Mission: To respond thoughtfully and responsibly to my experiences of drinking and dining at restaurants with regard to the quality, service, preparation, presentation and overall experience received thereat. The standpoint is one who respects the crafts of the chef and sommelier and who seeks to understand their choices in the kitchen and cellar and grow in knowledge. In this, I will seek to be fair, reasoned, direct and constructive and aim to keep my ego in check on our mutual journeys through the worlds of food and wine.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Brilliant Jolly with IWFS in Penang January 2014

Our IWFS KL had decided it was time for an expedition and sample some food outside the walls of KL city. So it was determined that a tour of Penang was necessary and it fell to Li Dong to organise, given that her work took her to Penang quite often. Twenty of us signed up. We were to make our own ways to the E&O Hotel where Li Dong had secured a brilliant rate for us. If you're gonna do something, do it in style cos it's only gonna get more expensive...

Friday January 10 2014

Lenglui and I had decided to drive to Penang and started off from KL at 8am with coffee and steamed buns at the ready for the road. Others had opted to take the Firefly air route which was a bit quicker. I like the drive and the convenience of deciding when to leave. On this occasion it was wet for most of the way, and quite badly so on the high road before Ipoh. Nasty driving when the rain is lashing - can't see much through the spray that the road throws up. Just got to punch it through. The easing rain made for a brief water stop at a rest place and breakfast around 10.30, just before the Butterworth toll. The tailback from the toll to the Penang bridge turnoff was slow but smooth and the drive through Penang to Georgetown was easy enough. Got a bit confused with the Garmin taking us to the Oriental Hotel but a quick adjustment got us to the E&O Hotel at 1pm with enough time to freshen up for our 2pm meet and bus drive for the first leg of our Penang jolly at Suffolk House. This is a heritage building which was once the residence of Sir Francis Light, effectively the founder and first Governer of Penang. 

Jeremy's Column
It was delightful - over the years the house had fallen into ruin and we saw photos of a pretty delapidated wreck of a building. The Penang Heritage Trust has done a brilliant job in securing funds to restore the house to glory, and today it is a museum and tea house and totally and deservedly on the tourist map. One of our members had actually sponsored one of the columns there and we delightfully took photos of him with his contribution. There is a tendency for Heritage projects to get short shrift in favour of grand spanking Condo Blocks and Shopping Malls which makes the restoration even more notable. The more far sighted recognnise the attraction value of such projects to the future tourism industry and appear more prepared to support than their counterparts in the more southern parts of Malaysia. We were treated to an informative and entertaining tour of the House by renowned architect Laurence Loh who oversaw the restoration project. Originally the house overlooked 180 acres of land - now it is down to one. 

Jan Shaw and Bachan Singh
We were also treated to a peculiarly Malaysian / Colonial Hi tea of Curry Puffs and Cream scones with Jam and Earl Grey tea which was most pleasant in a sweet and spicy kind of way. The overcast sky kept things agreeably cool though the bus got a bit chilly en route to the Botanical Gardens. We were treated to a Two Ringgit trip on a rickety tractor driven cart through green flora and grubby looking monkeys hopeful for food from the tourists. Again, the overcast made for a pleasant ten minute ride around the gardens. 

The funicular that normally takes people up Penang Hil had been declared out of action for repairs so we were all herded into four wheel drive cars for the fifteen minute drive up to the top. It got a bit harrowing in places where the bends were sharp and the drops quite sheer and the workmanlike vans were less than pristine in cleanliness and smell. In addition, shrieking motors and the smell of electrical burning didn't help in the confidence stakes. But we got there in one slightly shaken piece and got greeted by champagne and canapes on the bar. Which sadly we couldn't do much justice to as most of us were still feeling the effects of the scones and curry puffs to really enjoy the tidbits. But we did whack the fizz. 

The Tractor Bus at the Botanical Gardens
Penang Hill has a brilliant aspect of the Straits and the mainland and has a magnificent vista across Georgetown below. Well, it does when the sun shines - intermittent clouds made for an interrupted view, though the cool chill air was delightful. The Governor remarked that he had first set foot on the hill in the 1950s and at that time it was all green except for the Burmah Road and the Jetty. Not much green visible in Georgetown from the hill today. Indeed, thanks to overdevelopment the mountain at the back of us had gone bald and some Penangites at the time of writing were shaving their heads in protest. Good luck.

