From the day they opened Penang Village in Desa Sri Hartamas, KL, Tonny Leow and Connie Su have never looked back. That was in May 2000. Today, the husband and wife team has six restaurants in Malaysia and five outlets in Indonesia.
I remember making all kinds of excuses to detour to Desa Sri Hartamas just so I could drop in for rojak, char kway teow and cendol in Penang Village.
In the last couple of months, two more Penang Village outlets opened in the Klang Valley -- in Berjaya Times Square, KL, and in Tropicana City Mall, PJ. At the outlet in Berjaya Times Square, we are surprised to find a change in the interior decor. No trishaws and dark wooden benches.
Instead, the interior is modern chic and tastefully decorated with soft leather seats in cream hues while on the walls, ceramic bowls, silver sauce bowls and huge aluminium ladles make interesting conversation pieces. The menu too has changed somewhat though the perennial favourites of popular Penang dishes remain.
We start with a Combination Entree (RM14.90 for two persons) with a selection of sliced chicken lorbak, prawns wrapped in crunchy vermicelli, piquant kerabu mango and pandan chicken. This is a good way to sample a few appetisers at the same time.
The boneless pandan chicken is deliciously marinated with shallots, lengkuas and lemongrass.
“We use chicken thigh as breast fillet tends to turn out dry and unpalatable,” says senior chef Putera Othman, 36.
Some customers enjoy a plate of pie tee or Gurney Rojak (RM8.50) as an appetiser though personally, I prefer to think of rojak as dessert as, apart from cubes of cucumber and yambean, it has fruits like green mango, pineapple and air jambu (rose apple) generously topped with Penang-style rojak sauce and deepfried shredded jiu hu (dried sotong).
One can opt for rice with the various dishes available. There are plenty of choices but Penang-born Putera says newer and more popular dishes include Heh-Bee Butter Prawn (RM27.90), Nonya BBQ Chicken (RM17.90) and Two Style Kailan (RM18.90). The butter prawns are differently done at Penang Village where the chefs used dried shrimps in the batter. The addition of curry leaves gives it added aroma.
As for the nonya BBQ Chicken, the deboned chicken fillet is first marinated with a special honey sauce and grilled. One gets a heady aroma when one bites into the sliced garlic in the sauce.
Kailan cooked in two styles is another signature dish. The leaves are shredded and deepfried to a crisp and topped with tiny ikan bilis while the succulent stems are stirfried with big prawns, carrots and ginger. The kailan stems are served in a vermicelli bowl. Lovely way to enjoy a single order of vegetable.
Then there´s Penang Oyster Omelette (RM16.90) or oh chien. It´s cooked with fresh oysters. Doesn´t impress me much but then I´ve been weaned on oh chien dished up by a certain maestro in Carnarvon Street, Penang.
The menu is extensive, covering meat, seafood and vegetables. There is an on-going promotion of garoupa fish at RM38.80. The garoupa is filleted and the flesh sliced into bite-size pieces. The head, skeleton and fins are deepfried to a crisp as a flying fish sculpture but it´s not all for show. By all means tear it apart -- you´ll find it makes good eating.
Weighing 500g each, there is plenty of fish for three to four diners and come with a choice of three sauces. For something spicy, go for the red nonya pineapple sauce. The green assam pineapple sauce is tangy and fruity. But for a really different experience, it has to be the lychee sweet and sour sauce.
I´m no fan of sweet and sour sauce but I must admit the addition of whole lychees does titillate the palate to no end.
Don´t worry if you´re dining alone or just like something simple. There are single orders like Penang Prawn Mee, Asam Laksa and Char Kway Teow (RM9.90).
Servings are ample and three light-eaters can share two comfortably. I enjoy the char kway teow with prawns and cockles thrown in. I appreciated how the egg is not too mashed up either. Extremely shiok! If you want rice, try the Pumpkin Fried Crunchy heh-bee butter prawns Rice (RM12.90). The rice is cooked with small diced pumpkin, carrots, capsicum, longbeans and dried prawns. It´s served on softly steamed pumpkin slices and has a side dish of acar-acar.
For dessert, nothing beats Durian Cendol (RM8.50). The fruity scent of durian is what turns the humble cendol into a gourmet delight.