Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Soup of Champions, Farlim, Air Itam

The synonymity of Assam Laksa and Penang is under critical threat. Serious laksa aficionados will tell you that the true art of laksa-making is on the decline on the island. Previous haunts for the best laksa, ie. Penang Road, Gurney Drive, Gottlieb Road, are faltering, no longer quite cutting local laksa tastebuds, trained and brought up on only the best.

A smattering of the good ones remain. Shell Station laksa in Farlim, Air Itam is one of them.

For me, the merit of the laksa lies heavily on whether kembung (mackerel), the original type of fish for assam laksa or sardine fish, the latter-day, more convenient substitute, is used.

Shell Station is a kembung purist, and you really don't find too many of those around anymore.

A standard bowl of Shell Station laksa comes with sliced fish balls, which I can frankly do without. However, the soup, thick and mysteriously murky, implores urgently and quietens the cynic in me immediately, commanding a downpour of sweat and island-style humility.

Unlike the traditional recipe calling for the fish to be flaked, Shell Station's laksa merely debones its kembung whole and leaves the flesh of the meat and skin intact. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I don't mind it as much, even though I decide that I still prefer mine flaked.

Crispy spring rolls, great for dipping into the soup of champions.

While Farlim is outside my comfort zone on the island, it's great to know we can still come back here for the real thing. It is located on Medan Angsana 4, in a more functional lot in the Farlim Business Square, having moved from its namesake's location some time back.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Taro terror!

My recent revisit of fish meat beehoon in Penang has made me hanker for more. I'd completely disregarded this soupy delicacy for many years - I'd shut it out during my parents' glory days of relentless eating, when they'd pretty much insisted on it five days a week for breakfast.

Now that no one is feeding me it against my steely teenaged will, my interest in this has been revived and I am hell-bent on OD'ing on it all on my own. What better place to begin than the illustrious waterfront mecca of bountiful breakfasts, Gurney Drive?

Public Cafe, still standing the test of time, despite being the clear underdog next to the eminent Song River.

The stall features a rather extensive menu around its array of fresh seafood, including claypot oyster noodles and fried fish head beehoon but we stay focused.

In the mornings, only freshly brewed Chinese tea is available as the kopitiam doesn't operate until around 11AM.

First up is the evergreen standard fish meat beehoon, comes in a claypot, more than enough to serve two. It is teeming with fresh fish meat, and tons of greens, and a sprinkling of chopped bird's eye chilli is all that's needed to add extra seasoning.

There is none of that much-maligned smell of the sea in this; it's extremely subtle, yet gratifying at the same time. What have I been doing, keeping myself away from this?!

The second version of the day, however, overwhelms even further. The addition of taro (or yam, both names equally fitting for this utterly enticing root), minced meat and stalks of spring onion elevates it to a different league of breakfast noodles altogether. I am remorseful that I have spent the last ten odd years stubbornly refusing this subdued yet profound meal, but I quickly forgive myself, for the only way to correct wrongful (self) deprivation is to over-compensate and make up for lost time.

So it is with this that we springboard into the domain of more fish meat beehoon finds! Recommendations most welcome!

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Young and the Rested, Frames, TTDI Plaza

We were celebrating youth, or the process of departure from youth anyway. Young Jonathan was turning a year older, and Frames in TTDI Plaza was where we would solemnly observe this occasion.

The interior was standard cafe - clean, sleek, fuss-free, with an inordinate number of Ikea photo frames, either blank or filled with random pictures of anything at all. I think they could do a lot more thought with the stuff that goes into the frames. Rather than pretty stock pictures that don't actually mean anything at all, they could choose to make a statement about picture frames and what compels one to frame a memory, a visual.

Janice's Mushroom Mascarpone, one of the novel pasta dishes on the menu. She found the inclusion of whole walnuts a tad askew. I had a taste, and I'd be keen to try it again, with a different kind of pasta (the staff informed me that they also do penne or ribbons).

A few ordered the recommended Pasta Diablo, a spicy seafood & olive oil sort of mash up. Probably a safe choice, because really, how hard would it be to get this right?

My Mushroom soup came was just the right balance of stodge, the amount of cream comfortably scraping my ceiling tolerance of dairy. The three slices of paper thin garlic bread that were served with it made sure my resistance of carbs stayed on the right side of half-hearted.

