Saturday, 23 March 2013

Hunanese Cuisine @ Restaurant Xiang Li Place, Damansara Utama

There was a mini gathering with KS friends at the Restaurant Xiang Li Place @ Damansara Utama, which serves some authentic Hunanese cuisine.  I was looking forward to it, not only for the meeting of some new friends, but because I have never tried any Hunanese cuisine.  There were barely any reviews about this place and hence, I didn't have much expectations.  Luckily, the overall experience was not too bad.

The first to arrive is the Pork Ribs with Seaweed Soup.  The soup is quite decent and light although I find the pork flavours are not very intense.  I suspected it could be because the soup had turned cold while we were waiting for some late-comers.  The soup was whitish, which I am not very sure why as it didn't really taste as though milk was added in.

Then, it's the Mao’s Signature Red Braised Pork, which is pork belly braised with potatoes in a spicy sauce.  This dish is very delicious and definitely one of my favourite dishes.

The chunky pork belly is juicy and tender, with the right amount of fattiness that practically melts in your mouth.  Then, of course, are the pan-friend chunks of potatoes that did a very good job in soaking up the nice, spicy sauce, filled with the fragrance of garlic and spring onions.  Although this dish is very hot as you eat, but it is that kind of hot-ness that makes you wanna have more.

Next comes the Spicy Steamed Tilapia Fish, topped with cut chillies and fermented black beans, served with soy sauce.  Overall, the fish is quite fresh but the taste is a bit lacking some saltiness.  It felt as though the fermented beans were not steamed together with the fish, and hence, most of the flavour did not combine into the fish very well.

We also ordered the Signature Bridge Tofu.  The name describes it - steamed minced meat with egg is separated by thinly sliced silky tofu that resembles a bridge over a river.  It looked quite interesting but I find the flavour was a bit bland.  The minced meat was lacking some saltiness and the soy sauce was of little help to bring the flavours out.  But the tofu was nice and smooth.

While visually, this Dry Pot Mushroom Stew looked very bland with not much variety of colours, it is a very nice and flavourful dish.  Definitely made it to our list of favourite dishes.  There were a variety of thinly sliced mushrooms cooked with sliced pork belly and leek, and coated witha sweet gravy.  It is not a hot dish, but just be careful of those tiny, unsuspecting cut chillies.

The next dish which I liked very much is the Stir-fried Beans with Minced Meat.  The name is a bit misleading as I could barely find any beans - mostly minced pork with chopped salted radish and black fungus.  This crunchy dish has a nice sweet and salty taste to it and goes very well with plain rice.  Too bad it came almost towards the end when I had barely any rice left.

The last dish to arrive was the Stir-fried Cauliflower, which is has nothing much to shout about.  As the name suggests, it was only cauliflower and nothing else.  Visually, it was not appetizing and hence, I barely ate it.

Another thing to watch out is the pre-packed sterilized utensils which are charged at RM1 per set - pretty costly to the meal.  So, if you’re unwilling to actually pay for it, do make an effort to request for a set of normal utensils which don't incur extra charges.  I don't think there will be any significant differences in hygiene level.

Overall, Xiang Li Place serves pretty decent food, some memorable while some are just so-so.  Would definitely come back for the braised pork & mushroom pot stew.

Restaurant Xiang Li Place
No 74G & 76G
Jalan SS21/62
Damansara Utama
47400 Petaling Jaya

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Hanoi: Food Guide

Last year, before we set off for a vacation in Hanoi, I went through a lot of travel blogs to find out what are the best Hanoi food to eat and where would be the best places to find them as we wanted to optimize our food-hunting experience given a 2-day period (to be specific, 1 day if we minus all the travelling time).

Luckily, all the nice, delicious food are within walking distance at the Old Quarter.  If you are like us, who don't have a lot of time to spend in Hanoi, but would like to experience the best of the local delicacies, below is the summary of the best of Hanoi. :)

Click on the links below to read more in detail.

1.  Bun Bo
Beef vermicelli noodles with herbs and beef slices, topped with shallots and grounded peanuts, served with beef broth.

2.  Pho Bo
Thin rice noodles with strips of beef served in hearty beef broth.

3.  Bun Cha
Charcoal grilled pork patties with vermicelli noodles and herbs.
Where?  Bun Cha Nem Cua Be Dac Kim @ Duong Thanh Street
(Write-up coming soon.  Only in Hanoi)

4.  Mien Xao Lion
Stir-fried glass noodles cooked with beansprouts and egg, served with crispy fried mini eels and topped with fried shallots, sliced cucumbers and purple perilla.

5.  Banh Cuon
Thin warm rice noodle rolls filled with seasoned ground pork and minced wood-ear mushrooms topped with crispy fried shallots and served with a sweet dipping sauce.

