Monday, September 28, 2009

Shanghai, O' Shanghai!

Shanghai @ JW Marriott
Jalan Bukit Bintang
Kuala Lumpur

When everyone, or rather, almost everyone has balik'ed kampung for the Hari Raya break, that's the best time to drive in the city. Unable to resist taking our own sweet time driving along the traffic-free roads right in the city centre, that's how we decided to spend a leisurely breakfast in Shanghai.

Shanghai - that's the name of the Chinese restaurant in JW Marriott in Bukit Bintang. A very pleasant classy place - the rich wood panellings and brocade wallpaper, chinese paintings interspersed with gold columns give the restaurant a very warm oriental feel.

Greeted by smiling waitresses clad in very professional-looking black suits (cheongsams with high slits would have been a better choice, no?), we were quickly seated at a big square table. There were smaller square tables but we insisted on the big one, knowing very well that we'd be ordering a lot of food, hehe!

We had our Long Jeng tea (@ RM5 per head) and nibbled on their piquantly sour pickled mustard leaves while taking our time poring over their Dim Sum menu...

What better way to appease our growling tummies than starting with a bowl of piping hot Fish & Century Eggs Porridge (RM14)? The porridge was smooth while still maintaining its bulk and it was full of fresh fish slices and huge chunks of top quality century eggs...

Cheng Kong Ham (RM12) was a must-order as this ham is such a Shanghainese snack. The pieces of ham blocks were beautifully marbled with meat of varying degrees of fatness, as you can see... Eat them with the ginger strips - that will help to alleviate any strong smell of porkiness if you are not a porcine fan. But for me - a definite porky fan - the ginger strips merely enhanced the smokey flavours of the well-preserved ham!

The plate of Pig's Ears (RM10) was really too pretty to eat! I know that sounds like such a weird description for pig's ears -I mean, how can pig's ears be pretty huh? But look at the plate of art below and you'll see what I mean!
The thin slices of gelatinised pig's ears were deliciously-marinated with hints of 5-spices and the soft cartilage provided a nice bite. Eat this dipped in vinegar - that was what the smiling waitress told us. Good advice - it was yummy!

Next, another must-order Shanghainese delicacy >>> Duck Tongues (RM16). I have tried this when in Shanghai (the city) and found it to be uniquely flavourful, having been braised in dark sauces and spices. We ordered this as LL had never tried it before. He absolutely gave it a thumbs-up and his only grouse was "why are duck tongues so small hoh?"
My favourite Shanghainese cold dish is the Wine Chicken (RM10) ... I never failed to order this in my trip to Shanghai. Over here in JW Marriott, they use fat succulent chicken wings... which was a good choice... the wings had been perfectly infused with the chinese wine which rendered the chunks of skin+meat so full of chickeny goodness that we sucked on the bones trying to drain out every bit of the yummy juices!
Ahh... when in a Shanghainese restaurant, we really cannot not order the Xiao Loong Pau, right or not? We ordered 6 pieces (@ RM3 each) and the tray came, with the steaming hot XLP. Ohh... they were sooo good! The test for good XLP is thin skin and LOTS of soup and those we had passed this test with flying colours!

There was really a LOT of yummy soup encased in these little bundles, I tell you!
The smiling waitress recommended their Ham Sui Kok (RM9) - fried glutinuous dumplings, which she told us their chef was making fresh that morning. Without hesitation, I nodded my head as HSK is one of my favourite dim sum. It was an order which I had no regrets, whatsoever! Just look at those fluffy puffy treasures!

The test for a perfect HSK is in the dumpling skin, which is made from glutinuous flour: it should not stick to the teeth. Most restaurants fail in this and more often than not, I end up having pieces of dough stuck in the teeth. But here... OMG... the skin was so light, yet retaining the glutinuous chewy texture - and the fillings of chopped meat were scrumptious.

Next we had the Duck Chee Cheong Fun (RM12). We thought it would be like the usual meat-filled rolls and that instead of cha-siew, it would be duck meat. Yes, they had duck meat but these were chopped together with pieces of yam and encased in a layer of crispy net-like "crust" before being enveloped by the silky smooth rice rolls. One word to describe this: yummylicious! LL declared that this was the best item for the day!

We were also recommended to try their "Bridge Biscuit" (RM15). When the 3 pieces of round bun-like sesame seeds-topped pastries were served, I couldn't see which part of it resembled a bridge?! Anyhow, despite the very misleading name, these turned out to be really good.
Fresh from the wok, the golden pastries practically melted in our mouths as we chewed on the tasty filling of chopped radish, chinese celery and minced pork.

