I'd never have recognised the food as that from Penang Village had I been led there blindfolded. Adam & Eve Kerabu, Rainbow Sushi, Tempura Prawns and Vegetables, Tiger Prawn & Fruit Salad - these aren't quite the typical fare that one finds at a restaurant one frequents for assam laksa and char koay teow.
But there they are - the new offerings from Penang Village kitchen honcho C.G. Tang. "There are so many places offering similar foods like char koay teow, laksa and other nyonya-based cuisine, so we feel we have to move on and inject new interest into our food," says Tang. "We are also trying to create something that will be indentify Penang Village and make it stand out."
So, he went back to his roots. Formally trained in Western cuisine, he decided on fusion food.
Now, fusion cooking is tricky. Every other chef in town seems to be trying fusion but often ends up with a throwing together of ingredients and end up with something with the taste of an Iraqi prison - humiliatingly torturous.
Tang's training worked to his advantage and though My Best Friend is thrilled at the thought of the adventure, I'm keeping an open mind. When the food comes, I realise not all the foods are Western fusion. For instance, Otak-Otak, with juicy chunks of garoupa fillet inside, is offered with indian chapati triangles. The huge, triangular slab of otak-otak is wrapped in pandan leaves and one can either eat this with rice or spread it on the chapati triangles like open-faced sandwiches. Fried this way, the chapati triangles are crisp but with a lovely flavour. It also comes with the Curry Chicken Kapitan with a thick, almost dry gravy.
MBF loves the Adam & Eve Kerabu - and the presentation is simply beautiful. A whole red apple is half-scooped out. The bits of apple are tossed with shredded green mango, coriander, raisins etc and refilled into the apple. A piquant dressing does wonders to bring out the flavour and sweetness of the apple.
The Tiger Prawn & Fruit Salad is more common fare though, with poached prawns and chopped fruit - kiwi, grapes, pear - served with a mayonnaise dressing given a kick from the addition of pureed mango.
This mango mayonnaise is also offered with the Tempura Mushrooms (oyster and enoki served with shredded carrots and salad leaves. Two other fusion items that are of japanese influence are the Vegetarian Rainbow Sushi and the Tempura Prawn & Vegetable. MBF is ecstatic over the sushi. These vegetable maki consists of red and white cabbage, kalian and carrot rolled tightly with seaweed and sliced in chunks. These are then deepfried.
The texture of the various vegetables are what makes these exceptionally enjoyable and far better than the Tempura Prawn and Vegetable For the latter, prawns, kangkung and enoki mushrooms are deepfried and served with tangy kerabu sauce. I prefer the variety of the Village Seafood Treasure Set, comprising a smaller serving of the Tiger Prawn Fruit Salad with a cup of marinated jellyfish and a deepfried soft-shell crab sitting on a salad. The jellyfish is well marinated and has a final sprinkle of sesame seeds to give it a nutty flavour. And soft-shell crabs are just the thing for those not bothered with troublesome shells.
If you like mussels, the NZ mussels are a treat, steamed simply with a topping of vinaigrette with chopped onions, garlic and tomato. "These are quite a favourite with customers who've tried it," says Tang.
For something more local, the Garoupa Fish in Two Style offers two flavours with one fish. One half of the garoupa is filleted and deepfried in batter. This is topped with shredded mango kerabu. Lovely but watch out for the chili padi. The other half of the fish with bones intact, is cooked in a thick assam curry sauce. Here, one gets one single note of tanginess running through both themes, each complementing the other.
Also worth making the trip for is the Garlic Prawn on Bird's Nest. Clinging to the prawns is a thick sauce with browned garlic slices which may prove to be a tad strong for some.
These fusion items will be offered on the restaurant menu on a weekly promotion basis though they will be featured with more regularity on the menu of the newest Penang Village branch which will open at the Matic in Jalan Ampang in October.