When Penang Village first opened its doors in Desa Sri Hartamas in May 2000, My Best Friend and I counted amongst its regular customers.
Then, the restaurant specialized in Penang hawker-style food in a clean, cosy environment, trying to bring back memories of yesteryear with its black laquered wooden tables and long benches.
There was a certain quaint ambience that spelled serious food without the frills. But the stressful challenge of parking space in that part of KL proved too much and I gave up. Luckily for many of its customers, Penang Village opened two more outlets. MBF and I find the Taman Tun Dr Ismail outlet more accessible as there is ample parking space all round, especially in the evenings.
But after three years, its owner-partners Tonny Leow, Connie Su and Tang Chun Gee, have decided to move on beyond snacks and hawker-style offerings. "After all," says Tonny, "many of our customers are business people who want to entertain clients and you can't do that with hawker food."
For a while now, though it kept its popular Penang favourites like prawn mee, assam laksa, mee siam, char kueh teow etc, Penang Village offers dishes to go with rice.
So one can have lobak, pie tee, kerabu mango, chicken berempah, devil chicken, beef with basil, rendang, assam fish, petai prawns, gulai prawns, claypot tofu, oyster sauce kalian, belacan kangkung, chap chai and even double boiled soup.
Recently, it has updated its menu with new dishes and a seafood promotion from September.
From the new menu, MBF and I tried Nyonya Fish Cake (RM8.90) Kerabu Pomelo BabyCrabs and Kerabu Chicken Nenas (RM8.90 each) - mild dishes all.
The fish cake is unusual. A blend of fish and prawn meat seasoned with curry paste, chopped long beans, kaffir lime leaves and coriander leaves are stuffed into tofu-pok turned inside out.
These are then deepfried to a crisp and served with a lovely plum sauce. As for the kerabu, the latter consists of shredded chicken breast with pineapple cubes, capsicum, onions with a tangy plum sauce.
The pomelo baby crabs though are a show stealer, with whole deepfried baby crabs sitting on a mound of peeled pomelo pulp. The crabs are crunchy enough to be eaten whole though with small children, you might want to watch out for the claws.
According to Tang, the crabs are brought in from Penang. The baby crabs also feature in the Nyonya Seafood Otak-Otak (RM19.90) alongside prawns, mussels and cuttlefish steamed Penang style on a layer of daun kaduk. The otak paste is soft and well balanced in flavours.
But if, like MBF, you think baby crabs too itsy-bitsy and a waste of time, there is the traditional fish fillet otak (RM7.90) or bigger crabs in Soft-shelled Crab with Kerabu Sauce (RM22).
Soft-shelled crabs are perfect for those who like crabs but are not bothered with the work involved. Here, they are battered and deepfried to a crisp so you can just pop them into your mouth without fear. The dish is then topped with shredded mango, dried prawns, sliced lemon grass and bunga kantan and the tangy kerabu sauce is poured over for a salubrious treat.
I love the shredded mango bits with the explosive flavour of kantan and serai that bursts through when you chew on it. Another lazyman's dish is Stir-fried Mantis Meat with Dried Chili (RM14.90).
I've always avoided mantis prawns as these are not easy to shell, unless you've got the hang of a trick to shake it loose. So it's a godsend that the mantis here has been shelled and deepfried with dried chili, kungpo style.
Tang is very proud of his sauces, made with his own recipes; in fact, one can purchase bottles of these for home use or as gifts. Like that in Sotong with Heh Bee Sauce (RM14.90). The sotong is curled up in deepfried batter and then tossed in the dried prawn sauce with curry leaves lending its flavour the dish.
It is the flavour of dried prawns that endears the Lala with Fragrant Chili Sauce (RM12.90) to me. The sauce is thick and clinging which suits the lala (clams) well. Here, the lala have been pre-poached and offered in a half shell - a great idea as there are no unpleasant surprises like closed clam shells filled with mud.
Moreover, it allows the sauce to stick to the clams and one is assured that each clam is topped with chopped onions, garlic, chili padi and serai buoyed by the added flavour of curry leaves and kafir lime leaves.
In fact, I like this more than the NZ Mussels with Nyonya Sauce (RM16) though the meatier mussels offer more bite. With these, the flavour is much more complex with tomato sauce, plum sauce, sweet sauce, bean sauce and chili sauce all vying for honours. NZ mussels are also a feature in the Tomyam Seafood Soup(RM19.90) together with crabs, prawns, sotong and cuttlefish.
