Monday, January 25, 2010

New Formosa, No, Not In Melaka, But Right Here In PJ

When a restaurant has survived in PJ for 30 years, you know it has to have substance, and you wonder to yourself, "why have I never been here before". But actually, sitting there at New Formosa (Formosa means beautiful island in Portuguese), an unpretentious shoplot in SS2, which houses the other legendary restaurants of yore, I cant help but think I must have been here before.

Nothing warms you more to a restaurant that a gregarious, lovable hostess, who treats you like her own family. Whilst not a believer in Karma, I cannot explain the chemistry between humans, for there are people you meet and like instantly, and conversely, some just creep you right out at the first meeting. Jeanie, the wonderful hostess, falls into the former category, obviously. Again, the invite was via courtesy of Hooi Khaw, and as I've mentioned, an invite by Hooi Khaw is always good. Other fellow diners included Cumi & Ciki, A Whiff of Lemongrass and her husband, The Nomad Gourmand, A Lil fat monkey and friend, and Hooi Khaw.

I thought a few bottles of plonk would not go amiss, afterall, the lunar new year approaches, and it was Friday night.

The myriad colours of yee sang always make me happy. There's something about the communal tossing of salad that gives an air of camaraderie, and fellowship, and really does generate a lot of positive energy. The dish itself was yummy, not too sweet, not too sour, a perfect balance of texture.

I love soup. I have to have soup everyday. And when soup is served individually in these little porcelain pots, it's a happy day. That song rings in my head. It's gonna be a good night. Who sings it ah?

A mini monk jump over the wall, packed with goodness, abalone, scallops, chicken, wolfenberry, dried longan, sea cucumber, pork ribs, yam, ...Oh, Formosa is essentially a Taiwanese food place. Taiwan's old name was Formosa. And of course, we have our own Formosas in Malacca, a Portuguese colony once upon a time. Oh, hangon, is that Famosa? I digress. The explanation was because YAM is a favourite ingredient in Taiwanese food.

The soup, priced at RM36, is a steal!!! Lovely fragrant broth, warming the heart and tummy with homemade goodness.

Very unique. Buttered unagi. And deep fried battered... err....gosh, I have the memory of a goldfish. Anyway, the unagi is very interesting. If you like unagi, then you will definitely like this dish.

Mmmm, one of my favourites. Feng Sha Ji, roasted chicken with red scallions, garlic dressing stuffed with eight treasures. Unpolished rice with lots of goodies like chestnut, etc. Absolutely delicious. And the chicken itself was lovely and moist.

Another uniquely Taiwan dish, Yam and Duck Tart. Sounds saucy eh. The lovely smooth texture of the yam just melts in your mouth.

Their signature fried oyster (hou see) which according to Jeanie, is a must for Chinese New Year. Hou see fatt choy....which of course spawned the conversation about the environmental hazards of Fatt Choy, which apparently is a moss that sucks the land dry. Hmm, if this were a political blog, I'd expand on that topic.

Steamed Long Tan (grouper) Taiwanese style, ...In her menu, she described it as Nian Nian You (Every year has extra fortune) steamed fish with black fermented soy and minced ginger and garlic.

Gingko Ham. Lovely sweetened honeyed gingko surrounding the ham, which required lots of work. It's steamed first, to get rid of the excess salt, then sliced, then steamed again. Gingko, as we know, is supposed to help memory loss. Gingko, as we know, is supposed to help memory loss. Oh, did I already say that?

Buttered prawns, but by which time, I was stuffed. The prawns were nice and crunchy.

The garlic prawns on a skewer were also tasty. But as I said, by this time, oh, [loosening belt to the first hole]..... quite funny, at this juncture, we told Jeanie to slow down a bit, cos the food was coming fast and furious. Then, suddenly, it halted to a grind, and the vegetables came after a long hiatus, with the dessert.

