Monday, November 14, 2011

A MOMENT OF FAME ...




SINCE I CAME BACK FROM SINGAPORE it's been busy as usual but with a difference: NBC, who had asked me to show them around Pulau Tikus Market before I left, flew me down to KL to show them round what was at first the night eateries in Jalan Alor.





I went down a day early and checked into a budget hotel located smack bang in the middle of the place which was a bit of a come down from the Conrad Centennial the week before, I can tell you!



The Apple Hotel is REALLY budget, and although clean and the double bed quite comfortable, didn't have a lot of room as the ensuite was squeezed into one side. It sufficed, but do beware if you book two nights and pay in advance online like I did, you will not get a refund if you change your mind - like I did! So I stayed there which wasn't really a problem as they have free wifi.



However, my time there was not really much use because Amy Robach their link person who flew in from the US the night before was quite jetlagged, and as the weather was very wet too, it got changed to Chow Kit Market the next morning. Which was a shame because I wanted to show them what KL is really good at: HOKKIEN CHAR with tai lok meen. They do it well there: thick, wormy noodles with black, black sauce and lots of chee yiau char (having said that I still prefer it with the fine bee hoon - absolutely delish with some sambal or chilli padi).

Now I hadn't been to Chow Kit Road for years - probably decades - and the last time I went was with my dear old Dad who, to my great sorrow, passed away earlier this year. So when I went there earlier to reccy the place out, it was with sadness in my heart when I recollected that the game old man preferred to bus it all the way from his house in Bangsar to Chow Kit, then lug his purchases all the way home by bus again, because it was a couple of ringgit cheaper. Oh my papa ... how I miss him.

Anyway, it was quite interesting to see the place again, as it reminded me rather of the wet markets in Thailand - and smelt like them too, truth be told. It's ENORMOUS, and when the film crew arrived, we had quite a trek up and down the place to find things they wanted to feature. And of all things they featured the cows' heads!!





Their feature on Malaysia came out on Thursday 9th evening when there was a big party at KLCC but unfortunately I couldn't make it as I was down with flu, and am still croaking away even now. That'll teach me to talk so much. I have to tell you I looked TERRIBLE because I was already feeling unwell, and it showed!






Monday, October 31, 2011

LION CITY

I'VE JUST GOT BACK FROM SINGAPORE, where Mac and I went to attend a "Wine Extravaganza", part of the annual "Wines for Asia" event held at Suntec.





The city state is just awesome. It's clean, well-run and very efficient, but VERY expensive. Hotels cost about SGD300 per night, which really makes me appreciate our wonderful hotels here which provide so much at half the cost.

Our first night there we stayed at the RASA SENTOSA, and it was amazing to see what's happened there since we were last on the island - which was probably about 8 years ago. The hotel itself is very similar to Golden Sands Resort here, and was apparently designed by the same architect.



The view from our room was absolutely stunning; we could see the large liners anchored along the South China Sea ... imagine what it must have been like a century or two ago, with all the Chinese junks and European ships docked there.






Sentosa itself has grown tremendously, and it's real resort-world, with many hotels and things to do. I really take my hat off to the Singaporean Government for achieving so much.





It was much too short a stay, but we managed to make it to Underwater World, which was quite interesting - having said that, as I've been to the one in Miami (Seaworld) and Sydney, this wasn't so impressive.




And the Dolphin Show was rather a disappointment, as it took longer to wait for the show than the show itself.








Peacocks who are "inhabitants" of the island roam freely there, quite tame and used to human contact by now, so you can be having a drink at one of the bars and they will actually wander right up to you! And the gorgeous colours of the male are really quite stunning.





The next day we checked into the Conrad Centennial in town, right opposite Suntec itself, but stupidly left some stuff behind in the closet. A quick phone call to the Rasa before we left for dinner (more about that later) and would you believe it, it was in our room on our return later that evening. What service. I'm impressed.

