Monday, December 27, 2010

Penang Road Cafe: New King for Penang Food in Singapore?

Having grown up in Penang, the food...especially street food, has a special place in me...though I have left Penang a long time ago, and have lived in Singapore far longer than I have in Penang. I am always on the lookout for a good enough fascimile of the wonderous food you can find in Penang.

For me, living in Singapore, the best I had come across had been Penang Place in Jurong, and Penang Kitchen at Coronation, which I reviewed here here. They represent what is probably the best in Singpaore, but somehow they fall short of the best that Penang has to offer.

Today's review is a new place I happened on...and to cut the story short, could this be the new gold standard for me in Singapore? Is their standard fare like Penang Char Kway Teow, Penang Hokkien Prawn Mee, Penang Lorbak, Penang Laksa, Penang Rojak better than Penang Place or Penang Kitchen?

The place opened about only a month ago, so pretty new. The menu was small, comprising 8 items - those reviewed here plus a fried rice and variations of the CKT and HKM (more/better ingredients). The interior is simply made up...more like a nice cafeteria than a restaurant. The interior is almost totally hard surfaces, making the place noisy when crowded...reminds me a bit of Ivins.

But on to the food...first, the CKT.

The CKT is quite authentic. Fried with nice wok hei. And using the thin rice noodles, no yellow noodles. Overall, very similar to what my mom cooks up, but with more wok hei.

The chef leaves the taugeh a bit raw, which is excellent. This shows good control of the fire, as well as timing. A good cook needs to establish good a jazz musician, using the recipe only as a guideline. And the prawns, which are absent in Singapore CKT, are fairly sized, succulent, fresh, and crunchy...sweet. Bits of crispy pork lard lace the entire plate...which is rather a large serving as well.

Note the slightly charred parts on the noodles above...crisp, smokey flavours permeate because of the wok hei caused by the very hot wok. However, compared to the best in Penang (goggle lady in Lorong Selamat, and Ah Leng's), I am afraid it falls short by quite a lot. But, as a saving grace, these icons in Penang are the gods of CKT, and for Penang Road Cafe, I would rate theirs probably competitive with the regular market CKT in Penang. This is indeed a great praise. Standards I am comparing to are very high.

What about the other dishes?

The Penang Hokkien Mee.

This is another gem. I think the soup is truly excellent. Comparable to the better ones in Penang even...only slightly shy of the best like the Super HKM. The broth is thick, sweet and savoury all at once, with a lingering crustacean flavour. Very nice. The noodles...always beehoon mixed with yellow noodles are a bit overcooked...and though this is quite normal even in Penang, I would prefer a bit more care and not overcook the noodles. The version served by Penang Kitchen was my former gold standard in Singapore. Penang Road Cafe's now unseats this crown, and is now the new gold standard for me.

Next Penang Laksa.

Unfortunately for me, this does not cut it. The stock and soup is not tasty. Lacks the sour tartness, and the richness of the heyko. Also devoid of the undertones of the fish stock. The noodles are also overcooked and very soft. The seems to be a lack of fish flakes, which adorn the better ones in favourite being the one in Ayer Itam Market. For me, this round goes to Penang Kitchen.

What about the lorbak.

Lorbak...or meat with brown sauce...literally translated. This is like the Singapore ngor hiang (5 flavours), but usually done with less spices. More meaty, and with a delectable thick, brown dipping sauce. This Penang Road Cafe version is served without the lor, but the rolls are very good indeed. The skin, made of dried soy skin is excellent, and rendered very crispy. The meat is nicely marinated and very tasty. Excellent. I wish they served this with a proper lor. But good enough to be my reference standard for lorbak in Singapore...close, but not nearly enough to the Kek Seng Malabar Lorbak...and I would like to also see the heh chee...the deep fried, crispy prawn cake.

And finally the rojak

Another winner. Excellent. I suspect the paste to do the rojak is purchased from Penang. The best stores in Penang often offer the paste to take home and roll your own. The famous one in Gurney Drive is one example...and a favourite of my mom's. The Penang Cafe version is quite similar. The chunks of cucumber, bangkwang, pineapple and very small slices of rehydrated dried squid are all there. I would have preferred better tasting and more generous serving of squid. Also perhaps some of the sour tiny mangoes that are used in Penang. But for me, this version is quite good. Well, good enough.

Overall, this little place has set new standards in Penang food in Singapore. The portions are rather generous, and good value for money. The CKT, HKM, Lorbak set new standards for me for Penang food in Singapore. Very highly recommended.

275 Thomson Road
#01-08 Novena Ville
Singapore 307645
Tel: 62563218
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