View from Penang Hill - bit cloudy
Owner and Operator of the David Brown Restaurant AK Lim was on hand to greet and mingle with the assembled and following the end of the fizz we made our way up a level to the David Brown restaurant for dinner. Lenglui insisted on calling the place Charlie Brown's since it felt more homely and pertinent than David. I was no better - I was calling it Gordon Brown's. Nothwithstanding, this is a quaint colonial style restaurant full of wood and old fireplaces and artefacts from the past. Indeed in a previous incarnation it was part of the Smokehouse group which specialised in woody old school inns. The Armitage WCs in the Gents restrooms are things one rarely sees today but mean so much to those of us who remember them from our formative times. So much water against the white porcelain...   sometimes, life can seem little more than one long pee...

In the Gardens at David Brown on Penang Hill
On previous occasions tables could be set on the grass verge by the pond to enjoy the alfresco hilltop sunset. The prospect of rain had put the veritable damper on that idea so a table for all nineteen of us had been set under the verandah. Indeed, hardly had we sat when the sky began to drizzle. The rain made the evening chill decidely cool, and the more far sighted had brought wraps and shirts to keep the chill at bay. The seats were also a bit on the low side for comfortable eating and only three cushions were apparently available. I snaffled one for the Lenglui to maintain pleasant relations. Evening was called to order by President Rajan, Li Dong introduced owner AK Lim to talk about the restaurant and I was asked to comment on the wines. Well, read off the notes that the Kiwi had thoughtfully drafted for the event.

Li Dong, Edna and Jan
Consensus was that the food was bit "okay only" though my Beef Wellington was well tasty, with firm beef and soft flaky pastry. Others found things a bit variable in doneness terms. The Waldorf Salad was fair. Wines were a bit on the young side and not overly memorable. The restaurant staff seemed to have got some of them mixed up as well, though everything ultimately got drunk. AK had brought some 18yo Single Malt whiskey for those who enjoyed a glass. I do try to resist the Scotch - my worst night terrors have been as a result of mad nights with the firewater - and did quite successfully do so on this occasion, limiting the imbibe to a single Single. Others were sucking on their glasses like calves at the teat and passing the bottle to presumably numb the senses sufficiently to forget the Four Wheel Drive ride down the hill to the bus for our return to the hotel. The diehards repaired for a nightcap at the Sarkies bar which was good drunken fun, but it led to a variable sleep for me. High tannic and alcohol in the wines don't let me sleep all the way through.

My Beef Welly - very tasty
1. Faustino Cava NV 

2. Cellar Capcanes Mas Donis Blanco 2012  
A blend of Garnacha Blanco and Macabeo. Attractive yellow golden green color; seductive fruit flavors of  peach, pear, mango,  banana; and hints of flowers and herbs; creamy and soft with crispy freshness in mouth and  medium bodied, lovely fruit and floral finish.

3. Domaine Christian Moreau Chablis 1er Cru 2010
Here the nose is both more elegant and more complex with really lovely purity to the aromas of sea breeze, pear, floral notes and spice hints. There is an attractive raciness to the detailed and beautifully intense mineral-driven medium-bodied flavors that possess excellent precision on the balanced, long and attractively complex finish. This is really lovely juice fashioned with admirable finesse that is sufficiently forward that it could be enjoyed now or cellared for a few years first. (Allen Meadows 91)

Preparing for the ride back down the hill...
4. St Clair Omaka Pinot Noir 2012 
Medium to deep ruby colored, the 2010 Omaka Reserve Pinot Noir is scented of kirsch, warm mulberries and raspberry compote with touches of black pepper, balsamic and spice box. Medium bodied with a good amount of evolving red berry and spice flavors in the mouth, it has a low to medium level of very finely grained tannins, crisp acid and a long finish. (Parker 90)

5. Catena Zapata Nicasia Malbec 2007 
The single vineyard Malbecs begin with the 2007 Nicasia Vineyard Malbec. It was barrel-fermented and aged for 18 months in 100% new oak including a racking into a second set of new barrels (the so-called “200% new oak” treatment). A glass-coating opaque purple/black in color, it offers up a splendid nose of toasty new oak, earth notes, exotic spices, black cherry and black raspberry. This is followed by a plush, layered, intensely flavored wine with potential complexity, precision balance, and a seamless finish. (Parker 95)

Saturday January 11 2014

On the Rickshaws
Shaken awake at the ungodly time of 7.30am for showering and getting ready for an 8.30am away in the bus which naturally became 9 o'clock. Two rapid coffees didn't do the usual trick for the morning business. Breakfast was not brilliant - tasteless fruit and bread. 