I also liked the fact that Singaporean taxis are CHEAPER than Penang ones, which is a shame, because I would like to travel more by taxi here but the costs are so astronomical that it just isn't feasible to do so. They are fast and efficient, and even better: no one dares cheat. The taxi from the airport to Sentosa cost just SGD25, which is pretty reasonable.









Saturday, October 22, 2011

BEIJING COURTYARD DINING

COURTYARD DINING
(this article appeared in www.themalaysianinsider today)

                Beijing can truly be described as cosmopolitan: parts of the sprawling city of over 17 million people are very modern, teeming with visitors from all over the world. A wealth of eateries, both local and international, has sprung up in recent years to cater for its many inhabitants, some of them offering excellent food.




When we were there recently, some kind friends took us to a rather unique restaurant that started in the hutongs over a decade ago.  “Hua’s Courtyard Restaurant” is in Guijie, Dongzhimen Inner Street in Dongcheng District, aka Ghost Street, presumably because the place is very busy at night. In the evening, the entire street is lit up with hundreds of glowing red lamps strung from tree to tree, and lined with restaurants on either side, and reminded me a bit of the busy Bukit Bintang night scene.




Established by the enterprising and philanthropic Mr Hua, the restaurant serves popular ethnic Chinese food to locals and tourists. Walking in through the unassuming fa├žade, you won’t believe just how big this restaurant is: it has become so well known that there are now six branches and two clubs which employ over 2000 staff which can serve up to 4000 guests at any one time. Even by Beijing standards, it’s huge.

                The large, partitioned courtyard is laid out in attractive but serviceable black furniture, with private rooms leading off it. When we arrived, it was buzzing with hungry and satiated customers, the waiters, waitresses and chefs serving up platter after platter of steaming, delicious-looking food. We were lucky to get a table near the front … and I’ll tell you why a bit later.




                Friendly Guest Relations Manager Rola Heng who, incidentally, is from Indonesia, was happy to take us through the menu, discoursing on the history of the place and advising us on which dishes to order.

Of course we had to try their most famous dish – after all, we are in Peking! Here, it is called Yongzheng Dynasty Duck, skilfully carved up into thin, delicate slices by one of the chefs a table then served with no less than three types of thin, different-coloured pancakes to wrap it in, and 6 types of julienned vegetables as well as three sauces:  sour plum with tips of wasabi, sweet red fruit and a unique, yellow floral osmanthus. “We’ve improved on the traditional Peking Duck because people have different tastes,” according to Rola.

                Eaten the traditional way ie the meat and skin rolled up in a pancake with the vegetables and one of the sauces, it was tasty, as was the Braised Eggplant with Abalone Sauce and Spinach with Chicken Soup. However, I thought their “Yi Yuan” Famous Noodles was excellent: cold noodles tossed in their own-recipe spicy peanut butter and sesame sauce, one of their signature dishes.




“It was a favorite of Anita Mui’s,” who called it “Bawang ji” after she tasted it the first time”, Rola added. It’s a bit like gado gado with noodles, but with much more delicate flavours; crunchy, nutty and quite delicious. Everything is beautifully presented, and the dishes are adorned with carved vegetables and




                However, what was really interesting about this place was what happened after our meal – that is why I said we were lucky to be seated near the front. The canny proprietor lays on a floor show nightly, when their trained waiters and waitresses perform for the diners. For amateurs, they are surprisingly good, and the half hour show of various feats  including Kung Fu Tea Pouring with a two-foot long spout, plate spinning and noodle-slicing (dao xiao mian) whilst balancing on a monocycle was very enjoyable.




The final act though was the piece de resistance: bian lian, the ancient art of face changing. It was fascinating, and much too short – apparently only 200 people in the whole of China are privy to this amazing act, and one of them is based here! It’s worth going just to see it.






