"Is Miang Kum Thai's answer to our sireh? Mmm..."
After scouting and sampling a string of dismal imitations, I was resigned to relegating Petaling Jaya to the Siamese food drought section. Until a fellow foodie finally pointed me in the right direction - Section 17 it is! My Elephant is located in a quiet corner of the Happy Mansion apartment. The area looks more hawker-centric but drive to the farthest corner and Happy Mansion is quietly tucked there. Its ambiance and décor is understatedly arty yet intimate enough for a romantic soiree. There’s even a section that allows patrons to lounge on beanbags and sit cross-legged on mats thus allowing a more casual and relaxed dining experience.
First to arrive is Miang Kum, which provides fresh kadok leaves (commonly used to wrap Nyonya otak-otak) with a range of ingredients consisting of sliced ginger, lime, peanuts, shallots, cili padi, dried shrimp and grated coconut. It’s all DIY - put the goodies in a leaf, add a dollop of the Thai sweet sauce, wrap and pop it into your mouth. Wait for the hints of sweet, spicy, salty, lemak and tart notes to combine with the peppery Kadok leaf; it’s a mini explosion in the mouth. A perfect introduction to the intense flavours of Thailand indeed!
Instead of the usual Tomyam, we opted for the Tom Sum with fish. It’s a clear soup that is wallop-packed with flavour! The first thing that caught my eye was the cooked starfruit slices. How strange to have it as a main instead of after meals! The soup is chockfull with fish, mushrooms, galangal, lemongrass, tomatoes and coriander. One sip and I was hooked. Tangy from the herbs, flavourful from the myriad fresh stuff that goes in the broth, it’s literally the ‘star’ dish of the night.
"A hangover cure or just plain greedy? "
There was a time when you could only find good pork sausages in certain high-end supermarkets. When Jarrod & Rawlins (a made-in-Malaysia brand) entered our market, they sold not only sausages and other meats in their deli counter, but also prepared cooked meals using the same raw ingredients. For a small charge of RM10, one can select from a wide range of sausages, bacon, pork chops and other meats and request them to cook and serve the meal in their restaurant. The dish is also served with either french fries, mashed potatoes or salad on the side.
Making a decision wasn’t easy but I eventually settled for two varieties – chorizo and dynamite. The chorizo is a pork sausage with a reddish tint that is derived from paprika. I have always liked this sausage as it suits my Asian palate which is a preference for a slightly spicier version as compared to the mellower English Oxford or German sausages. The aptly named dynamite got my attention quite easily, and upon inquiring, I was told that it included bird’s eye chilli (cili padi), hence its name. If you are game to try the dynamite, be warned. Unlike its more sophisticated (but extremely distant) cousin, the wasabi (Japanese horseradish paste), the heat from the bird’s eye chilli lingers on the tongue long after you have swallowed the last bit of sausage. Despite that, masochist or not, the dynamite is a delicious alternative. Also available are lamb & cranberry sausages, pork & herb sausages and pork basic bangers. If you don’t care much for sausages, you can opt for cuts which include lamb chops, pork chops and steaks at prices ranging from RM3.50 to RM11.80 per 100grams.
"The pork chop gets a thumbs up"
Enter the Dragon...
The first restaurant in Cititel Hotel Midvalley still remains the most popular churning out the best Shanghainese chow between all the chains. The restaurant exudes a minimalist and almost zen-like ambience with soft lighting and majestic terracotta statues, giving a cool and subtle ambience for diners. Another tip - get here early! Due to its popularity and proximity to hungry shoppers, it makes more sense to come early than wait in line with growling tummies for a table to vacate during peak hours.
We started the meal with a typical Shanghainese cold dish – Bamboo Shoots sautéed with soya sauce. Unlike the canned version, these smaller shoots looked fresher and more appetizing with the dark glaze of soy sauce. It tasted salty and sweet with a nice crunch that made it delectable – a great starter to whet our appetites for what’s to come. Next to arrive was the Honey Glazed Smoked Duck Breast served with Flour Pancake. It’s distinctly different from its more famous cousin, the Peking duck, but yummy in its own right. The meat is succulent with a hint of gorgeous duck fat and honey sweetness while the pancake is floury and moist. Here's an eating tip. Top yours with fried crispy bean curd skin and some thinly sliced cucumbers, taomiu and sweet water chestnuts. Then, eat it like a sandwich and savour the combined flavours of the vegetables, duck breast, crunchy bean curd with a sinful layer of fat and sweet marinade, all rolled into one. Simply divine!
"The fusion dragon looks and tastes amazing"
First, you see a green neon light and a dark lit place. Then you start wondering is this a pub or a restaurant? As you get closer to the Sushi Groove sign, it will give you the impression that it is such a funky place that you wouldn’t mind trying it out. We walked in with no expectations of how the food would taste like because we were so caught up by the restaurants’ setting: the interior with dark green lights, green plates, green chopsticks, green cups, green sauce dish. Lucky there were no little green people serving us.
