While Penang Village in Kuala Lumpur is a place to break fast in with its buffet spread of more than 30 nyonya and local dishes at just RM18++, you would do well to explore it's a la carte menu.
We chanced upon a few good ones - Lam Mee, Kiam Chai Boey, Curry Chiken Kapitan, Heh Bee Sotong, Fried Mee Sua, Chicken Lobak, Ju Hu Char and Fish Maw Soup at its Taman Tun Dr Ismail outlet.
Penang Lam Mee is not like the KL style, which has fat noodles in dark gravy thickened with starch, with chicken and a bit of crabmeat in it.
The nyonya-style one up north is a refined one, served mostly during birthdays, with a wish for longetivity. It sits in a good stock simmered from chicken and enhanced with prawns. Bean sprouts and Chinese chives are served with the thin yellow noodles,and garnished with fresh crabmeat, prawns, fried shallots and fine strips of egg omelette to which a tinge of red colouring would have been added for the celebratory occasion.
All these make up an elaborate dish of noodles which tastes as good as it looks, and it's served with sambal belacan. I was really pleased with the version at the Penang Village. The noodle stock was naturally sweet; I loved the flavour of chives, prawns, chicken and crabmeat in it. And the restaurant serves a sambal worthy of Penang. There was the Heh Bee Sotong, that had squid deepfried lightly so that it was crispy outside, and tender inside, then stirred up with a dry prawn sambal. It offered hot, spicy, crunchy bites, the fragrant, sambal blending well with the sotong.
The Curry Chicken Kapitan in Penang Village is made according to a family recipe, I was told. It had all the right Nyonya nuances, and tasted less rich and coconut, which suited us just fine. The curry is served with lots of fresh basil, which adds a Thai, fragrant dimension to it.
I found out from Chef Raymond Siek how the Fried mee Sua turned out so well. The thin, delicate white noodles are first deepfried, then run throught cold water before being fried with prawns, squid, Chinese chives, shallots and beansprouts. There are layers of texture in these noodles because of the ingredients used to fry it. The prawns gave it sweetness and liked the way Chinese chives were used in the frying, which made the noodles even more flavourful.
Kiam Chai Boey is a Nyonya soup you would typically get at Chinese New Year or any festive occasion. The soup is cooked with chunks of roasted duck, and chicken bones, salted vegetables, kai choy and carrot together with dried chilies and tamarind slices. I had this on a cold and rainy night and I loved it for its hot and sour, smoky duck flavours that clung to the vegetables. The salted vegetables in it gave it a sharp, yet mellow edge.
I enjoyed the Fish Maw Soup, with its stock steeped from kampung chicken, and which also had sea cucumber and bamboo shoots in it. A dash of black vinegar is a great lift of this old-fashioned soup.
It was however a hit and miss thing with the Tomyam Seafood and Otak-Otak. The tomyam tasted a little raw; and somehow the aromas of the various roots and leaves were not quite apparent in this soup. The Otak-otak was lightly hard and overcooked.
The restaurant serves a passable Ju Hu Char - shredded bangkuang stewed with dried cuttlefish strips, chicken, prawns, carrot and Chinese mushrooms - which you should eat with sambal belacan lathered on a fresh lettuce, and wrapped up in it.
Ju Hu Char comes with the Nyonya set lunch that also offers Chicken Lobak, Mango Fish served with steam rice and onion omelette, priced at only RM 9.90. The Chicken Lobak is rather nice - mince chicken is marinated in five fragrant spices and shallots, rolled up in beancurd skin and deepfried.
We savoured Baba Set with the Crispy Tofu, Belacan Chicken Wing and Asam Gulai Fish Fillet. It's fresh siakap fillet in this light asam curry that somehow did not deliver a punch in terms of chili hotness or sourness. In fact we found it a little sweet.
These corporate set lunches which range from the BBQ to Nyonya, Kapitan, Village and Baba are priced at RM9.90 and can be delivered if you are in the Taman Tun Dr Ismail area.
Mention must be made of the Gurney Rojak in this restaurant. It's unripe mango, jambu air, guava, turnip, cucumber, cuttlefish and pineapple, drizzled with a thick, dark, hot and sweet sauce made with prawn paste and chili, and topped with deepfried cuttlefish strips. It's rojak to dig in and enjoy.
As for desserts, save room for a Durian Cendol which is really lovely. The cendol strips burst with pandan flavour, there is a dollop of fresh durian paste that makes it so delicious, meshing in with the thick santan, red beans, gula melaka and shaved ice. You could also go for the Village Rainbow Ice Kacang which is piled high with jelly, sago, palm fruit, dream corn and red beans, and drizzled with red and brown sugar.
Penang Village is also in Desa Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, and in USJ Subang.