                After the evening’s entertainment, we were privileged to be given a quick tour of the entire premises, when Rola showed us round the other parts of the massive place, going past their clean show kitchens where teams of chefs are busily and skilfully preparing yet more food; down dimly-lit alleyways and side streets, weaving in and out of the six yards and 3 court yards which are spread over more than 30,000 sq metres and includes alfresco and fine dining areas.

Hua's Courtyard Restaurant
235 Dongzhimen Inner Street
Dongcheng District, Beijing 100007
Tel: 512 83315
Opening hours: daily from 10.30am to 04.00am







Sunday, October 16, 2011

FAIRY GODMOTHER?

THE OTHER NIGHT we had nothing on, so a group of us decided to get together and have something to makan locally. That's one of the problems I find about Penang - once we're ensconced up this part of town, nothing short of a free taxi ride (there and back!) will make me move out of here in the evenings. It's partly because of the traffic going in, particularly around the Tg Tokong stretch near the McDonald's traffic light, which can be so bad it comes to a standstill at weekends. It's also partly once we make it into George Town, there's nowhere to park!





So we were trawling around for ideas as to where to eat (and me a food writer, shame shame!) when we suddenly hit upon the new KAI MA, the old Yyu Yuan which went bust after less than a year in business. (Which to be frank wasn't surprising because although they were actually quite popular and busy, it got to the stage where service was just awful; we went there once and Mac ordered a mixed grill and I had a Hor Fun; mine arrived after about half an hour and Mac was still waiting 15 minutes after that. He finally stormed off in a huff and vowed never to go back again.) It's the same row as the Ambank/Maybank in Tg Bungah, so we thought we'd give it a go.





The GOOD thing is that it was VERY quiet; there were barely 2 or 3 tables taken in the double-fronted restaurant, which meant for a change there WAS parking out front. And because there was no business, the food came quite quickly, and the service was attentive. After all, you do want them to come back, don't you.

The not-so-good news was that the food was rather pricey, I thought. It now just does Chinese food, because, as is obvious from above, the kitchen just can't cope with two types of cuisines. There's quite a large menu, offering dishes in 3 different sizes: S, M, L. But the smalls start at about RM10 for vegetables, and RM15 for meats.

As there were 5 of us we decided to order everything in S so we could have a bigger choice: Fried Beans with Minced Pork, Taufu with Salted Fish, Pork in a hotpot, fried mixed veg, and steamed fish teowchew style.






The taufu with salted fish didn't taste of salted fish and was too gooey. The pork was tasty but too dry - a bit of "chiap" would have been good, and came in a tiny little pot. The fish was also tasty, tart and soupy, but the fish had been frozen before I think; it had that taste which fresh fish doesn't have.





The Fried Beans was OK, but we didn't have quite enough to eat so ordered a final Hor Fun which was not bad.






Together with a large Tiger, the bill came to RM125 which I thought was a bit excessive, as it wasn't really that brilliant. All in all, not A1 experience and although I would go back if only just because it's not very busy, it certainly wouldn'tbe my top choice. Having said that, I do believe Penang is getting quite expensive and most places are starting to charge more now.





Sunday, October 9, 2011

FOAMING AT THE HARD ROCK HOTEL

LAST NIGHT I WAS PRIVILEGED TO BE INVITED to witness one of the Hard Rock Hotel's many fund raising sessions: their "Pink Foam Party", held on the beach by the pool, is part of their worldwide "Pinktober" campaign in support of breast cancer awareness and research.





At reception, a bed had been done up, resplendent in pink and complete with gleaming gorgeous chandelier and guitar, for the "Celebs Bed-in" session.





Actually, we were a bit early but it wasn't a bad thing - we were taken to Starz Diner and given a meal at the buffet counter, which included free-flow drinks.



The food is OK; some of the dishes are good, and there's salmon sashimi and big prawns as well as a good choice of salads at the counter. Can't expect TOO much for just RM70 or 80++.





Usually at such places the wine is pretty mediocre at best, to be frank, but I was really quite pleased that they give a fairly palatable white, which is my usual poison. Mac, as usual, is happy with his beer.