Where:  Banh Cuon Gia Truyen @ Hang Ga Street

6.  Nem Ca
Deep-fried catfish rolled in rice paper served with wasabi dipping sauce in a classy restaurant, popular for its alcoholic experience.

Where:  Highway 4 Restaurant & Bar @ Hang Tre Street

7.  Ca Phe Trung
Vietnamese coffee with raw egg whipped with milk and sugar.

Where:  Coffee with a view at Cafe Pho Co @ Hang Gai Street


Others that we did not have the time to try yet.

Xoi Xeo
Sweet sticky glutinous rice with mung bean paste and fried shallots, topped with egg or meat
Where:  Xoi Yen @ 35b, Nguyen Huu Huan Street

Cha Ca
Grilled fish sauteed in dill, turmeric, shrimp paste and fish sauce, topped with peanuts and green onions
Where:  Cha Ca Tranh Long @ 31, Duong Thanh Street


Now, if you ever feel that you're gonna have a hard time communicating, you don't really have to worry much as most shops only serve one kind of food.  So, all you need is a very good sign language.  Otherwise, just jot down the names of the food and show them (Like what we did).

But if you are visiting Hanoi for a very short time and you want to sample a variety of the Hanoi specialties  then there is a perfect one-stop center.  I haven't been there personally but apparently, it is very popular among both locals and tourists.  It is located south of the Hoen Kiem Lake, so if you are heading back  to the Old Quarters after a visit of the Temple of Literature, it would be a nice place to rest your tired feet.
Where:  Quan An Ngon @ 18 Phon Boi Chau

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Hainanese Lunch @ Gastro Cafe, Subang Jaya

Right after attending my cousin's wedding ceremony at The Saujana Hotel, we set off for a late lunch at Gastro Cafe @ SS15 Subang Jaya.  I always wanted to try this Hainanese place out since it was opened, but I just never had the chance to set foot there.

Me being a huge fan of nasi lemak, I had to order the Nasi Lemak with Halua Chicken (RM 7.80), served with sambal, ikan bilis, egg and stir-fried long beans.  The halua chicken or sweet chicken was a bit over-cooked and hence, a little bit hard, but it was seasoned pretty good.  Eaten together with the sweet and spicy sambal, it was just right.  Plus, they were very generous with my favourite ikan bilis!  The portion is a quite big and worth the price paid.

For KS, he ordered the Gastro Chicken Chop (RM 11.50) served with original Hainanese sauce and a piece of white bread to sweep up the sauce.  The chicken chop was quite succulent but unfortunately, was just soaked in too much sauce, making the crispy outer layer going soggy.  The sauce was a bit bland, and so, didn't make the dish stand out very much.  As compared to the nasi lemak, the portion is a bit smaller but still good enough.

To end, we ordered the cendol as desserts.  The portion was amazingly large and they have put enough gula melaka to sweeten the ice.  The filling were pretty standard - cendol jelly and red beans.  Overall, an enjoyable cooling dessert to end.

Generally, Gastro Cafe is quite a decent place for a quick simple meal at an affordable price.  The service was quite good and quite accommodating to our specific requests to remove peanuts from our servings.

Gastro Cafe
No 4 & 6, Jalan SS15/4B
47500 Subang Jaya

Saturday, 16 March 2013

DIY: Sweet Spicy Chicken

This would be one of the simplest chicken dish that I whipped up in less than 30 minutes, with ingredients readily available in the pantry.

As I was already feeling hungry, I didn't even bother to let it sit in the marinade for at least 30 minutes.  Still, it was still very tasty and fragrant.

First, coat the chicken evenly with the following ingredients for flavour:
Oyster sauce
Light soy sauce
Cili Padi Sauce with Garlic
Brown sugar
Sesame Oil

Then, slowly pan-fry the chicken in medium heat until golden brown and well-cooked.  An alternative is to just pop these chicken into the oven or put them on the grill.

The sugar will give it a nice caramelized taste while the hotness from the chilli sauce really reminds me of my favourite Nando's chicken.  Served with some slices of toasted bread, perfect for a quick but satisfying meal.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Nasi Lemak @ Serai, Life Centre KL

When my colleagues from the regional office visited us in KL, we wanted them to experience the local food.  Madam Kwan’s would automatically be the best choice, but since they have visited that the night before, we brought them to Serai @ Life Centre, Jalan Sultan Ismail instead.

I ordered the Nasi Lemak (RM 16) that comes with ayam goreng berempah, prawn sambal and traditional condiments such as peanuts and ikan bilis served with aromatic coconut rice.

To be honest, I was quite disappointed with Serai’s nasi lemak.  While visually it did look appetizing, it was far from the completely satisfying, delicious mark as it is lacking in many areas.

To start is the ayam goreng berempah.  What I love about this fried chicken is that it is very crispy and beautifully browned on the outside while on the inside, it is still very juicy and tender.  However, the seasonings on the chicken were a bit mild and hence, the chicken tasted quite bland without the help of the prawn sambal.