Gorgeous greens, kailan plus another slimy vegetable, (dunno what its called), with pomelo sacs, and almond flakes. The pomelo sacs really give it an extra zing. I wonder if they employ that method of blanching and dipping the vege into ice water to retain the glorious greenness.

Assorted puddings, for dessert, honey herbal favourite.

Custard Caramel Pudding.

Green Tea Aloe Vera Pudding.

Mango Pudding 2nd favourite.

O Nee, a very unique dessert rarely found. A yam and gingko paste, that has a lovely texture. This one was low sugar vegetarian, ie, no lard, and was absolutely lovely.

Finally, the piece de resistance. A VERY interesting dessert I've never seen before. Not unlike custard apples, these honey & maltose (we think) coated fried yams and sesame seeds are plunged into ice water, to harden the exterior. As Bald Eagle said, looks like the Taiwanese invented molecular cuisine long before anyone else did. The result, a crisp, caramel coating, (which surprisingly wasn't too sweet) plus a warm delicious smooth yam filling.

Check out the strands of the pulled sugar, and the orange light from Ciki's camera. Very reminiscent of the "I see you" hair bonding thingie.

I Yam what I Yam.

The refreshing sour plum drink, to wash the palate.

This photo is screaming out for a caption competition.

Ciki, Jeanie and Hooi Khaw.

Monkey showing Jeanie his photography skills on his new toy.

Many thanks to Jeanie for having us. I can't wait to bring my family back here again for a cosy family dinner. And thanks HK once again.

New Formosa is located at 46, Jln SS2/24, PJ. Same row as Sri Siam, ESH. Tel : 03-78751894.
Biz hours: 12-3pm, 6-10.30pm. Open throughout CNY and CNY Eve.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Johor Delights At the Cooking House, With Chef Esa

I've forgotten how enjoyable it is to attend cooking classes, especially if you have friends attending together, and its at your favourite cooking venue. I had also not realised how DIFFICULT it is to attend a cooking class when your head is throbbing from a hangover due to excessive partying the night before.

When Wai Hoong asked me if there were any local dishes offered in any cooking classes, I immediately pointed him towards Cooking House's schedule, with Chef Esa. I myself have always been meaning to attend his class, as I had walked into one of his classes once and the aroma was breathtaking. Also, when Thamby did a photoshoot of the celebrity chef awhile back, I popped in to kaypoh, and thought to myself that Chef Esa looked liked a really nice chap. So, with this golden opportunity, I quickly signed up for the class.

The dishes to be taught that day were Laksa Johor (the raison d'etre why I was there), Otak Otak, Soto Ayam and Ikan Masak Pedas. Yum, I am salivating in a most undignified manner just recollecting the whole thing.

We have here the Chef in various poses, doing various things. All wholesome things, of course. He makes everything look so easy, with his easy going selamba style.

I always think Asian cooking is so complicated, with the myriad herbs and spices. No wonder its always such a hit in the west, just open a restaurant in Australia, and chuck in a whiff of lemongrass, galangal and tumeric, wah, sounds darn exotic and glamorous. Imagine, laksa johor, a fusion of east and west. A thick herb infused mackerel broth, with spices to tantalise the most jaded of palates, served with an aldente spaghetti. I dont know why, but the dizzying smells of sauteeing spices and herbs, like galangal, tumeric, fennel, chilli pastes, just makes me feel so comforted.

One of my favourite items I learnt in that class was how to make the potato cakes, bergedil. Absolutely yummy, meant to complement the soto ayam, but delicious eaten even just like that on its own. Nasi impit, not one of my favourite foods to begin with, was justifiably the instant ones from the packet. For me, its a highly optional item. (the nasi impit I mean) Nasi impit, to the non-golden chersonese lingua franca speaking people, is pressed or compressed rice, usually served with satay, or in this case, soto. Soto and Sate are not brothers and sister.

