My mum was an exceptional cook, being a Penang Nyonya, and I remember well her food, even though she's been gone from us for five-and-a-half years now.
One of these was Salted Fishbone Curry or Kiamhu Kut Gulai. Imagine my delight finding such a curry at Penang Village, a Nyonya restaurant in KL's 'second Bangsar.'
It was curry to drench the senses, nicely lemak with the delicious aroma and subtle taste of salted fish, and crowded with long beans, brinjals and taofoo pok.
There is the finishing touch of raw, sweet pineapple, which brings it all together. Even though there were other dishes to savour, I still came back to this one, so good it was.
My food friend Betty Saw raved about the Chicken Lorbak where you sink your teeth into crisp skin, encountering the moist, flavourful meat, yam and turnip filling inside, lightly touched by five-spice powder, intensified by fried shallots.
There is the Ju Hu Char, the classic recipe refined by the restaurant's executive chefs Jeff Teoh and Tang Chun Gee. It's shredded sengkuang and black mushrooms, with an aromatic topping of deep-fried cuttle-fish strips. It is not served with sambal belacan like the usual Ju Hu Char but wuth a chili garlic dip heightened with the tangy juice of small limes.
The Ju Hu Char comes on a bed of lettuce which you could also use to wrap up the tasty sengkuang filling. They way the sengkuang is done reminds me of the filling for kuih pie-tee. They do make exquisite mouthfuls, touched with the chilli dip.
There was a vegetarian among us for dinner that night and the chefs obligingly served up a dish of preserved radish (chai poh) stir-fried with finely diced flat bean curd (tow kua), long beans, onions and carrot, and roasted peanuts and sesame.
It reminded me of favourite family dish which we called 'lup-lup' and which we would eat with white porridge. It can be a 'dicey' dish to cook - it can turn out dry and unpalatable, but this one was finely done, with a moist, well-balanced turnout. The chefs also do a Leek with Bean curd, if you need more vegetarian variety.
The otak-otak is also a must to try, and though it was not presented steamed in banana leaves, which would be unthinkable among purists, but this one tasted so well even in a foil pack. It had all the expected ingredients, including the all-important daun kadok and limau purut, and a big portion of fish smothered in a custard-like coconut cream, spice and herb mixture.
Our vegetarian friend Mary had "discovered" Penang Village and had savoured one vegetarian dish there - Kerabu mango. It tasted nutty and fragrant - from the crushed roasted peanut and sesame in it, and the chili mixture it is tossed in. There's fresh coriander, and of course serai in it.
Another dish to eat with rice is the Asam Prawns, which are simmered in a special thick sauce derived from a mix of shallots, garlic, turmeric, lengkuas, chili, serai and of course asam.
For an appetizer, the Acar-acar is done well, with still-crunchy vegetables embraced in a moist gravy, with lots of crushed peanuts and sesame to give a further lift in flavour.
If you don't fancy rice, there are the Nyonya noodle dishes such as Asam Laksa, Curry Laksa, Kway teow Th'ng and the inimitable Penang Fried Kway Teow. The first was superb - sour, hot and fragrant enough and generous with fish. It's laksa gravy you would slurp up and ask for more.
There's the no-holds-barred Fried Kway Teow that is fried in lard (as it should be), with some lard crisps. Keep turning over the kway teow with your chopsticks and you encounter bean sprouts. Chinese chives, Chinese sausages, prawns, cockles and well-distributed egg among the noodles. The only flaw was that there was not enough chili in it. But just ask for more chili with your order and they'll happily oblige.
On another visit we finished dinner with Penang rojak, which is a bestseller in this restaurant. We could understand why as the sauce is thick with prawn paste, spicy with chili and fragrant with belacan. There was mostly fruit in the rojak which was exceptional.
As for dessert, try the Bubur Cha Cha which has the perfumed pisang raja in it. The ice Kacang is filled with goodies - small red beans, red kidneys beans, cincau, agar-agar, peanuts and palm fruit, and drenched with rose syrup and gula melaka. It is served with a scope of vanilla ice-cream.
You should check out the special that will be on for two or three weeks, at the display in front of the restaurant.