Does this thing have a meter?
Brief briefing from tour guide Chua of which nothing stuck in the befuddled morning brain before climbing on to the bus for a five minute drive to Fort Cornwallis which included an entertaining story about touching the cannon to ensure fertility through presumably not firing blanks. Off the bus and we then all got loaded onto bicycle driven rickshaws for a ten minute and at times scary ride ride along to the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, a temple style affair with a dedication temple on one side of a palazzo square and a theatre stage on the other. Scary because the rickshaw (being pedalled along by the somewhat elderly chap at a pace somewhat slower than a brisk walk) was competing with cars on main roads that motored past at a rapid lick within inches of our rickshaws. Not happy, especially when hung over though accidents seem very few. Next time will walk.

Lenglui resisting playing with the Lion's balls
The Khoo Kongsi is well worth a look with its massively ornate carvings out of granite and lots of red and gold. Wonderful stonework, and a number of admonitions against rolling the balls inside the mouths of the Chinese Lions. There's probably a joke about putting ones balls in the lion's mouth but it feels a bit seedy. Seems they have dinners and functions here. Makes sense - hugely atmospheric. RM10 felt a bit stiff though, but presumably they don't get much help from Municipal financial sources so needs must. Entrance is via the hidden Cannon Lane but is well worth searching out.

At the Khoo Kongsi Penang
Khoo Kongsi Stonework
The Kongsi was followed by a stroll around the Heritage area. In previous trips to Penang we normally don't do the Tourist route and only now did we see what we have been missing. Lots of quaint stores and shophouses loaded with charm and history. Penangites have taken to developing street art and walls are decorated with either paintings or metalwork style cartoons and text. We only did one main street but clearly there is much here to enjoy. We were told that the plan is for Georgetown to become walkable from one side to the other in forty minutes. Traffiic is sufficiently slow due to the rickshaws, though complete absence of motor transport would be most welcome in this part. 

Amazing Tiled Tiger
We finished our walking tour of the heritage area ahead of time so we crossed a main road to take in a walk along the Jetties. A UNESCO World Heritage site, these are wooden homes built on wooden jetties that go out to the sea. Each one has a different name and generations seem to live and die here. There were a lot of tourists walking up and down our particular jetty and the enterprising Chinese who live here seem to make do with selling drinks and knick knacks. Temple at the end of one jetty to pay homage to the sea gods. Up to this time, most of the morning had passed in a hangover and lack of sleep daze. There was one spark of humour - a Mat Salleh was sunning himself on his Jetty and from our angle looked like he was somewhat underdressed and sunning his…. underparts. My remark of being hopeful that he was wearing his underpants drew some chuckles. As we passed it became evident that he was indeed in a sufficient sartorial state of dress.
Metalwork Art

Traditional Nyonya house - lots of red and gold
Back on the bus for a short ride to visit a traditional Nyonya house. This was a magnificent home kept in traditional style with loads of history and clothes and glassware and bits and pieces to entertain and photograph. The old TV and radio from the forties was quaint, as was a huge portrait camera. Perfect period setting for TV and movie shoots. The porcelain peices were exquisite and Lenglui bought a couple of pieces. 

The Seven Terraces
Rather than back on the bus, it was easier to walk to lunch at the Kebaya Restaurant at Seven Terraces, a renovated row of shophouses on a backstreet of the town. Normally only open for dinner, our specially arranged lunch was delightful. There are also apartments which can be rented out for families looking to stay. Billed as Nyonya fusion style cuisine the Nyonya was definitely in evidence and of a most excellent standard - slightly sweet with firm heat rather than scorching fire from the spice. The food dishes proved to be great matches with the wines - our old friend Prosecco di Prosecco to start, the Selbach Riesling to follow and Ornellaia's third wine Le Volte to finish. The Riesling was inspired - crisp peach and apple honey sweetness soothed the Nyonya fire on the Chicken Curry a treat. the PdP was a pleasant tongue settler too - sweetly crisp bubbles with just the right amount of acidity to soothe rather than scrape which set off the vegetable based Pai Tee and Otak Otak a treat. 