I also had the Balsamic Chicken salad another of Frames' recommended highlights. It was robust although I did find the balsamic somewhat overpowering towards the end, and could have definitely done with more leaves.

The eyecatching Mushroom Parmigiana, not quite your ordinary sandwich. The hefty amount of cheese heaped on top of the grilled mushrooms sealed the deal, and the bulk of the concoction requires critical decision-making on how to attack and savour it in its entirety.


Meal-owner whined a little about the bottom part of the sandwich not being toasted on both sides, rendering it soggy from the weight of the filling. But other than that, it appeared to have fulfilled his masculine meal quota!

Sick member of the party settled for Oxtail Soup. Have no idea how it tasted, I didn't ask because he was quite huffy about this whole photo-taking of food business.

Jon knew the owner, and by association, we got free lekor on the house! Fresh from my neighbourhood lekor sojoun, I dug in, and wasn't disappointed by the crunchy thin version served here.
The ever-youthful birthday boy shared a tender, inspiring personal nugget on young love. I can't speak for the rest but I can only dream of being as patient and as unadulterated when it comes the mighty affairs of the heart. The boy may be young but has a soul that's curiously cultivated.

Hope it was a grand one, Jon!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Colour me Thai, Amarin at Mid Valley

We gathered at Amarin in Mid Valley Megamall on a Monday evening, a rah-rah session for a pair of friends about to embark on an exciting business pitch the following day. I'd barely survived the catastrophe of starting the working week still shattered from the weekend so if there was a colour to ascribe my disposition as I walked over from the office, it'd be BLACK.

I'd never been here and was pleasantly surprised by the interior as soon as I entered; it felt like I'd exited the strain and sensibilities of the mall. Warmly lit, the space oozed soothing hospitality. The place reminded me of an eyeshadow powder palette, with fresh roses in cornsilk yellow, Amaranth pink and sunset peach.

We started with Mieng Kam, a platter offering a delectable burst of Earthy tones, disparate distinct flavours for wrapping in a betel leaf. Mel's shock of a pink nail colour (OPI's I'm India-a Mood for Love) dives right in for added spunk.

The Heavenly Thai appetizer platter is reassuringly Golden, with no excess grease yet the parcels, tofu and fish cakes were moist and stayed crisp even for the late-comer.

The Geang Keaw Wan Gai (Green curry chicken) was a solid concoction of Milky Green coating profuse chunks of chicken breast and eggplant. I would've preferred the use of thigh meat, like these guys here but really, not something I can hold against Amarin.

Do-good Green - the kind that puts our mind at ease for the evening, that says we're doing right by our bodies.

The Tofu Song Krean is a Mechanical Brown, for an admittedly predictable dish. Good as a non-extravagant filler, but not much else.

The real shade of Thai however is the shade of Tom Yam Talay (Seafood), the Red of Sin, of fire and angst, of rapture and joy, the red of Agyness Dean's lips.

Does Amarin's deliver? It's hard to say. The seafood, especially the prawns, were handsome but I've honestly had better. Amarin's tomyam had a tinge of sweetness to it, and the spice factor was extremely conservative, both of which I associate with cowardice and faint-heartedness.

But by no means let that put you off. With the service and the price thrown in (came out to less than RM30 per pax, with HSBC discount for a hearty dinner), the ultimate shade of the evening was Success. The result of Jen and Mel's business pitch the following day proved as much!

All the best to them for whatever comes next!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Fashion, a Satellite endeavour?

I love food and I love fashion. Of late, fashion has been offering food for thought. Or was it food, fodder for fashion?

We trump not very few places for the food we have on offer but what about our everyday sense of fashion? Most would lament that Malaysian street fashion has very little to offer, and close to zero chance of ever making it pass great street fashion hounds like Sartorialist or Pike/Pine or Street Peeper. Our friendly neighbours Bangkok and Jakarta make appearances sometimes, even pragmatic Singapore's street fashion gets a bit more attention than we do. I'm always first to join the chorus that we have absolutely no dress sense and take absolutely no pride in the way we choose to present ourselves to the world (I still am guilty of this non-criminal but still heinous crime, injurious to not a whole lot other than my own personal sense of self).

