Penang fare after midnight

Published on page 14 of the Weekend section of The Star in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
June 28, 2003

Penang Inn offers more than the swaying palm trees and hawker fare conjured up by its name.

Tucked away in a trendy corner of Jalan Sultan Ismail, the restaurant’s cool decor and serene ambience offers some respite from the heat and energy of KL’s clubs. In fact, its operating hours are tailored to hungry clubbers in search of some tasty grub.

Not only can you expect hearty favourites from the Pearl of the Orient, but also such delights as nasi bojari or Indonesian coloured rice with assam prawns, beef rendang, and deep fried chicken, as well as a selection of popular Chinese and continental dishes that will please children and the less adventurous.

We whetted our appetites with glasses of fresh mango juice, rich with succulent mango flesh and without the saccharine sweetness one might expect.

Hainanese Steam Chicken rice followed. While the chicken was fairly ordinary, the rice was excellent and complemented not only the chicken but also several other dishes wonderfully.

According to the restaurant’s head chef, Penangite She Kam Cheong, the chicken came from the famed Bukit Mertajam foothills, known for its lean fowls, ensuring that even the most health-conscious would be satisfied.

A must-try is the Otak-otak, which is deliciously moist and juicy. The dish is grilled instead of steamed, leaving it lightly crisp on the outside and moist on the inside.

According to Chef She, steaming makes the traditional Nyonya dish too soft, whereas grilling brings out the flavour and gives it a unique texture.

Penang Inn also gives an unusual spin to butter prawns. Chef She makes them more buttery than usual and ditches the deep-fried sweet shredded coconut for a more savoury taste.

For those who prefer more kick in their food, there is the Beef Rendang, or alternately, the robust Lamb Rendang. Also try the Sambal Ikan Bilis (spicy deep-fried anchovies) – the dish packs some punch and is delightfully crunchy, with fried onions for extra crispness.

Meanwhile, the Pan-fried Beancurd Cubes, a concoction of fried beancurd mixed with prawn paste and dried scallops and served with bak choy, is ideal for those who prefer less tongue-scorching delicacies.

Of course, no menu touting fine Penang cuisine is complete without Penang Char Kway Teow. The restaurant’s specialty is sweet and slightly less spicy than the usual. Generous helpings of plump prawns and squid topped off this wonderful dish, which drew praise from our table.

Another first-class dish is the Curry Pomfret, bathed in a sauce that is sinfully rich with santan and undoubtledly fattening, but definitely worth that extra half-hour on the treadmill.

For a light distraction from the richness of the main dishes, try the tart and piquant Acar. It is a melange of different aromas and textures with crunchy peanuts and vegetables, and a sweet-and-sour sauce.

Finally, we ended our pleasant meal with a bowl of ice-cold Cendol, served in a pretty glass dolphin bowl, brimming with all kinds of goodies. It had just enough creaminess and sweetness. If cendol is not to your taste, there are a variety of other desserts, from the traditional – Ice Campur (better known as ais kacang), and Banana or Pineapple Fritters with Ice-cream – to all-time favourites like vanilla, strawberry, chocolate or mango ice-cream, or Banana Boat (Penang Inn’s special banana split). Fresh fruit is also available.

Penang Inn’s delightfully diverse menu is the combined effort of Hong Kong-born owner Steve Lee and head chef She, both of whom enjoy the varieties that make up Malaysian cuisine. This abiding love has manifested itself in several successful food and beverage ventures: Lee is a director of the popular Lee Ho Fook Seafood Restaurant and one of the owners of the Banana Leaf chain, with branches in London and Hong Kong.

Chef She, on the other hand, has worked in many restaurants in Penang and around the country, notably in Liberty Restaurant in Penang which specialises in Nyonya cuisine. He was also the executive chef for 11 years at Kukup Gold Resort in Pontian, Johor. His expertise is a result of years of experience, as well as culinary guidance from his Nyonya mother-in-law.

When asked about the secret behind Penang Inn’s simple and enjoyable dishes, Chef She asserted that only the freshest ingredients are use. Realising the needs of busy workers who want a quick and delicious meal without having to resort to greasy fast food, Penang Inn provides free delivery service within a 5 km radius of the restaurant from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Lee added that they hope to add even more variety to the menu, beginning with a selection of Vietnamese dishes. All of Penang Inn’s dishes are pork-free. Penang Inn has four private rooms and even karaoke to cater for every occasion.

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