LL insisted on trying one of their Fried Rice because to him, any self-respecting chinese restaurant must be able to produce a good version of this favourite. Needless to say, Shanghai's Vegetables Fried Rice (RM30) passed with flying colours. Fluffy fragrant rice tossed with a great deal of "wok hei" in diced bits of preserved veg and chinese ham. Very simple, very plain-looking... but tasted great!

For dessert, I ordered their Steamed Layer Cake (RM12)... fluffy eggy fragrant layers sandwiched with a rich paste of salted eggyolks custard. Sweet and saltish flavours married perfectly - I really loved those cakes!

The portions were pretty dainty and the prices reflect their quality, I would say. Definitely would return to try their other dishes... when is the next Balik Kampung exodus huh??

My rating: 7.5/10

Friday, September 18, 2009

Assam Laksa & Coconut Jelly in Penang

Continuing with my makan spree in Penang...

After the 2 breakfasts that we had, we went to Queensbay Mall (because it was also raining and we had to abandon any outdoor jaunts) ... not that we had anything to shop for, but it was more like we had to exercise a bit to work off that heavy double-breakfast! After a couple hours of aimless window-shopping there, we decided we had enough and headed on to my must-have Assam Laksa!

Yes, this is the place...

The Air Itam Market Assam Laksa is a must for me whenever I visit Penang. I have tried some of the other popular assam laksa in the island but somehow this place holds the No.1 spot for me. It's not exactly the most glamorous location ;-) but then, hey, I'm a loyal supporter of this enterprise!

That Ah Pek has been manning this stall since time immemorial, I think...

We had hardly taken our seats and before we could even blink, bowls of hot steaming Assam Laksa appeared on our table. Ahh... the familiar ceramic bowl, the metal soup-spoon, the red chopsticks - this assam laksa has its own personality which can't be found anywhere else.

I think the soup is somehow kinda watered-down a bit, not as thick as it used to be... and of course the price of RM2.70 per bowl has rocketed... but I'm still happy. The soup still maintained the delicate balance of sour, sweet, fishy with the combination of bunga kantan, daun kesom, mint leaves, bombay onions imparting its unmistakable aroma. The rice noodles were smooth with just the right touch of chewiness...

LL wanted to order his 2nd bowl but he was stopped by SIL who said that there's another assam laksa joint down the road which she insisted we had to try. Oh well, more about that below.

There's this stall just next to the Assam Laksa selling fried goodies... and being the gluttons that we were, of course we had to have some...

We had fried popiah and some fried fuchook (beancurd skins)... hmmm... fresh out from the wok of hot oil... I think they were just decent but not mind-blasting.

So, after our one bowl of assam laksa per person, we hopped back into the car and drove down the road, to this place...

Just across from the Asia Cafe, there was a cluster of stalls by the roadside... and chairs and tables with umbrellas set up along the side lane.

This was the Assam Laksa stall which SIL said was very good...

So, we ordered a couple of bowls...

Verdict: Hmmm... we should have stuck to the Air Itam Market laksa!!!

The laksa here was bland and totally unexciting. It just did not hit it off, ok. I almost wanted to turn back to the market to satiate our cravings... but then SIL suggested we tried the Fried Mee Mamak which she also said was good.

OK lah... since we were already seated there (and we had to wait 10 minutes to get a table!), we decided to try the Fried Mee Mamak...

As you can see, when this plate of noodles was served, I thought the guy had given us the wrong item. It looked more like mee rebus than fried mee... it was way too "wet" to qualify as "fried mee" methinks. Taste-wise: nahh, forgettable. Pretty tasteless, noodles were too soggy, totally no oomphh.

(Note to self: don't trust SIL's recommendations in future, hehe!)

After the spicy food in Air Itam and the disappointment at the 2nd venue, it was time to head back to the city for some refreshing dessert. CK Lam told me we absolutely must try the Penang Coconut Jelly in Jalan Dato' Keramat! We managed to get a parking along one of the side roads perpendicular to the busy Jalan Dato' Keramat and headed into the shop.

The whole shop sells nothing but coconuts - workers were busy cutting coconuts from the small mountains spread out in the shop. We plonked ourselves at a table and each had one of these...

... yummy refreshing soft smooth jelly straight out of the coconut! After spooning all the yummy jelly into our mouths, proceed on to the coconut flesh which was just the right "age" - not too soft nor too hard! Of course Joe the boss there refused to tell his trade secret as to HOW they made the jelly inside the coconut using the natural coconut water only. Hmmm... using the "injection" method perhaps?

Each jelly coconut cost RM3.70... and if you tapau them, make sure you keep them properly refrigerated! Joe said they can keep for 3 days...

Joe did mention they will market this in the Klang Valley later, in a big way... so all you people here in the KV just have to be patient, ya!

