Friday, April 26, 2013

Four Seasons in Empire Gallery

The Four Seasons in the Empire Gallery, Subang Jaya has moved to a bigger place. It used to be in a corner of the Jaya Grocers on the ground floor of the Empire Gallery. It has moved out of Jaya Grocers and now occupies the same lot where the Grand Imperial Kitchen used to be. The Grand Kitchen has closed its doors.

The new Four Seasons is a much bigger place. It is now a proper restaurant. It still maintains its London connections. And I couldn't help but noticed that some of their staff spoke English with a British slang. It had been quite a while since we had their famed roast duck. So, with their new place, we decided to pop in for a meal.

The place was very nicely done. They had a large dining area at the mall side. A narrow corridor (lined with single row of tables) led to a back dining area outside. The setting was contemporary and pleasant.

A lot of dining utensils on the wall. I wonder if they use them or if they were just decorative. Storage or decor, they were unique.

We came here for their roast duck. But when the waitress mentioned roast goose, my wife's eyes widened. We could not remember when we last had roast goose. It is a bird more popular in Hong Kong and London, than in Malaysia. We decided to go for it. We ordered a quarter bird. They served us the lower quarter - comprising the thigh and aft end. It wasn't a big plate. I wondered if that really was a quarter of a goose. The taste was OK - not terribly fantastic. I honestly could not tell the difference between this roast goose and the roast duck. The flavour and the texture was the exactly same as duck. But the price certainly was different. The quarter goose costed us 60 painful bucks. For that sort of money, we would had been able a get a whole duck and more.

This mix vege dish was very pleasant. There was sliced lotus root, snow peas, black fungus, Chinese cabbage, etc, topped with some nice cashew nuts. 

The la la in this soup were big. They were served hot in a clay pot. The soup was particularly sweet and flavourful. The clams were very fresh. No complaint except again, the price. The small pot was priced at RM42. 

Somehow we always end up with this brinjal and minced pork dish whenever we come to Four Seasons. And with absolutely no regrets. The dish was delicious. It was in a claypot and the heat kept it nice and warm.

Our final order was a plate of siu yuk (燒肉 - roast pork). The waitress came back to tell us that their roast pork that evening was not too nice. She said the siu yuk had too much fat and recommended we change to char siew (叉烧) instead. OK, fine with us. But the char siew was not much leaner. It too had considerable fat. It would taste nice, but it definitely was very sinful.

The meal was just so-so. It was nothing to wow about. Somehow, of all our experiences in Four Seasons, this was one that did not live up to our expectations. And it was bloody expensive. A simple meal like this put me back by nearly 200 bucks. I guess the real killers were the roast goose and the la-la soup. 

Have a nice day, indeed!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Plan B

There was no plan A when we ventured out for dinner on that Saturday evening. Plan B was suggested by Crystal and we went along. It is actually a small chain of chic cafes and restaurants around the Klang Valley. They have outlets in Mid-valley, Bangsar Village, Paradigm Mall, 1Utama and the Publika in Solaris Dutamas.

1U is nearest to our home, and that was where we headed to. Plan B in 1Utama is located inside the Isetan Departmental Store, in what they call the Eat Paradise on the first floor. 

It was a small place, tucked in a corner of the Eat Paradise. The ambiance was somewhat busy and noisy. But they had comfortable seats and a partitioned area that could still be conducive for a relaxing meal.

I don't know where they prepared the food. I did not see a kitchen - just a large counter from where our dishes apparently emerged.

The menu had an interesting message - "When life gives you lemon, make lemonade". This proverbial phrase is apparently used to encourage optimism in the face of adversity and misfortune. However, when it is on the front cover of the menu, I take it to mean - whatever that is in the menu, eat it.

But the menu was really not that bad. In fact, it offered quite a wide and interesting selections. It had good breakfast and brunch options, snacks, soups, salads, burgers & sandwiches, pastas, pastries and desserts, and wide ranging drinks including coffees and teas, and even wines, liquors and sakes. The selections were repeated in this large display board.

We started our meal sharing this duck confit & orange salad. It was an Asian-Western fusion dish and it was delicious. It had slices of duck meat in watercress, onion, orange segments, pumpkin seeds in a orange maple syrup. It is not often we see watercress used in salads. Perhaps it is not a suitable vegetable. But in this duck confit, it tasted very good indeed.

Next, we had the spicy crabmeat linguine. Another fusion preparation. The pasta was scented with lemon grass and kaffir lime, and tossed with tomato and garlic in a spiced prawn oil. And the portion of crabmeat was generous. It was another most credible fare. The linguine was nicely al dente. The tangy and spicy flavour was very much to our taste.

I particularly liked this Asian soft-shell crab spaghettini. The fine spaghetti was cooked in a rich creamy butter sauce. In it was chilli padi, crispy fried curry leaves and sprinkling of chilli flakes. It was served with a huge portion of spicy deep fried soft-shell crab. The crab blended superbly with the pasta. Again, the pasta was nicely al dente. It was a simple yet delicious preparation.