After that we headed for the beach which at that hour (still quite early - about 830pm by then) was still a bit quiet although some brave souls were in the "foam" "Cotton Candy Tub", and hula girls in skirts and others in pyjamas, trying to dance to the music.





A whole host of local celebrities had been invited to grace the event - although I have to say MOI wasn't included as part of the pack as a mere food writer you see - including Ash Nair, Yuri Wong, Jojo Struys and my old mate Dennis Lau, who when he saw me gave me a big hug, which stoked my rapidly decreasing ego a teeny bit ... !!! (Us writers have very frail and brittle egos...)





There were various performances after that, with top Malaysian rock band SEARCH at the Hard Rock Cafe although to be frank, it had started to rain a bit so oldies like me (non-celebrities ... !!! sob sob) had melted away by then ... !

Throughout October, Hard Rock Hotel will have a Seaview Deluxe Room decked out in pink at just RM580++ per night inclusive of breakfast for 2, Pink-A-Luscious cocktails for 2, and - this is the piece de resistance as far as I am concerned - a limited edition 2011 Pinktober Breast Cancer Awareness pin!


 




I even donated RM20 to adopt two special "pink ducks" to help!

Saturday, October 8, 2011


TODAY I REALLY FANCIED SOMETHING SIMPLE so together with a couple of girlfriends, headed for the Copthorne Hotel in Tanjung Bungah, where their weekend Taiwanese Porridge is on at the Hu Ji Chinese Restaurant.

I like the place cos it's casual yet air-conditioned, and there's plenty of parking in the underground car park which is FREE.

And although the prices have gradually crept up and up (but dishes have got fewer), it's still relatively cheap even for a small eater like me. The thing is although I don't eat that much, I like choice as it allows me to try a bit of everything.





Today, Chef Hung was telling me about something new they just introduced a couple of weeks ago: it's their "Fried Porridge"; a bit of an oxymoron but his version is just thick porridge which is then 'fried' in a frying pan with a few extra things added like oil, hey bee, soya sauce etc.




You can then add condiments to your bowl: cooked chicken, chicken char siew (they went pork-free a few years ago), spring onions, fried ikan bilis etc. I told them a good sprinkling of white pepper, together with a dribble of minced garlic oil, would really perk it up.




The Hu Ji used to do this buffet every lunch time but unfortunately because of poor response they have now cut down to weekends and public holidays only which is a shame, cos I like to have it there whenever I feel like going. There's not that much choice now, especially not enough meat items but there's plenty of vegetables, and a bit of fish and chicken, taufu and steamed egg custard. Hey, what do you expect for RM19.90 I think it is.




However, buffets can be a real waste of money so wisely they have decided to cut back. Do please go along, cos they really do need the support.

Friday, October 7, 2011

SOUP GEARBOX BEEHOON IN SG PETANI

OK SO THERE WE WERE, STUCK IN THE MIDDLE OF SUNGAI PETANI ... when we suddenly decided we were hungry, so a friend who knows the place well directed us to a local Malay eatery which was open at lunchtime.



 Off we trotted then to the TAMAN RIA Medan Selera, behind a Petronas petrol station on the outskirts of town, and found Kak Bibah's popular eatery - it seemed to be popular, because there was even a queue forming to order their food. Luckily we got there just before!





I had some Ikan Goreng stuffed with rempah which was quite tasty.




, but also decided to try their Soup Gearbox with Bee Hoon ... although there wasn't any gearbox because they were all gone I think - at least, I could just see the large femurs put to one side.





The soup is cooked with a lot of cow innards, including the heart and other unmentionables so although our bowl (we were sharing one) came with just beef and was quite tasty, I have to admit to being quite a CHICKEN and being put off by it slightly. It is topped with spring onions and diced taufu, and accompanied by a large dollop of sweet chilli sauce.




It was served by this gorgeous young lady who was so sweet and explained to me that the bee hoon is dyed with kunyit.