But having spent some time checking my surroundings out, I feel that some attention is warranted. Earlier this year, when Memo (the original After Giovanni founder) returned home for her annual food pilgrimage, we discussed the merit of being better dressed vis-a-vis our gregarious love for food, and two questions linger:
  • Sure we may never get to play around with seasonal layers as seen on the streets elsewhere but certainly there's room for a climate-appropriate fashion uplift in Malaysia?
  • The established street fashion sites mentioned above are great and I continue to visit them religiously but where are the average-looking street people, those who look like they actually consume food? Do they actually exist, or are they always extraordinarily gorgeous and super skinny? Let's face it, without getting into a post-feminist rant, skinny is a dominant fashion prerequisite. Can food and fashion ever cross paths in unison? Could we attempt to handle the bipolarity in a blog?
First the food...

Satellite chicken rice, Jalan Gasing - no introduction necessary. We ventured out of our unfortunate mall work location for lunch one day and the Boss brought us to this old joint, rickety and forlorn, next to the bigger, brighter, busier and spankier famous chicken rice outlet. We like our underdogs and to prove it, we order the works. My pick of breast meat was tender as thigh, the pork balls with coarser texture, but just as delightful.

Now, the fashion...

Once I started looking, I find striking out from the monotone of everyday working life and the business of merely existing, a dash of inspiration here and there in the way the average Malaysian (i.e. not the non-fashion model/celebutante variety) clothe themselves.

To start with, I simply looked around my workplace.
Erna (left) does wraparound art - a skirt featuring the famous Hokusai painting, Behind the Great Wave at Kanagawa from Stanley Market, HK. Eevon (right) rocks Electric blue, Topshop top and Vincci patent flats. And both of them have very healthy appetites!
The most wearable, most ready-to-wear and most pedestrian items can be matched with a personality to add a little pizzazz to our quotidian landscape... really keen to capture more of it, alongside the more popular, super-sensationalized food that this country offers.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Lekor lovin' in Taman Desa

It's the weekend once again, and guess what?! It's time to take a break from trying and failing miserably to be good and abstain from the evils of grease! That can only mean one thing for tea... keropok lekor!

The weather has not been too kind to the makeshift food stalls that sprout up around the Taman Desa neighbourhood at all hours. The colourful brolly under which they efficiently operate can only endure so much of the erratic rainy season.

Thankfully, the industrious adik-adiks who run the lekor stall by the Shell station persevere, waiting for the glimmer of a break to continue diligently whipping up freshly fried goodies. The stall is situated on one side of the Shell station, across the road from Danau Business Centre, which houses the very serviceable Sri Kota supermarket, the lovely Paradiso and my favourite 100 Yen outlet.

For perspective...

RM2 gets you approximately 10 pieces in a brown paper bag - a mix of the crispy thin and chewy fat ones.

Hello, Momma!

Extra of the watery sweetish chilli sauce is a non-negotiable!

Weekends aside, I am letting myself go waayyyy too often. Must. Get. Back. To. Healthy. Such a long way back, pffffbttt!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

We like pasta, we like wine!

Saturday PM: Seeking good Companion, Carbs and plenty of Cheers!

Michaelangelos' at Solaris Mont Kiara fit the bill. It started to pour just as we were settling into our very comfortable seats in Bar M. Nothing heightens the whole experience of dusk quite like rain and the certainty of your butt planted somewhere warm and dry!

We start with a bottle of the very easy to drink Placido 2007 Pinot Grigio. We slip effortlessly into the pour-drink-yak rhythm. We discuss how nice the wine is to drink, friends and lovers, encounters and departures, how nice the wine really is to drink, the merit of artificially straightened hair, employment and establishment...

NizFiz, the royal couple, visibly excited about the prospect of finally ordering food

...this wine really is ever so nice, how lucky we are to have good companions as each other, and before we knew it, we were primed for the second bottle. While we did that, we also decided to tick off the final element to round up this lovely evening... gimme the nourishment!

Fiz's Mushroom & Chicken soup... quite ordinary I felt.

Ooh, Healthy returns to haunt me...

Pizza Romano - Niz can always be counted on to order the guilt-equalizer meal.

MS has Linguine Con Vongole; I had a taste and it was light and enjoyable, the linguine offering plenty of bite.

My Pollo Alla Cacciatore (Roasted chicken leg with spaghetti) minus the mozzarella was really a tepid choice. The chicken leg was well-seasoned and tender enough, coated with a rich tomato-based sauce but the accompanying pasta was dull as Play-Doh.