The menu gives you a lot of choices with names like Kinky QQ and Flying Geisha. We weren’t too sure on trying those but it rolls off the tongue so cheekily that we can’t help making jokes about it. Later we found out that it’s just a glorified name for tuna rolls or salmon rolls. The younger crowd of course would love this. Since there are so many dishes to choose from and your brain has suddenly switched to “I’m on Planet Green” mode, for first timers take 5 minutes to peruse the menu.
On the cards today are the traditional miso soup, the seaweed salad and Tokyo crispy mushroom omelette for starters. It’s a good deal. All the starters are good. Light but still tasty. The pickled ginger is nice and tasted like “jeruk asam” that you can eat it by itself while waiting for the main dishes. Box sets are served with rice, miso soup and salad. We tried the tempura with beef teriyaki set but unfortunately, we were not too pleased with the outcome. The restaurant did not serve the set with the traditional glutinous rice in most Japanese dishes and the tempura batter was very oily. But we ate on. Our disappointment came to an end when we had fresh salmon sashimi.
"What we like about Gobo"
The key to a good Ramadhan buffet is that there are enough choices of food to make you feel that you have your money’s worth. And yet at the same time, it should not overwhelm the diner. After a day of starvation, a good buffet allows you to peruse leisurely in those final throes of daylight and also arranges the dishes artfully enough to enable easy pickings. Too little food, you get a stampede on you hands, too much and you have wastage as exhausted diners end up sticking to their usual dishes.
Gobo Chit Chat at Traders Hotel has the formula right. We already think they have a pretty groovy dining area with just the right amount of illumination and stations. So as an added bonus, they have a good sized buffet here arranged in a free flow manner that makes you excited and willing to try at least 70% of what’s on offer. The chef emphasises that the focus of this buffet is on quality of the food. We have to agree, seafood here is fresh and noodles are made on order.
At Gobo they have the usual array of Malay dishes like nasi tomato and rending tok (all commendable). There is also a nice juicy lamb resting in a roasting pan and a pan with mixed meats like fried puyuh with roasted onions. They also open up their Thai and Japanese stations. The Thai stations have all manner of fresh salads including a jantung pisang salad, a young mango salad and fresh leaves and shoots intermingled with tart things like sour limes and coriander. The Japanese side offers fresh sushi rolls in a myriad of colours and glistening sashimis kept cold on beds of ice. What we like about Gobo’s buffet is that they go all out on condiments. There is a wide selection of sambal belacan, chutneys, pickles (an entire row), crackers and nibbles to add colour to your meal. You can happily go on for a long time muching your way through this. Good thing you have until 10.30pm to do this.
"The rib eye is a mighty mouthful of fat, tender meat"
You have to let it linger... The trademark of a great meal is how it lingers in your head long after dinner napkins are scrunched and tables are cleared. Days after the memorable lunch at Prime, I am still thinking about those steaks, charred and caramelised on the outside, tender and red on the inside like a maiden’s kiss. You can cut the meat with a fork. There is something primal when faced with a good slab of beef whether hugged by glistening fat or riddled with veins like Grecian marble or; completely alone and proud on the plate for filet mignon lovers.
In recent years more and more people have become aware of steaks. Not just the kind steakhouses dollop on your plate swimming in gravy but the kind where quality of the meat transcends any need for liquid reinforcements. I confess I like my steak bloody. Rare on the inside, sunburnt on the outside although I hardly dare to order it that way in fear of suspect meat. I also like my steak 'as it is' with no gravies just the inside quietly sizzling in its own juices. Perhaps with a side of mash and greens. I like the intimate taste of meat squeaking between my teeth without gravy getting in between us. Which brings me to the point that in Malaysia, there are two camps of steak eaters. Those who like their meat like me (au natural), and those who like it with gravy. This is not a bad thing. Our food culture thrives on gravy to add spices and depth to our rice and noodles. But folks if you came to Prime, try having it the cowboy way because the cuts and quality of beef here is fantastic...
"Forget the sweet milk, you can just eat this on its own"
The Buntong Apom Lady's apom is truly magnificent, browned and crisp at the bottom and the middle, a little gooey textured and slightly bubbly like the surface of a delicious edible moon. Now there's a thought, imagine the moon is not made of green cheese but soft, spongy santan infused apom (us Malaysians might get there a little faster).
Anyway, back to the apom lady. Her apom is so good, I sometimes dream of it on nights when all that can cure hunger pangs is something sourish and sweetish at the same time all realised in a cunning pancake shape. All you want to do when her apom arrives at your table is tear it with your bare hands. Forget the sweet milk, you can just eat this on its own. You can also get an apom telur, where an egg is broken in the middle and served sunny side up. The yolk swims with the santan when it arrives at your table.
And then... there's the pani aram. It's irresistable dubbed baby apoms because it's made from similar ingredients. However it resembles a Malay 'kuih cara' in shape- round discs of browned goodness, it's so scrumptious you can finish an entire plate before you can say 'apom lagi!' The taste of this is a little dense with sweetness of the santan coming through. Imagine it rather like an apom bud, closed and retaining all the intense flavour before flowering into the crisp full grown apom. Pani arams are best eaten with her mighty coconut chutney. All made fresh in the morning. Also crispy and wholesome are her toseis. It's fantastic when you have it with her array of chutneys.