The teriyaki salmon fillet was served with a small potion of cold soba in a light soy sauce and a sprinkling of sesame seeds. It was very pleasantly presented. The salmon was wonderfully done - crispy yet succulent inside. The soy sauce blended the fish and noodles elegantly. The flavour was subtle and mild, and yet so delicious. Credit to the chef for the innovation.

We had this side order of fried calamari (squid) to supplement our dishes - not that the dishes needed anything extra. The serving was big. It arrived piping hot (where is the kitchen?). The squid was very fresh and it was not overdone as to be rubbery. It was served with a slice of lemon and a mayo dip.

It was only 3 of us. And we ate all that, with more to come. Dessert was apple pie and ice cream. Fortunately is wasn't a very large serving and we managed it.

I had my usual long black to complete a most satisfying meal. 

With a Plan B like this, who needs A? But the plan was not exactly cheap. The total damage was more than 200 bucks. The next time we come across small inconspicuous eateries like this - especially those with funny names - we shouldn't under-estimate them. They can be really big in taste as well as in prices.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Penang Road Cendol

It was a hot blazing afternoon in Penang. We were thirsty and tired, and we wanted some local makan. Someone in the car mentioned Penang Road cendol. We all drooled at the tempting idea. But we were not sure how to get there. My wife faintly remembered the route. We used Komtar as the landmark and drove through the maddening traffic. 

We finally entered Jalan Penang. We drove along it but could not find a place to park. The cendol stall was enticingly just on our right. So near yet so far. We drove a little further and turned left into Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong. Komtar Walk was on our right. Opposite on our left was a big car park. In spite of the peak hour, the car park was relatively empty. It was heaven sent. We parked and walked a short distant back to Penang Road.

We went inside Joo Hooi Cafe. This so-called "cafe" was really an old run-down coffee shop. It was everything that you wouldn't want to be in. It was old, dirty, crowded, cramped, noisy, and stuffy - by no means a conducive place. But if you are willing to bear with such "trivial" discomforts, you can get some real good makan there.

Although the building was old and somewhat dilapidated, it was in a way quite unique and had its own character. Like this air-well in the ceiling that extended up to the floor above.

We were lucky to get a ready table. After claiming our territory, I went outside to look for cendol.

There were actually 2 competing cendol stalls. I was told both were equally good. The stalls were actually not on Penang Road. They were in a side lane named Lebuh Keng Kwee. It was a crazy place. The lane was hardly 20 feet wide. Beside the food stalls, bicycles, motorbikes and cars squeeze their way past pedestrians and loitering people.

The stall just outside Joo Hooi Cafe sold Teochew cendol. I was intrigued. Was there such a thing as "Teochew cendol"? Anyway, this stall was by far the more popular of the two. There was a long queue and they were doing a roaring business.

The opposite stall, on the other hand, was quiet and deserted.

I ordered 5 bowls from the Teochew stall. The lady asked me if we wanted them inside the coffee shop. I answered in the affirmative. She busily told me they would deliver to us and that it was RM2.50 per bowl. But your signboard said RM2.00. She told me in Hokkien "Eat outside RM2.00. Eat inside RM2.50". Eh? They charge 50 sens per bowl just to deliver the cendol into the coffee shop?

No wonder, people were slurping their bowls outside!

I later found out Joo Hooi Cafe levied a surcharge of 50 sens for outside drinks.

The cendol lived up to its fame and popularity. It was very good. The green cendol was fresh and soft. The santan (coconut milk) was rich and creamy. The gula melaka (brown sugar) blended into the santan perfectly. The added red beans were large, sweet and soft. The shaved ice was not too much as to dilute the goodness of the cendol. Yet it was cold and very refreshing.

We ordered some makan-makan from the stalls in the shop. The char koay teow lady was extremely busy. So we had to try her. We had to wait quite awhile before our plates were delivered to us.

And she certainly did not disappoint. Her CKT was very superior. It was one of the better CKT I had eaten - one of those that Penang is so famous for. There were 2 or 3 large shrimps and some nice see-hum (cockles). The egg was distinct - not mushily fried into the noodles . The servings were not big. But the aroma was. And what an aroma. I can still smell the goodness of it. But I only wished she had been more generous with the taugeh (bean sprouts). It is after all, a cheap ingredient. We shared a couple of plates and ended up ordering a couple more.

The assam laksa was credible, though not as great as the CKT. The fish in the gravy was genuine - generous flakes of ikan kembong. The taste was full - enough assam and enough pedas. Again we ordered seconds.

We had a small plate of lobak. For the uninitiated, Penang lobak is a selection of deep-fried stuffs with a variety of meat rolls, prawn fritters, fried tofu, etc. The lobak here was perhaps the least of the food we had that day. Still it wasn't bad at all. But we were more into the CKT and the laksa.

Sated, we walked back to our car and re-joined the crazy traffic. But it was well worth the effort. We had a wonderful afternoon snack. We will definitely return for more.