Thai Soft Shell Crab Salad - crunchy!
The 2011 Le Volte felt a bit young and vibrant for the food, though apparently it went a treat with the lamb shank which I never take. The Geezer finished off the remaining red and would have had the final bottle opened had it not been for the consensus running against him. By this time I was starting to regain a bit of vim following the PdP. Brief conversation about our lot as Expats in Malaysia and our varying forms of residence status. The Governor shared that in his time he had known of two people on PR who had been given 24 hours notice to leave. Something to be avoided for sure.

Dishes we tried
Kebaya Ban Xeo - crispy wafers stuffed with shredded chicken, bean sprouts, crispy tofu and stir fried vegetables in a tamarind sauce
Lenglui and the Kiwi
Pai Tee - Crispy "top hats" of saltwater school prawns with fresh julienned vegetables and a sweet chili and coriander sauce
Otak Otak - Red snapper cooked with garlic and turmeric and baked in a crispy pastry
Thai Soft Shell Crab Salad - with chili lime dresing, green apples and pomegranate
Grilled Chicken Kapitan - with a paste of chili, garlic, shallots and candle nuts
Prawn Geng - Wild caught prawns in a curry of turmeric and lemongrass
Hong Bak Lamb - Prime New Zealand lamb shank sous vide for 48 hours and served in its jus
Sambal Goreng - Sauteed French beans and baby corn, lemongrass, shallots and belacan coconut cream with cashew nuts
Pandan Creme Brulee - egg custard spiked with pandan essence and served with brandy snaps

1. Tenimenti Prosecco di Prosecco NV 

2. Dr Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett Riesling 2011
Loosen’s 2011 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling offers the sort of hidden sweetness that sets-off ripe fruit (here primarily pear-like); enhances levity, and proves highly versatile at table. Subtly smoky and crushed stone notes add interest to a soothing palate and a prolonged, satisfyingly sappy finish. (Parker 89)

3. Ornellaia Le Volte 2011
The 2011 Le Volte dell'Ornellaia (a 50-30-20 blend of Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon) is a gorgeous and silky smooth red wine that imparts bright tones of red cherry, blackberry, sweet spice and chocolate. The wine's youthful freshness and fruit-forward mouthfeel is ultimately what makes it such a pleasure to drink. (Parker 90)

More Cheers at Seven Terraces
Back on the bus to go back to the hotel for a well needed nap and a spruce up for a 6pm meet on the bus and a forty minute drive to the Rasa Sayang Resort for dinner at the Ferringhi Grill. Dress code had been set at Jackets and Medallions. The trip took us along the coast road which is now pretty much lined with condo blocks. Our Tour Guide was giving us prices for all the condos that we passed on the way. He could double as a Realtor. Maybe he does.

At the Rasa Sayang, the Ferringhi Grill had been moved to a new upstairs location and gave a charming sunset view from seats strategically positioned. It was a full house for the night. We were sat away from this near the bar where the champagne was flowing. A shade too sweetly acidic for personal taste, and one bottle indeed remained unopened as would one white later in the evening. Possibly a bit too much of a good thing given our lunch and previous night, but we struggled manfully and womanfully. 

Struggling with the Cava - oh the pain, the pain...
Our group was joined by two members from IWFS Penang who promised a tour of Penang's best street food on our return. Matching wine should be fun.

Making friends - IWFS KL and IWFS Penang
Vodka and Watermelon with Caviar Blini
For the Ferringi Grill food, the appetizers were belter - carpaccio of beef was unusually tender, salmon with horseradish was succulent and creamy and blue cheese grapes were stellar. At the table, the Amuse bouche of watermelon and vodka was something we could have drunk all night. Can't remember much about the FG Starter, though the lobster ravioli failed due to undercooked pasta and oversweet meat. My beef was nicely done though the jus was a bit rich for taste. My neighbour's lamb was well overdone though others said theirs was perfect. The dessert was very good by all accounts - mine got passed along the table since I find chocolate to get in the way of the wine. 