The nicely seasoned prawn sambal tasted good.  This sweet and mild sambal is more to a tomato-based sauce.  I felt the prawn sambal did a tremendous job in saving the nasi lemak as it is the only thing that made the dish less dry.  Unfortunately, the sambal was just too little – two spoons of it and you can barely see any left.  Imagine how hard I had to ration the sauce so that it is enough to get though the meal.

Then, there is the ikan bilis, which was indeed very crispy but lacking that nice salty fragrance.

To drink, I had the Serai Blended (RM 10.50), which is a lychee ice-blended drink infused with lemongrass extract.  Somehow, the drink was not as good as expected because the lychee and the lemongrass flavour didn't combine very well.  I suspect it was because the lychee didn't stand out much, making it tasted more like a lemongrass drink rather than a lychee and lemongrass drink.

While the experience was not very satisfying, it is still a nice place to introduce local food to foreigners as the flavours are milder and easily accepted by others who are not accustomed to our intense local flavours.  Besides that, the environment is pretty cosy and less crowded, making a good place for a business meal.

G-06, Life Centre
20, Jalan Sultan Ismail
50250 Kuala Lumpur
Tel:  03-21816717

Sunday, 10 March 2013

DIY: Chicken Ham, Mushroom & Cabbage Pasta

Wanting to make a simple and quick dinner, I resorted to cooking a tasty pasta dish with chicken ham, mushrooms and sliced cabbage.  Totally loved the cabbage as it gives so much natural sweetness to the sauce.  To add a bit of peppery taste, I have included some chopped capsicum.

Cooking pasta is really very fast and easy - almost a fool-proof dish.  For some, the fastest way is to just dump all the ingredients into the sauce, let it simmer before adding in the cooked pasta.

However, I usually like to "treat" each ingredient individually first before combining them altogether as this additional step plays a very important role to build up the fragrance and flavour.  For instance, pan-fried the ham until golden brown and sweating the vegetables and mushrooms.  A bit more time consuming though, but I find this an opportunity to clean up the kitchen while waiting.
Chicken ham
Button mushroom
Red capsicum
Tomato-based pasta sauce
Pepper & salt to taste

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Northern Indian cuisine @ Spice of India, The Gardens Mall

I always like Indian food as its complex spicy flavours never fail to blow me away, leaving me wanting more of it.  So, when my birthday was nearing, I quickly suggested to KS to have my birthday meal at Spice of India @ The Gardens Mall just for something different.  Unfortunately, right on the eve of CNY, I came down with a bad coughing that lasted for a couple of weeks and had to postpone it until today to experience this authentic Northern Indian cuisine.

But, it was worth the wait as it was really good, although very pricey as it is a fine-dining.

Coming to an Indian restaurant, it is almost a sin to not order a tandoori dish.  They have a variety of tandoori, from meat to seafood.  We went for the standard Murgh Tandoori (RM 33) or Chicken Tandoori, which is grilled chicken marinated with yogurt and spices served on a sizzling hotplate.  The chicken meat is very tender and juicy, while on the outside, the seasonings are just so flavourful and evenly combined.

For vegetables, we ordered the Baigan Bharta (RM 20) or Eggplant Curry, which is barbecued eggplant that has been mashed before being sauteed with ginger, garlic, tomatoes, onions and spices.  I love this dish very much as it is delicious and bursting with spiciness, with a lovely smokey flavour.  The curry was sweet and not very hot.  On top of that, it's exceptionally tasty when eaten with the naan.

To go with the dishes, we had a basket of Naan (RM 8) and a serving of Plain Briyani Rice (RM 13).  As I am more of a roti person than a rice person, I had more of the naan than the rice.  The naan was quite big, but unfortunately  I wished they had cut it in more evenly sizes for a better presentation.  The rice, on the other hand, was a bit dry for me, but then again, I am no expert of briyani.


For drinks, I ordered a cold Lime Juice (RM 7), which I liked very much as it helped to tackle the spiciness after the meal - the level of acidity was just superb.

As for KS, the Masala Coffee (RM 8) caught his attention and he ordered that.  The spiced coffee is actually coffee brewed with cardamons and cinnamon.  It had a pretty acquired taste and to go with coffee, it did taste a bit strange at first.  The coffee is not very strong and most of the flavour comes mainly from the cardomons.  Think I may need more tries to accept the taste.

Overall, it was a good experience as the quality was not disappointing.  Plus, the service was very quick and polite.  Definitely a nice place for a quiet meal or gathering with friends as the ambiance is cosy.

Spice of India (The Gardens)
Lot T-218, Third Floor
The Gardens Mall
Mid Valley City
Lingkaran Syed Putra
59200 Kuala Lumpur