The great thing about these types of cooking class is the expecation of lunch that follows, getting to sample what has been put together from scratch, from raw onions, to a delectable scrumptious meal, of exotic johorean appeal. It's heart warming to see all the students chip in and doing their bit to set the table, so to speak. Some are shredding the chicken, some are rolling the otak otak, some are frying the bergedil, there's such a village communal feel to the whole thing. Almost makes me want to turn Amish.

Ah, my favourite! LAKSA JOHOR, assembled by me of course. Such a cornucopia of flavours and texture. The delicious complex fishy stock, the springiness of the pasta, the crunch of the raw long beans, the zing from the shallots, the fragrance of the laksa leaves, (daun kesum), the tanginess of the calamansi and the heat from the sambal belacan.

The asam pedas was delicious as well, with rice. But as that was the first thing to be served, in our hunger, I forgot to take pics. The otak otak is different from the nyonya or thai variey, and has more body and bounce.

I CANNOT wait to try out especially the Laksa Johor and Soto Ayam recipes. Anyone wants to be my guinea pigs? Ooops, politically incorrect word to use. Anyone wants to be my guinea fowl? Hmm, somehow, doesnt have the same meaning. Guinea Sow? Send me a slogan on why you should be invited. Cheelaka hor, who do I think I am!

Do check out the wonderful assortment of cooking classes, including by yours truly, at the COOKING HOUSE. So far, I've always enjoyed attending classes there.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Eat, Drink and More...

There's Eat Drink Man Woman, a movie by Ang Lee, there's Eat Drink and Be Merry, for tomorrow you die, which apparently is a mishmash of scripture thrown together, for the phrase itself doesn't exist like that in the Bible, and NOW, there's EAT DRINK AND MORE.....

A concept by the Starwood group of hotels, which basically, turns you into The Nomad Gourmet (no relation to The Nomad Gourmand). I was lucky enough to be invited by the lovely Cheryl Lum of Le Meridien, for the launch of EDAM..(eat drink and more, not a cheese) at the Westin. We were greeted by lovely glasses of Midoris, which I was too busy drinking and totally forgot to take pictures of. Fratmustard, ignoring the wisdom of the aged, took a route contrary to my suggestion, and was stuck in traffic, while it took me 15 minutes to get to the Westin. (gloaaaaaat).

We started at basically what was Favola. If you cant bring the customers to Favola, then you bring Favola to them. Basically two sections of Westin had been transformed into Favola, and Latest Recipe, from Le Meridien.

Lovely starters...but we were warned to pace ourselves, as this was just page 1 of 5. In fact, we barely had time to sample all the lovely goodies of the Crudo Bar, before we were ushered to the next destination, the Latest Recipe.

Delicious pots of Wagyu cheek with Polenta, Battered Prawns served in quaint little boxes, a lovely ethereal tiramisu doused with Illy Coffee, .... and little shots of non alcoholic juices. Drat. Needed more midoris at this point.

We then trooped up to EEST, which I have to say honestly, is my least favourite of all the Starwood outlets, as all my dining experiences here have been less than satisfactory. But this time, I was in for a pleasant surprise. The mini yam baskets with prawn and egg roe was lovely, as was the wagyu with Foie Gras. Or was it Kobe? The sauce a bit overpowered it, but otherwise, the texture was divine.

Back to another boozey venue, Prego. By this time, we were getting really full, and would have been more than happy just to imbibe the nectar of the gods. The eggplant roll and the foie gras terrine were to die for.

The final stop was Q Bar, which served lovely alcoholic mojito and gin popsicles, a gorgeous creamy illy coffee slushy, and was the perfect way to the cap the night of hedonistic eating.

Thanks again Cheryl for the invite.