Look out for my next & final posting on my makan trip to Penang - the BEST Lobak there!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

De Foodland - Crabs Mania!

De Foodland Seafood Restaurant
25 & 27 Jalan 3/62B
Bandar Sri Menjalara
52200 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 03-6274-4796

Let's take a break from my gluttony in that Penang trip and divert to more gluttony here in the Klang Valley, hehe!

My dear friend CH was back from Shanghai for a week's break and it was her final night before flying off. So... dinner with her and family... and she didn't have enough of Malaysian seafood despite me taking her to South Sea just the previous weekend! So... it was just timely that a few days before this a colleague had mentioned "the restaurant with >30 crab dishes" somewhere in Bandar Menjalara! Thereafter, she even sms'ed me the website link and that's how we landed up at this crabby place, hehe!

There's a super clear map in their website and we found our way there easily. We thought we were early... but no, there were already hordes of people there. Best to book your table first if you're heading there.

CH had to have her unmentionable-shark-anatomy soup and a 4-Season Platter ... those were her instructions, besides all the other seafood dishes!

So... this was my bowl of the soup... drizzled with lots of black vinegar, hehe! It was full of fresh crabmeat and not overly starchy.

Within minutes, the 4-Season Platter was served! Service was extraordinarily fast... so much so that we had to ask them to slow down! That's because there was not enough space on our already-big table as the dishes kept torpedo-ing out!

Those bread-covered fried thingies were exceptionally good... once you bit into them, soft creamy cheese oozed out from the mashed centre of pork, prawn & shrimp paste... lovely. LL had about 3 of these, I think! The yam ring was memorable too - soft fluffy powdery mashed yam fried to a perfect crisp and there were cubes of chicken & pacific clams cooked kungpo style dunked into the middle of the ring. The omelette with shredded vege was rather bland though.

The Taufu with Meenkan (gluten puffs) were braised and served on a pool of oyster-sauce gravy decorated with blanched siewpakchoy at the sides. Nothing fancy - it was good old comfort food - smooth homemade nutritious beancurd, flavoured with just the oyster sauce.

We had a hard time choosing our crabs from their very extensive menu. We were practically drooling over the pictures... and in the end, CH chose their Butter Crabs and Black Stout Crabs.

The plate of heavenly buttery creamy crustaceans hit our table first...
To alleviate the strong creamy taste, generous amounts of crushed black pepper were added... a bit different from the usual chopped chilli padi. The gravy was very thick and completely coated all the pieces of well-cracked crabs...

Yeah, one good thing to note here is that the crabs have been very well cracked, thus there's absolutely no need for hammers, crab-crackers etc. You can easily and happily suck out every succulent morsel of meat from the crabs... woohooo!

We had 3 rolls of these fried mantou to soak up the thick creamy gravy - not a drop went to waste!

Their vegetables selection featured quite a number of unusual dishes. Besides the usual greens saute'ed in garlic, there were glamorous stuff like bittergourd stir-fried with taugeh! We opted for the more sedate Bittergourd with Salted Eggyolks. And that was precisely what we got...
Thinly-sliced bittergourd (which were not bitter at all) slathered with thick creamy salted eggyolks! As if the Crabs were not laden enough with cholesterol, we had to double/triple whammie with our vegetables - must have 'em salted yolks!!

Fish - must have fish in a seafood restaurant! CH liked the assam-steamed fish in Southsea so much, she wanted more of this... since this was also featured in De Foodland. The tilapia was superfresh with none of the muddy taste... however, I feel the assam gravy lacked ooomph, rendering the dish rather bland. Southsea's version definitely beat this hands-down! But no worries... they ordered a couple bowls of white rice and polished off the entire fish plus gravy!!

Ahhh... here's the next crab dish >>> the Black Stout Crabs! Presentation-wise, it was kinda like the marmite-style... and even taste-wise, initially I was misled to think maybe they screwed-up our order and gave us marmite crabs instead. However, upon chewing and sucking on the tasty pieces, it left an unmistakable slightly-bitterish tangy aftertaste on the tongue - the mark of stout!

There are so many other crabby dishes on the menu - I will definitely return to try more... soon, I hope!

My rating: 7.5/10

Friday, September 4, 2009

2 Breakfasts in 1 Morning - Penang

Continuing our food jaunt in Penang... the next morning found ourselves back in Gurney Drive again. Of course the day scenes there are very much different from the glitzy lights the night before. It was a wet morning - the early morning drizzle had somewhat "cleaned" the hazy air and it was really refreshing taking a walk along that popular road as we headed to our targeted breakfast venue No.1.

After reading CK Lam's post on the delish morning fare found in Song River Cafe, we wasted no time in heading there. This well-known cafe, located at No.65 Gurney Drive, was already filled with hungry folks when we reached the place.