I probably should've just stuck to wine alone and carried on yakking. Food's not exactly the highlight here but I'd still come back for a drink, service superb with company sublime.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In pursuit of healthier living, starting at Bagel N Coffee Station

Sunday AM: In need of greasy, fry-up breakfast to counter effects of last night's pinot grigio. At 9.15AM, Jarrod & Rawlins still shows no sign of life so we proceed to try our luck at Hartamas Shopping Centre.

Fry-ups elusive here too. Does F&B retail mean you start no earlier than the regular mall o'clock of ten to ten? Thankfully, Bagel 'N' Coffee station stands open, bright, cheery and welcoming. Bagels were probably the last thing we had in mind this morning but we decide it'll have to do and step right in. Bagels can't be choosers, right? HA HA HA! Sorry, Sundays are lamecheck-o-meter's days off.

The interior is standard contemporary cafe - liberal use of the warm colour palette, cosy lighting. Air conditioning could do with a service though.

We struggle initially with the menu as the guy who served us basically shoved us the Combo deal menu they had without letting on that there was another menu listing the various fillings that made up either a Super, Deluxe or Premium bagel.

The coffee arrives within minutes, two big steaming mugs. The quaintest thing - coffee comes with a handful of peanuts (salted) and a piece Dairy Milk. We think it's a little strange but we're charmed nevertheless. Biscottis in bulk probably aren't cutting the budget sheets these days.

MS' glorious ode to dairy - Parmesan bagel. Cream cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto and parmesan. I wouldn't touch it, but can understand how lactose nuts would quiver in ecstasy at the sight of this.

MS says it's good, very very good.

I go for the more predictable Classic New York - hold the cream cheese, double up on the horseradish, smoked salmon, cucumber, lettuce, tomatoes and onion.

I am very impressed. Bagels are tricky things - they have to be harder in consistency, but they can't afford to be too hard. This one is lightly toasted with generous, fresh and crisp fillings. A far cry from bacon and eggs but this really puts the whole new health regimen I keep putting off into plausible perspective. That's it, I start tomorrow! Whee!

Bagels here also come with a side of coleslaw each - I love it when I start off the day judiciously ticking off my 3+2 quota! My insides are thanking me profusely for not having found the fry-up.

You can also enjoy a short video about the bagel's origins looped on a TV screen propped up in one corner. I didn't pay it any attention until I finished my bagel and found it quite informative and amusing!

I really hope this place sticks around. It's tough going with the choices available in KL and at this type of pricing (each combo set of Deluxe bagel + coffee is about RM19.90), it's hard to not think about what else you could feed on elsewhere.

Thanks for shouting brekkie, MS! Hope you had fun at the races!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Carbo-happy, Mak Koh, Bangsar Baru

When you've had your fill of Happy Hour beer in the dai-chow desert of Bangsar Baru, and you're craving for nothing but lard-laced carbs, who do you turn to?

Mel ponders over late afternoon draught Tiger in Bangsar, confused... should we risk unpredictable uncle at Tengkat Tong Shin? Head for Thai elsewhere? So many choices, yet all requiring the nasty (and irresponsible) task of getting into our car clearly befuddled. But then someone recalled...

...Restoran Seafood Mak Koh on Telawi 2! Sticks out like a sore thumb among the rows of sleek bars, hideous pubs, first-floor boutiques and overpriced mamaks.

We skipped the impressive menu of typical and premium dai chow dishes and headed straight for where the carbs were at!
Salted Fish Fried Rice for 2, enough to feed 4!
The details - strips of deep fried salted fish, shrimps, fresh lettuce, Chinese sausages. You can tell these were just jumping off the behemoth of the golden wok no more than a minute ago!
KL Hokkien Mee - caramel darkness that oozed warmth, inspiring sobriety. Lard therapy never fails. Jane, however, declared solemnly that this wasn't all that good, for the prominent flavour was still the dark soy sauce and not the requisite balance of flavours for Hokkien Mee. She mentioned something about Setapak. Didn't take notes, too busy shoving it in.

We did good, four of us polishing off everything. Bill was a very manageable RM32 for both, given the neighbourhood. Rendered us sober to take on the dreadry Sunday drive home, the prospect of a full week of work ahead no longer fazing us.