Located across two floors in the spruced-up commercial area of Plaza Damansara, Château Dionne welcomes diners with a large shelf of wines to make a striking impression.
It’s a snazzy floor-to-ceiling aperitif-digestif bar, and further in, a chef’s table open kitchen dining area reflects the restaurant’s contemporary approach to French cuisine. For more privacy, there are elegant rooms to seat couples and families.
Château Dionne’s origin story follows in the footsteps of a successful sister restaurant with the same name in the upscale Xuhui District of Shanghai, headed by Executive Chef, Andy Choy. The restaurant has even served celebrity diners such as Fan Bingbing and Jackie Chan.
David Lim is the other half of the partners behind Château Dionne. Previously, he opened a string of wine bars called Denise the Wine Shop in the noughties.
Fun fact, Denise the Wine Shop is named after David’s eldest daughter, Denise, while Dionne is his second daughter. “When your business is named after your daughters, you work a little bit harder,” David joked.
With almost a decade of fine dining experience behind him by now, we sat down with the restaurateur to learn more about his journey with Château Dionne.
From losing his wine empire, to a fresh start in Shanghai
Though he would go on to make himself a name as a wine entrepreneur in the 2000s, David didn’t have it easy in the beginning.
Upon the opening of his first wine shop in Malaysia in 1999, people couldn’t understand the purpose of his business, calling him the “crazy guy”.
“Wines at the time were very seasonal, people only drank them during Chinese New Year, Christmas, or special occasions,” David explained.
Despite the criticism, he went on to establish Denise the Wine Shop in 2001 at a shop lot in SS2, and within the span of a year, would launch 10 more outlets.
Denise the Wine Shop would later be introduced across the causeway, with over 30 outlets around Singapore.
Somewhere throughout the journey, he also introduced two privately labelled wines, respectively named Dionne and Divine after his two other daughters.
“In 2006 I was a big player, the biggest player in terms of wines in SEA,” David told Vulcan Post. But that wasn’t always a positive thing.
Customs eventually came after David, and they ended up shutting down the Denise the Wine Shop concessions inside JUSCO supermarkets.
A Swiss then took over David’s wine empire, and rebranded it under a different name.
“So that was the saddest moment for me,” David recollected. He left for China with a heavy heart, but it wasn’t long before he bounced back as a restaurateur for French cuisine.
In 2014, David started Château Dionne Shanghai, headed by a French chef. “I originally had to start with a French guy because the public wouldn’t trust a French restaurant if a French didn’t cook it,” he described, aware of how it was a different time back then.
“But the French guy was a little arrogant over his two-year contract, and while I was trying to find a replacement, I got connected to Andy, and the rest was history.”
Partnering with the chef of his dreams
When Andy Choy was younger, he was barred from trying many foods due to a certain medical condition. By 10 years old, he’d spent a lot of time in the kitchen revenge-eating the foods he’d missed out on.
At 17, he received a culinary scholarship to study in Switzerland and didn’t return to Malaysia over the course of his career.
He later spent his culinary journey in commercial kitchens from London to Dubai, working for Gordon Ramsay for a couple of years, and then in a French restaurant in Beijing.
With close to 20 years of experience, Andy is decorated with culinary accolades. He’s been named the Champion in the 2017 Chef Par Excellence Cooking Competition, and was a coveted finalist in the Concours Gastronomie Paris in 2018.
Trained in French cuisine, Andy became the head chef in Château Dionne Shanghai, replacing the aforementioned French chef.
Around the same time David was going to open up Château Dionne in KL, Andy was contemplating whether he wanted to start something in Penang instead to be closer to his wife.
David managed to convince Andy to be his partner and head chef, and thus, they started the French fine dining spot in KL as a more opportunistic location.
Coming full circle back to Malaysia
In the F&B business, customers can become your friends and even partners, stated David.
He reminisced, “This guy came to my shop in Shanghai, spent a tonne of money and asked me, ‘I want to move to Malaysia, can you open a Château Dionne for me in Malaysia?’”
Returning to his homeland in January 2020, David built up Château Dionne in Bukit Damansara over the lockdowns, officially welcoming diners on September 9, 2020.
And though he admitted that it was never his original plan to remain in Malaysia after launching Château Dionne, circumstances besides the MCO arose that convinced him to stay, even though his friend never ended up coming over.
David shared that he was no stranger to questions about how they were going to accomplish a fine dining concept during the MCO.
But since dine-ins were allowed again, Château Dionne has been one of the busiest restaurants in the row of high-end restaurants on the street, he claimed.
Good food aside, perhaps it’s also due to the way Château Dionne carries itself as a fine dining restaurant.
In contrast to the austere environments of most fine dining establishments, which can feel a little stuffy, Château Dionne encourages guests to get comfortable as they enjoy their food.
“I’ve been in the wine industry for a long time, and with wines, we like to teach people how to ignite their senses through smell to capture 30% of the experience in wines,” David said.
“Fine dining is the same thing, from the music, customer service, and every little detail. Even where you sit, there are plug points for you to charge your phone.”
To add, David’s other passion—art—informs the interior design of the space, giving the restaurant more personality.
The many art pieces on the walls were drawn by various local artists, and come from David’s personal collection.
They’re… polarising, to say the least, but that’s how David likes it, and we have to admit that they make for another memorable aspect of the Château Dionne experience.
If you end up needing to use the loo while you’re there, don’t be shocked when you walk in and see a huge mural of Donald Trump’s face with a urinal planted over his mouth, and another one with a toilet situated around Elvis Presley’s crotch.
The fathers of fine dining might be rolling in their graves at this, but David gets a chuckle out of people’s reactions to it all.
As he likes to quip, life is too short. Why not have a little fun while living it?
Growing a newfound attachment to home
The core of Château Dionne KL does not simply lie in its sophisticated food or controversial art though; it’s the team that believes in the brand.
David credited the restaurant’s resilience throughout the tough period of the MCO to his capable team, and two years in, he can proudly say that they’re turning a profit.
Though about 95% of his belongings are still in Shanghai, David shared that he has now grown roots back in KL.
Over the course of running the restaurant, he’s also grown closer to his three daughters, and they drink together every Sunday.
However, he’ll still be spending at least one week a month in Shanghai, just to keep up with the original Château Dionne.
Down the line, David intends to open up different brands under Château Dionne’s parent company, Grouppe Dionne, targeting a more casual premium dining crowd.
Their first spin-off will likely be called Le Petit Dionne, keeping in line with the entrepreneur’s tradition of naming his businesses after his daughters.
Featured Image Credit: David Lim and Andy Choy, business partners of Château Dionne