We managed to get a table towards the back of the cafe... and quickly gave our orders. We knew exactly what to order after having observed the other tables as well as from CK Lam's recommendation...
Chinese tea & chilli padi all ready while waiting for the food to arrive!

The first dish of Baby Clams (Lala) came very quickly. These tiny morsels were so fresh and sweet-tasting that they were polished off in less than 5 minutes, I kid you not! Lightly saute'ed in whole taucheo beans, chilli padi and ginger, these baby clams did nothing to fill our tummies - in fact, they made us more hungry than ever, if that's possible! Yeah, catalysts for our appetites!

After the Lala, we waited agonizingly for the next dishes.... and finally our plate of Braised Prawn Noodles was placed on our table. At first, looking at the pale yellow noodles, I thought the dish was kinda insipid and character-less. It was when I put the first chopstick-full of noodles into my mouth that I realised the true meaning of "don't judge a book by its cover!"

It was just plain old yellow noodles cooked in nothing but huge fresh prawns and some spring onions... yet, the flavours were so tantalising & yummy. They certainly do not stinge on the prawns - top-rate quality ones, I assure you. Just look at the size lah! And half-peeled for us too!

Now... after demolishing that plate of prawn noodles (in record time too, I must say!), we waited impatiently for the next dish. And we were wondering if the next item will excite our palate as much as the prawn noodles did... and boy...

... were we excited!

In fact, "excite" does no justice to the plate of Steamed Fish with Noodles which appeared next. It certainly did more than excite!

We chose siakap fillet ... which was hidden underneath a pile of beehoon and kwayteow. Again, it was the freshness and simplicity of the ingredients which made this a clear winner. With only soya sauce (of superior quality), fried garlic and toppings of spring onion, somehow the chef in Song River has done a miracle in producing a dish that's sooo delightful that....

.... we just had to order another one! Yes, one plate was not enough! We ordered a second plate but this time opted to have just only kwayteow because we liked that better as kwayteow were way smoother and softer than beehoon.

While waiting for the 2nd plate of Steamed Fish with Kwayteow, we had this fibrous filler...
Ladies' Fingers ... fried with prawns and sambal. My only complaint was that they sliced the ladies' fingers too thinly - they should have cut it in chunkier pieces! Nevertheless, we picked the plate clean...

... until our 2nd plate of heaven came... which was just as good, if not better than the 1st one. The Law of Diminishing Returns does not apply at all, ok!

Good quality food comes with a price... that meal above for 4 of us came to about RM145. Certainly not a cheap breakfast... and that was only just Part 1.

Now, for Part 2...

After some frantic sms'ing with CK Lam who highly recommended Ah Leng Char Koay Teow on the exact location of the place, we managed to find it with the help of our GPS. According to CK Lam, this CKT is one of the best in Penang - read about her post here.

It's located in Khoon Hiang Cafe, fronting Jalan Dato Keramat & Jalan Dunlop...

Our timing was quite perfect... we got a nice parking spot along Jalan Dunlop and there were available tables in the shop since the crowd has not descended to this place yet...

The CKT master at work...

Each portion is fried with great concentration... and there's only koay teow, ok... don't bother asking for mee...
Within minutes, our first plate of CKT was placed on our table. The speciality here is the Mantis Shrimp... there, can you see the caterpillar-like chunks? Those are the peeled mantis shrimps... fresh out of their shells!

Full of garlicky wok-hei, mixed with slightly-charred eggs combined with the humongous fresh prawns... tell me, who isn't in CKT bliss??? Each plate has 4 giant prawns... which tasted like they were caught & peeled minutes before making their way into the wok...

Mmmm... this was MY plate... see the small mountain of cockles by the side, hehe... those were kindly donated by NL who's not a cockle-fan.
Now, if this plate of heaven doesn't raise your bad LDL levels some serious notches, I don't know what will! The amount of mantis shrimps, prawns, eggs and cockles (quadrupled whammies, man!) totally overwhelmed the koayteow... so if you're a carbs fan, I think you have to tell the guy to tambah koayteow for you!! All the sweet briny flavours of the mantis shrimps and fresh prawns have been imparted and totally absorbed by the rice noodles, fanned by the wok-hei.

Save the Best for last - that's LL's motto... he saved this to be munched when all was cleared from his plate...

With all the super ingredients thrown it, it's not surprising that the price of this CKT is RM9 a plate. Yes, not cheap ... but then you pay for the quality and experience. LL had double plates... so in total we had 5 plates!

And that... was our 2nd breakfast for the day ... all done before 11.00am!

Look out for what we had next...hehe! Next post!