Options: Congratulations on the reopening of Beast at Bangsar Shopping Centre (BSC). Why did you choose to relocate from Damansara Heights to the present location?
Benjamin Yong: During and after Covid-19, we spent a lot of time looking at and rethinking existing business models. One of the key questions was how to streamline everything to be more efficient. So a principal strategy that came up was to consolidate operations and invest in our relationships with the landlords who helped us through the difficult periods during the pandemic.
Beast was such a popular spot. What can regulars and new guests expect from the just-unveiled dining room?
We opened for business on Sept 19 on Level 3 of BSC, just by Ben’s and around the corner from Grand Imperial. The menu is a little more streamlined but, of course, all the favourites are still there plus a few more dishes inspired by our post-pandemic travels. I’d like to think Beast isn’t a restaurant per se but more of a neighbourhood dining room. The waiters won’t bore you with long-drawn-out stories about the dish or the ingredients while your meal gets cold. The new Beast is all about good food. That’s it.
You are known as a serial restaurateur. Is that a fair nickname for you?
No one has called me that to my face but I do recognise that I have been privileged enough to share my joy for food with our customers.
What are the greatest challenges of working in F&B today?
Human resources is a challenge but we’ve been blessed with a team of loyal hard-working individuals who share the same vision of delivering consistent good food at great value.
And the greatest rewards?
Meeting people, from our staff to customers, who have grown to become friends and then become friends who are like family.
What are some of your favourite dishes from your various restaurants?
I am big on comfort food so a good ol’ laksa or spaghetti bolognese from Ben’s always hits the spot for me. Oh, and the steak frites. At Plan B, it would be the Laksa Johor, the Hearty Big Breakfast and the new crispy coconut lime salad, which is to die for. At Ben’s General Food Store, it would be the rotisserie chicken with chicken salt fries and the salt beef sandwich paired with our salad of the day. My favourite is the roasted broccoli with chilli. Beirut Habibi’s Salmon Eggs Benedict on potato rosti is definitely a current favourite while the fattoush salad is the perfect, refreshing lunch. I must also include the Turkish flatbread with sesame seeds at Ben’s Bake Shop. We spent 10 years getting it right and it’s my daily breakfast toast! And at our newly reopened Beast, it has to be the Wagyu Sando — but only when I am feeling a little indulgent. You also need to try our new Chicken on Rice, drenched in morel cream gravy.
You have enjoyed some epic meals in your lifetime, but which ones have been particularly outstanding and why?
There, honestly, have been too many to recall. But it is true that it is always the meals with people you love that make them unforgettably special. The company we keep plays a big part of any meal’s total experience. But I would say Elkano and Asador Extebarri in San Sebastian, Spain, are my perennial favourites. The food is comforting, like a warm embrace that fulfils every desire of your stomach and keeps you wanting more. Closer to home, Terroir in Bangkok also ranks high on my personal go-to list for its consistency in delighting with every mouthful. It abides by a very simple philosophy: Serve hot food hot and cold food cold. That’s the highest acclamation I can give to a restaurant.
What advice would you give to young people who want to achieve success in F&B?
Integrity. Sadly, this quality is sorely lacking in a lot of new businesses. Everything is being done like a Xerox copy of whatever they see on Pinterest or social media, with no thought or consideration for the diner. I mean, yes, you can replicate a picture-perfect dish or dessert or have your restaurant look like it’s straight out of Instagram, but it has nothing of yourself in it. No character, personality or unique factor that makes me think the business has soul, authenticity or originality.
Which restaurants or dining experiences do you have your eye on in the near future and why?
It definitely will revolve around Malaysian food. We have such a depth of culturally influenced cuisines as yet unexplored.
What is your idea of comfort food?
Hot soupy seafood noodles.
What are you reading right now?
What I Know about Running Coffee Shops by Colin Harmon, a four-time Irish barista champion and owner of 3fe Coffee, a specialty coffee shop in Dublin, Ireland.
What are you listening to right now?
Gattaca’s soundtrack by Michael Nyman.
Describe your idea of a perfect weekend.
A backyard or rooftop BBQ with family and friends, and just lazing about by the pool. If not, it would be travelling to a new country to explore new taste sensations. I’m actually very keen to journey to destinations closer to home from now on. I travelled to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, recently and feel I’ve barely discovered anything. So, a return trip is on the cards, and I would like to go to Laos as well.
Beast is at Lot T-06, Level 3, Bangsar Shopping Centre. For reservations, call +6010 265 9539.
This article first appeared on Sept 25, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.