Seared Foie Gras
So it would seem to be a bit variable in the kitchen. Winewise, the Lafon Macon Verze is an old favourite - crisp fruit driven white burgundy. The Stonier Pinot was excellent - balanced, good cherry and pepper and superb body. Supple tannins and overall superb structure. A well built wine. Our 2004 Armailhac drank nicely - standard right bank Bordeaux with good Merlot feel and Cabernet mouth. Good body, chewy fruit and tannin and a crisp velvet finish. We also finished off the leftover Le Volte from lunch though one of the Macon Verze got left undrunk.

Lobster Ravioli - a bit sad...
Amuse Bouche
Vodka Scented with Watermelon Juice with Caviar Blini
Seared Foie Gras - balsamic reduction, rocket, strawberries, brioche bread and chocolate
Blue Shell Lobster Ravioli - saffron foam, basil oil and fennel salad
Pomegranate Granite - with champagne
Grilled Beef Tenderloin - cap mushroom puree, glazed baby carrots, peas, Zucchini and truffle merlot sauce
Lamb Rack - Dijon herb crust, rosemary gnocchi, glazed baby carrots, basil oil and merlot sauce
Canadian Cod - sauteed garden vegetables, roasted potatoes and lemon butter sauce
Chocolate Symphony - pudding, mousse, ice cream and feresh berries
Coffee or Tea - Petit Fours

Grilled Beef Tenderloin
1. Deutz Champagne NV 
Made from roughly one-third each of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.   Light yellow.  Toasty lees, poached pear and lemon rind on the pungent nose.  Offers an array of sappy citrus and orchard fruit flavors and becomes spicier with air.  The lemon and lees notes come back on the broad, clear finish. (Tanzer 90)

2. Alois Lageder Sauvignon Blanc 2011 
A crisp style of Sauvignon Blanc more akin to the Loire style, dry with grapefruit and citrus dominating.

Lamb Rack at Ferringhi Grill
3. Heritiers Lafon Macon Uchizy Les Maranches 2011 
There is excellent volume to the clean, pure, crisp and beautifully intense flavors that culminate in a very dry and energetic finish. This would also make a fine choice for a house white. (Allen Meadows 89)

4. Stonier Reserve Pinot Noir 2011
A medium bodied Pinot which has a deceptively light ruby sheen but with a well rounded structure to the wine. One of the most well weighted, complex and floral pinots from a cool region of Australia.

Chocolate Symphony
5. Chateau d’Armailhac 2004 
A dark ruby color is accompanied by crisp acids, sweet cranberry, black cherry and darker fruit aromas, and a clean, pure, classically built medium-bodied, elegantly wrought wine will benefit from another 2-3 years cellaring and should keep for 12-15 years. (Parker 89) 

At the restaurant, new member Lydia was celebrating a birthday and requested a song which the hotel crooners didn't know but I happened to. So she had a serenade of Don McLean's "Vincent" That was it - the bus ride back to the hotel became a raucous singalong all the way, topped by a rock and roll rap by the Kiwi. Others went to nightcap, we went to sleep. Well, tried to. 

Sunday 12th January 2014

Another variable night sleepwise, waking up and down for late breakfast of coffee and croissant. Everyone else seemed well chipper and ready to do battle with the day. I do envy those who seem able to chug a skinful of booze and wake up as if nothing had happened. We left the hotel to take a sweaty walk for an early lunch of Assam Laksa, Char Kwey Teoh and O-Tien at an old haunt on the Burmah Road. Which ended up a bit disappointing on this occasion - the consensus was it was not nearly as tasty as was remembered from previous visits. 

On the walk back to hotel we bought biscuits for the Duchess and Loh Bak to take back for Sifu in KL. I rested up in the hotel whilst the others went to Straits Quay for a wander. The rest was good and necessary - all the partying does seem to take a toll on this body so a decent rest prior to the four hour drive back to KL gets one sufficiently rested. The actual drive was thankfully uneventful though a bit wet in spots and consequently slow, but ultimately we made good time and arrived home just as the sun was setting. 

In all, a brilliantly organised trip - we saw bits of Penang we don't normally visit which made for a hugely entertaining and memorable trip. Most enjoyable indeed.

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