Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rama V Fine Thai Cuisine

It was that time of the year again. Crystal, our dear dutiful daughter once again organised a dinner for us to commemorate a joint Parents Day. Last year she fixed us at the Carcosa Seri Negara. This time around, it was at the Rama V Fine Thai Cuisine. She arranged everything and presented us with a RedRibbon Days voucher for RM250.

The Rama V is located on Jalan U Thant, off Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur. It appeared to be a chic place, with soft and striking lightings at the entrance. It was apparently converted from a large bungalow house with a huge compound. It was raining when we arrived and the parking attendant very considerately offered us an umbrella and parked the car for us.

We were greeted by the receptionist who recognised our voucher and reservation, and promptly led us to our table.

The restaurant has many awards to its name, including best Malaysian restaurant for several years.

RedRibbon Days advised us by email that this was a fine dining place and recommended that we dressed smart and casual for our dinner. We did so accordingly. But as it turned out, the place was really not that fine. It was rather crowded and noisy. A couple of kids were very distracting. People walked in and out in shorts and slippers. It was by no means a fine dining place.

The main dining hall was the downstair of the old bungalow house. There were a number of rooms and sections.

Outside, behind the bungalow house was a very nice garden, complete with soft lightings and water systems. Around the garden were several chalets for group diners.

Our table was in the entrance section of the restaurant. It wasn't an ideal location. It was rather long and we were seated at both ends of it. It was kind of awkward at first. We felt so very far apart. A waiter came and helped with the menu. He was obviously an foreign worker. He didn't speak very good English but was nevertheless very efficient in helping us in our selection.

The starter of the meal was this combo. It was a selection of Thai delicacies - fish cake, spring roll, prawn batter, and others - with 2 kinds of Thai sauces. It was a basket meant for 2 to 3 people. Everything in it was nice. I particularly liked the fish cake which was delicious.

When the next dish arrived at the table, I was like "OMG, so much food". It was a big plate of catfish salad. After the combo basket, we were almost there. Now this big plate. And we still had 3 more dishes to come. Anyway, the salad was typically Thai, with lots of peanuts, garlic and the sweet sour sauce. The catfish was apparently deep fried into the batter. But when we bit into the batter, we did not taste any fish - just flour.

The seafood tom yam was rather mild. And that was how we liked it. We had decided on the way to the restaurant that we would only take the tom yam if it was not too sour and fiery. And the waiter assured us that when we ordered it. It had the usual fish, prawn and squid and tasted quite delicious.

This was a duck curry. I was very curious. I had never tasted duck curry before. And it turned out to be really very nice. The meat was distinctly duck. The curry was typically Thai. And I think they made a very good combination. I enjoyed the dish very much.

This single prawn was 50 bucks. Ordinarily, I would not have ordered it. But we had 250 ringgit to spend and we wanted to maximise it, or else the remaining balance would be burnt. The menu stated that it was a river prawn. The only large river prawn I know in Malaysia is the udang galah. But this did not seem like udang galah. Unlike the udang galah, this prawn had a much smaller head and a lot more meat. In any case, it was very well done. It was deep fried and served in a nice Thai sauce.

Dessert was a variety of Thai delicacies. The waiter brought a large tray of assorted cakes, and we picked what we wanted. Perhaps our choice was not good for the desserts were no wow.

This was a bowl of water chestnut in coconut. Like the cakes, it was just so so.

I wanted a cup of coffee. I stopped one of the waiters. He obviously was a foreigner and did not understand what was coffee. He should not had been there in the first place. I later made my wish known to a different waitress. Then I waited and waited. After 2 or 3 reminders, my coffee finally came. It was half a cup and the coffee was cold. And it costed me 10 ringgit. What a rip off for half a cup of cold coffee.

All in all, the food in Rama V was good. It wasn't ridiculously expensive. The taste was distinctly and authentically Thai. No doubt about that. But the service was somewhat lacking. And the ambiance certainly was not one you would expect in a fine dining place. It was not a place we would go to for a special occasion. Most of the diners, I believe, were there just for an ordinary everyday meal.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Capital Nasi Dagang

My first impressionable experience with nasi dagang was on a fishing boat between Mersing and Pulau Aur in the east cost of Peninsula Malaysia many years ago. We were on one of our many fishing trips. Mr TanTH, our chief organiser bought some packeted nasi dagang from the Mersing market for our lunch during the tedious 6 hours boat journey. They were simple packets of the special coconut rice, each with a small piece of curried tuna. It tasted so very good. I had 2 packets of it and craved for more. Since then, each time I think of nasi dagang I inevitably remember that fishing trip.

Nasi dagang (literally translated as "business rice") is a mixture of normal fragrant rice and pulut (glutinous rice), steamed with santan (coconut milk). It is normally eaten with gulai (a rich yellow curry) ikan tongkol (a medium-size tuna fish). It is a popular dish in the east coast states of Peninsula Malaysia, especially in Terengganu. Its popularity reached down to the southern state of Johor and right up, beyond Kelantan, to southern Thailand.

SP called me one day to tell me about this place that serves good Kelantan nasi dagang. That very weekend, we were there to check it out. The breakfast crowd was evidence of its popularity. We could not find a table and were contented to settle down on a makeshift one on the 5-foot way.

