Memory and last but not least, Red, Pink Hawthorn.

Starters & Appetisers

desaru coast gourmet series 2023
Penang Oysters

As soon as we arrived, we kickstarted our culinary journey with delicious Penang Oysters infused with clarified cucumber brother, herb oil and osmanthus-infused vinegar.

After being shown to our seats, the series commenced with its unforgettable Acar Nyonya dish. Unlike typical fine-dining experiences, bread and butter were not offered. Instead, Chef Johnson chose to serve his spin on the classic Acar Nyonya, which consisted of whipped tofu mixed with spices and spiced bread. Surprisingly, this was our personal favourite. And if you’re a big fan of vegetables and love a good crunch, this could be yours too.

Crab & Caviar

Next up, it was the Crab & Caviar, which was well-loved by everyone at the table. Served with T’lur caviar, mud crab and coconut espuma, the dish was a delight to have before the main dishes started pouring in. In addition, the delicious coconut espuma gave a Malaysian twist to the fresh crab and caviar combo.

We recently discovered a new dish that has become our absolute favourite – the Longan-scented Crudo. This refreshing and delicious ceviche-inspired meal was made with red snapper, ginger flower sorbet, roe glace, and fish floss. The use of ginger flower sorbet surprised us at first, but it turned out to be a delightful burst of flavours. This dish has introduced us to the versatility of ginger flowers, which are commonly used in dishes like asam laksa and asam pedas.

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The main course

We savoured the comforting and satisfying Nasi Ulam Claypot with Whole Ikan Bakar (grilled fish) because, let’s face it, you can’t go wrong with a heavenly combo like this. Its ingredients, including Sarawakian heirloom rice, ulam, and salted egg jubes, are paired perfectly together. As for the Ikan Bakar, Chef Johnson served it with turmeric curry and sambal mantah (raw sambal).

Just typing those words down instantly brought us back to the adventure, and boy, we loved it.

We were getting full at this point, but the journey didn’t stop there. The Grilled Lamb Rack came and was served with a unique ingredient that wow-ed us all – Keluak Puree.

Grilled Lamb Rack

In case you didn’t know, the buah keluak, holds a rich history and cultural significance. Served to ancient Pahang royalty, the fruit continues to be cherished in Malaysian cuisine, significantly in any Peranakan speciality. And today, Chef Johnson has incorporated this historical fruit into a rich yet flavourful classic meal, which was a real treat.


As we wrap up our culinary adventure, we indulge in some delicious desserts that genuinely make for a sweet ending. Two standout dishes are the Childhood Memory and Red, Pink Hawthorn.

Red, Pink Hawthorn

If you’re a fan of Rojak, you’ll love the Childhood Memory dessert. In fact, this was Chef Johnson’s favourite dish to indulge in growing up. It’s expertly crafted with pineapple sorbet, roasted pineapples, soy gelee, and ice plant, and it blew us away. Don’t be alarmed about the soy sauce element, as it adds a nice touch to the energizing dish. However, if you’re not a fan of pineapples, the next dish was another favourite. The Red, Pink Hawthorn, consisting of yoghurt, strawberry and rose was light, indulging and incredibly delicious – the perfect finishing touch to our escapade.

The Gourmet Series offered a unique and flavorful experience like no other. We were delighted to discover modern interpretations of Peranakan cuisine that were both mind-blowing and memorable. And in this case, we look forward to embarking on this culinary adventure again.

Amalina Anuar is the Digital Director of Harper's Bazaar Malaysia. From covering the latest runway trends to the hottest happenings in Kuala Lumpur, she also delves deep into all things lifestyle and beauty.