Monday, August 30, 2010

Sublime spa, So-so food at The Westin Langkawi

The recent company jaunt to Langkawi, while painfully condensed, somehow managed to uplift some heavily sodden spirits.

It helped that we parked ourselves for most of the two days at the very agreeable Westin resort. Before I go on to... uh, showcase a sampling of the fine hotel food within, can I just say that the massages at the Heavenly Spa in the resort are phenomenal? Well worth the $$.

Having rolled out of bed at 4AM to catch first flight out of LCCT, by the time lunch rolled around, I was practically tranquilized by lethargy and in severe need of a pick-me-up. Lunch at Tide, the poolside open-air restaurant had better bloody deliver!

The bread comes in pretty undersized glass bowls but they were stone cold. Is this not Westin? What's it take to heat up a roll, or fifteen?

The prawn cocktail starter was a lot more promising. Freshly crumbed and fried tempura prawns sat daintily on a bed of greens served with pickled ginger, guacamole and a slice of tortilla. Easy enough to applaud.

Main of the day was pan seared sea bass with potatoes, asparagus, lemon butter sauce and mango & pineapple salsa. I felt both sauce and salsa were a tad too commonplace to pair with the distinct taste and texture of the sea bass. Portion could have been bigger too. We were using an awful lot of fuel, what with the early start and all that brainstorming.

Dessert was catastrophic, and did not send us happily back to an afternoon of more neural function. The passionfruit crème brûlée tasted like very pungent cheese gone bad, the cardinal camaralized effect all but missing. The brandy snap wafer could've potentially saved this ending, but having never been a big fan of that sticky sweet dental complication, I left most of mine untouched.

Still, hotel food will be hotel food, so I won't hold it against the resort. The breakfast the next morning was perfectly lovely and the massage that followed, again I stress, sublime! If I do not make it to any of the coveted travel locations before the end of the year, I am booking myself a week here!

The Westin Langkawi Resort & Spa
Jalan Pantai Dato Syed Omar

Sunday, August 15, 2010

An Unfinished Ritual, Mai Ramen at Jaya One

To me, rituals often present themselves as a bunch of obligatory chores which have been put to reinforce some expired logic from the past.

Recently, however, I joined a choir singing a different tune. Having concluded that we were constipated by a whole host of soul-sapping habits, a few friends and I decided to create a new ritual of purging. The idea was we would make handwritten personal lists of the nasty forces we'd foolishly allowed to infiltrate our little lives, recite them to one another as some sort of a poetic and serious pledge and then conclude by burning lists in a bonfire (or well, in the interest of containing the threat of open burning, a scaled down version in a Milo tin).

So this one afternoon, huddled over bottles of prosecco, we scrutinised and dissected our lists in great detail. Before long, our wills to rid ourselves of these ill compulsions and elements were fortified by ridiculously optimistic cheer and approval. The bubbles helped too, of course.

Alas, before the fiery finale, we decided to make a quick dinner pit stop, which led to unfortunate truncated proceedings.

Mai Ramen, brand new at Jaya One replacing Simply Fusion, called out to us as we stumbled a little, trying to find our footing at dusk after all that unfeigned motivation. I had been hankering for a robust bowl of ramen for weeks now and with all that alcohol swirling around in us, we were hardly in the state of mind to trouble ourselves with options. Makes sense that a recurring item on our lists of things to eradicate is the abuse of alcohol to solve all of life's most trivial problems.

I immediately called loudly the Buta Kakuni (Braised pork belly) Ramen. Ever since my sister Mag inducted me to the lavish flavour of this dish which takes days to prepare, I have not been able to look at another pork dish the same again.

All ramen dishes share the same tonkotsu broth, thick, milky white, not as common as the clear shoyu ones available in other local ramen joints. I had expected the soup to be heady and overly salty, similar to the leanings of Tokyo ramen bars but was pleasantly surprised to find it a milder version.

The Jikasei Chasyu (Homemade barbequed pork) Ramen got the same enthusiastic reception. Check out that accompanying half of a bona fide Shoyu Tamago done right - moist, slightly underdone, creamy yolk, yes!

The Tamanegi no Takana Ramen with spicy vegetables - not entirely vegetarian given the broth but my selective vegetarian friend enjoyed it to the last slurp.

The ramen used here isn't the standard, slightly curly yellow noodles but a thinner, straighter version in pale off-white. I still prefer the thicker bite of the former but this still makes a pretty luscious bowl of noodles.

Mai Ramen's main courses come with the set option which includes 3 pieces of Gyoza, a side salad and tea. We enjoyed the Gyoza thoroughly - medium thickness of the skin, right dollop of meat & chive stuffing dipped in vinegar dressing.

The let-down of the meal would be the Soft Shell Crab Okonomiyaki, which was a soft, doughy, nondescript mess. I've long established that I am no fan of okonomiyaki so an inferior execution would do it even less justice, even when it comes topped with a whole soft shell crab.

Perhaps the highly gratifying meal interjected my ritual logic for when it came for time for us to resume the final step, I declined. I reasoned that I needed to keep my handwritten list to remind myself what I was letting go, although in hindsight, I was simply too drunk and too tired to bother with the Milo tin inferno.

But no matter, the unfinished ritual was truly liberating and the source of interruption, deliciously comforting. Meal was very reasonably priced too, about RM90.

Mai Ramen

Block C, Ground Floor
Jaya One

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Romancing Taiping

To most, Taiping is this quaint little sleepy town in middle Malaysia with lovely green lungs but to me, it is a romantic birthmark of sorts.

My parents met, courted and fell in love here under trying circumstances and if their current seasoned-couple disposition is anything to go by, Taiping mined enduring love and passion, apart from tin in its heydays.

We chanced upon Taiping Ho Chiak when in the vicinity for the SS2 branch of Super Kitchen Pan Mee last year.

I had surrendered to the fact that you can't force an appetite when dogged by a nasty sick bug clogging up the respiratory system, until this ill-timed meal to which a kind and generous cavalier had whisked me away from a pounding work-addled weekend. We arrived around 2PM so the place was fairly empty. All the better. Wouldn't have been able to stomach crowds or queues, which were evident when we checked it out last year.

Got down to the business of ordering. First things first, Sambal Petai Prawn. The serving was larger than life and upon arrival, we looked at each other "uh-oh we're in trouble!" The stinking beans were abundant, laced in pungent sambal perfume that couldn't escape even nasal blockage. Forget durians, I could sleep in this stuff!

The Kerabu Paku was graciously green and crunchy - the love-or-hate cincalok flavour was mild, and I would've suspected the nasty bug at work again had he vetoed the presence of it altogether.

The Assam Fish arrived a staggering portion, increasing the panic in us of the collision ahead with unconsciousness. The gravy was caked with spices and flavour and even though the carb police in us called for back up, we couldn't resist ordering an extra serving of rice.

The Hainanese Pork Chop arrived last and thankfully, was not too daunting in size. The battered pork cutlet added metal to the meal but we cringed at the crippling use of MSG in the gravy. Not ordering this again.

The bill came up to a square RM100 for two. And a sullen, sluggish afternoon to boot. The menu also features more sensible single portions of noodles and such, a better option if you're not planning to sleep off the rest of your weekend.

If romance is on the cards, I'd say Taiping the town would serve to invoke the tenderness of simplicity but failing that, the gallantry of the food here might work too.

Taiping Ho Chiak
28, Jalan SS2/10
Petaling Jaya
(Chow Yang, same row as Super Kitchen and Nasi Kandar Kayu)