Capital Nasi Dagang Kelantan is located on Jalan SS21/1A in Uptown, Damansara Utama in PJ. The business, to my surprise, was managed by Chinese. Nasi Dagang is after all a Malay dish and I went there fully expecting a Malay business. This Chinese family apparently has a similar business in Kota Baru.

Their nasi dagang was served with a wide range of accompaniments. Beside the ikan tongkol (tuna), they had curried chicken, rendang beef, prawns, and squids. The goodies are all on display at a serving counter where you can see before deciding on your choice. You could have a combination of accompaniments, or everything in their ultimate nasi dagang.

This was their traditional nasi dagang gulai tongkol - tuna curry. Like all their servings, it was on a wax brown paper in a plastic plate. The rice was fluffy and in spite of the glutinous rice content, the grains did not stick to each other. The fragrance was aromatic. If you take time to chew on the rice, the flavour is more pronounced.

The gulai ikan tongkol (tuna curry) was rich in santan (coconut milk). The fish was fresh and flaky. It was a very good gulai indeed.

The chicken did not disappoint as well. The flavour was rich and the chicken tender.

I had this combination of tuna and rendang beef. The beef was a little disappointing. It somehow did not taste like the real thing. A little too mushy.

Two things stool out in their servings of nasi dagang. One was the small deep fried salted fish. It was crunchy and aromatic. And it complemented the rice perfectly. I think this piece of salted fish made the nasi dagang a lot more enjoyable.

And their sambal was awesome. They only gave a small spoonful of it. But it was enough. It was fiery hot and so very tasty. And complemented the rice very well.

The shop also serves a small variety of other dishes like the Kelantan laksa and the coffee shop roti kaya - toasted and steamed bread. We ordered a portion of the the steamed roti. It had butter and kaya spreads. The bread was very good. It was so soft it almost melted in our mouths.

And of course, there were the normal drinks to go with your meals.

Was the nasi dagang here better than that in the fishing boat? Very likely yes. It is really very difficult to compare. The fishing boat experience was a long time ago and is now indelibly etched in my mind. In any case, for those in need for a nasi dagang fix, especially those from the east coast who miss home, this is definitely a place to be.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Verona Trattoria

The Verona Trattoria is a chic Italian restaurant owned and operated by a Mat Salleh-Malaysian couple in Section 17, PJ. We were there for a small family dinner. I didn't even know this place existed. I guess it opened its door not too long ago.

It is located on Jalan 17/54, in a small commercial area beside Taman Lee Yan Lian. I used to know this area very well. Had not been there for a while and the 2 small rows of shophouses have certainly changed a lot. There are a few other new makan places, one of which I think is Japanese. I have to go back there to cari makan (look for food) soon.

The inside of the restaurant, to me, was rather gaudy. I didn't like the red colour scheme. Not at all cool. The lightings were somehow inadequate - not dim but inappropriate. The art pieces on the wall were also somehow out of place. If they were all meant to make the place cosy, I think they had failed

But we were there for the food. I heard they serve some awesome Italian meals. The menu looked interesting. They had the full Italian works - pastas, risotto, pizzas, salad, soup and plenty of meats. And they were not terribly expensive.

For starters, we shared a caesar salad, with generous amount of bacon and a good french dressing. It was nice. The leaves were crisp and fresh.

The quatro pizza was very considerately done. It was 4 flavours in a single pizza. If you are the type to eat a whole pizza alone, this would be very nice to break the monotony. But we are the sharing type. So we don't get to sample all the 4 tastes. And by the way, the pizza was good. The crust was thin and and crispy. The toppings were generous and the flavour was just nice.

We shared one other pizza. I don't remember what it was called. It had the normal pepperoni, and vegetables toppings. Like the quatro, it was very good.

This spaghetti aglio olio was superb. It was definitely one of the best spaghetti I have tasted in Malaysia. The texture of the pasta was perfectly al dente. It was done absolutely right - not the least overcooked or soggy. The flavour was delicious. The herbs were just right.

This was saffron risotto with mushroom. I normally do not fancy risotto too much. My preference is that if I wanted to eat rice, I would opt for the Asian way. But this risotto wasn't too bad. Of course, the rice was soggy. But the flavour, probably because of the saffron, was quite Asian and delicious.

I didn't quite like this lamb shank. I thought the meat was rather soft and overdone. And the sauce was rather smothering with too much flavours. I couldn't get the actual flavour of the meat.

This roast pork belly was a lot better. The skin was delightfully crispy. The meat was tender. The sauce was light - complementing the meat rather than overpowering it. But the serving was small. There were 6 of us and we had to be contented with a small share.

We asked for garlic bread. And again, there wasn't quite enough to go round.

Desserts, like the other dishes, were shared. We had this chocolate cheese cake, which was okay but not great.

Neither was this pudding.

This tiramisu in a cup was the last of our dishes. By then, I had too much in my tummy to be interested. I gave it a skip...

... preferring this simple cup of coffee instead.

The Verona Trattoria is not a bad place at all for a reasonably priced good Italian meal. The dishes were quite authentic. I wondered where the mat salleh owner originated. He was rather scruffy, spoke without any non-English accent. I think he has everything in a good Italian restaurant. But he needed a good interior decorator.