Not sure if I like this though as the heady flavours and the chef's slightly strong hand with the salt makes it a little hard to swallow. Still MBF seems to enjoy the hot soup with its sharp, tart taste. I prefer to just pick at the vegetables in it - the button mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and golden mushrooms. If all these prove too spicy for you, let the taste buds take a little rest with Cheesy White Prawn (RM22) where the prawns are coated with a parmesan and milk sauce. Bits of chili padi cling to the sauce, but put these on the side of your plate and you won't burn your tongue.
Another dish that even young children would approve of is the Steamed Seabass with Olive Sauce (RM30), a personal favourite of Connie's. This is a siakap doused generously with a black olive paste and olive oil, the unique flavour of which does wonders for the fish. Not to mention that olive oil is good for your health too. By now, the meat eater in MBF is crying out for something truly solid to chew on and threatening to bite my arm. Thankfully, the answer comes in the Curry Kapitan Chicken (RM12.90) with a generous portion of chicken in a dry sauce that's perfect with steamed white rice.
The curry spices have gone deep into the bite-size pieces of chicken meat to give it flavour. Satiated, MBF and I turn our minds to dessert. Never too keen on sweet stuff. I wanted Gurney Rojak (RM7.90) with the prawn paste Penang-style rojak sauce on freshly cut fruit and cuttlefish with chopped nuts and sesame seed.
Unfortunately, I am outvoted by MBF who's in dire need of something to cool a much-abused tongue. So we find ourselves facing a line-up of bowls filled with mountains of shaved ice topped with a scoop of ice cream - Village Rainbow Ice Kacang (RM5.50), Mango Ice (RM5.90), Honeydew Sago Ice (RM5.90) and Durian Chendol (RM6.90).
We work our way from the milder, but more refreshing flavours of honeydew and mango to ice kacang and durian. The honeydew and mango are deliciously fruity with scooped balls of honeydew and sliced mango fruit. The ice kacang is a colourful offering, with red beans, black and green jelly, sago and a generous drizzle of gula melaka, rose syrup and evaporated milk. Coarsely chopped nuts add a crunch to the texture.
But it is the cendol that captures the imagination. Compared with a certain durian cendol in Malacca, this one is strong on flavour and texture. The chunks of durian made a good contrast with the soft squiggles of pea-flour cendol, the flavour enhanced by the fragrance of gula melaka.
Penang Village is open daily for lunch and dinner as well as for tea-time from 3:30pm - 6:30pm. The restaurant is located at Desa Sri Hartamas, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and in USJ, Subang Jaya.
PENANG VILLAGE (halal)
It may seem only yesterday that you were busy buying food items from the pasar Ramadan near your hourse. Due to the many choices available, you cannot possibly finish everything in one night. Ramadan is also a month for buffet spreads, where restaurants compete to give customers the widest possible array for food to satisfy appetites. If you love buffet, head to the Penang Village Restaurant at Taman Tun Dr Ismail.
Reservations are important as the restaurant expects a full house daily. After all, the buffet, is priced at only RM19.90+ a person. It features more than 30 dishes.
Connie Su, one of the owners, said the response was tremendous last year. So, Penang Village Restaurant is offering a similar buffet this year.
There will be five rotating menus, prepared by another co-owner Tang Chun Gee. He cooks the dishes and supervises the kitchen team to ensure quality. "I also do rounds at other restaurants (in Subang Jaya and Desa Sri Hartamas) to make sure that the quality of the dishes remains high," he said.
The quality that Tang spoke of is reflected greatly in the dishes. They are delicious, with a sharp taste that will satisfy even choosy diners.
For appertisers, try the pomelo with baby crab salad which has a refreshing taste. The pomelo complements the taste of the deep-fried baby crab. The crab is delicious, and you can eat them whole.
If you have a weakness for mango salad, then, don't miss the crispy soft shell crab with kerabu sauce. The crispy crab is served with sliced green mangoes, chilli and onions, with sprinkled dried shrimps. All yummy! Children will love the mantis prawn meat with dried chillies cashew nuts. Sweet and tender, it can be eaten with rice or on its own.
Cheesy baked tiger prawns look very, very cheesy, but taste just right. The grilled salmon with superior soya sauce is sweet and best eaten hot.
If you love the sauce and want to try cooking with them at home, they can be purchased at the counter. For dessert, try a combination of crushed ice, mango paste, evaporated milk and red, green and black tadpole jelly. Fruit lovers can try the Gurney rojak and Nyonya durian cendol.
Penang Village is located at 1 Lorong Rahim Kajai 13, Taman Tun Dr Ismail. For details and reservations, call 03-77260118.
To contact other outlets, call 03-23000268 (Desa Sri Hartamas) and 03-80246828 (Subang Jaya). Otherwise, visit www.penangvillage.com.my.