To find out more about the technicalities of the Eat Drink and More website, hop over to Thamby's blog as she outlines in detail the mechanism, etc.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Elegant Inn Hong Kong Cuisine, Menara Hap Seng

Some invites are to be coveted while some invites make you be a bad christian and make up stories about how you have to attend your grandmother's 102nd birthday or your aunty's tupperware party. An invite from Hooi Khaw makes us disobey the 10th commandment. Thou shalt not covet. Because an invite from Hooi Khaw always rocks, and you can be SURE that the food will be par excellent! In fact, if I had another appointment, I'd probably have to come up with some white lie to get out of that other one.

I've always been meaning to try Elegant Inn, because of its Tmn Connaught reputation. You can imagine me doing cartwheels, or maybe not, .... so on a Tuesday night, dumping my usual family dinner (sister comes home to eat on Tuesdays, so the house is very festive), I head for Menara Hap Seng, and find all my FAVOURITTTE people there. Thamby and Bald Eagle, Cumi and Ciki, ALilFatMonkey, our dear Hooi Khaw, and our gracious host, Jeanette.

So classy, got personalised menu! We're mentioned in the menu! Friends ma.

Jeanette, I have so say upfront, is the Walking Wikipedia of food and food ingredients. Exceedingly particular about the items she serves, her cashew nuts are hand selected from the best. Malaysian cashews failed the test, Sri Lankan nuts are the best, Vietnamese are good, Chinese nuts are .... well, depends which part of China.

If you look carefully in the pile of nuts, there are one or two cashews left, coz I had picked out most of them. To eat.

Elegant people for Elegant Inn. Check out the perfectly manicured nails. Not on the menu though.

Monkey thinks there's food on the trees....

A rather lavish Yee Sang....and my first for the year. Now, let's see if I can remember this. The jelly fish for the texture, the abalone for the juicy spurt of marine goodness, and the salmon to wrap it all up. None of the fakely colored preserved questionable vegetables, only freshly grated pear, radish, etc etc....Really refreshing. RM88 for full mai, RM68 for half mai, RM48 for mini mai. Ours was the half mai, and very substantial. We tossed to various things...for the KLCI to hit 2000 points, for peace and harmony in the country, for more glorious food reviews.... etc etc

My two favourite Monkeys

Salt & Pepper HK silver fish and gloriously silken homemade tofu. The fish is battered just perfectly. Crispy on the inside, still chewy on the inside. It screamed for a glass of ice cold beer.

Japanese Kobe (yup, you read it right, JAPANESE KOBE) in E.I. Garlic Style, and special chilled spoon with fresh salmon and crabmeat. Eat the silverfish first, wash your palate with the chilled spoon, a tangy combination that refreshes your tongue, followed by the absolutely spine tingling melt in the mouth Kobe beef. Seriously, being spoilt like this, makes you think you must have done something right to deserve such blessings.

Our ever smiling Hooi Khaw. Alas, our host, Jeanette, warned us, NO PICS of her.

In case you missed it, check out the kobe close up. Okay, this dish is NOT cheap. It's RM108 for 100gm, and there's probably 50gm in each bowl.

Traditional Signature Pig Stomach With Peppercorn and Salted Vegetable Double Boiled Soup.

Look at the amount of ingredients that go into the soup. Kampung chicken, dried scallops, yunnan ham, pork ribs, pork stomach, abalone mushroom, salted vegetables, and because its double boiled, the carcasses still retain its flavour and can be a meal on its own.

Peppery without it assailing your palate. It should leave a subtle pepper afterburn AFTER you drink it, not while, according to Jeanette.

Golden Fried Estuary Garoupa Fillet with Chinese Leeks Topping. Excellent dish. The skin is crispy, and there's a light layer of potato starch to crisp it, without battering it. The fish was firm, and fresh. Excellent.

If one fish wasn't enough, Jeanette insisted we try the steamed tilapia with Ham Yue Fah Lam. (salted fish and belly pork). Alilfatmonkey very astutely observed, "it's very difficult to take pictures of fish, cos they look so ....dead".... to which Bald eagle chirped, "yeah as opposed to Kobe beef, that look like they're on a spa vacation".

Somewhere at this juncture, we find out Jeanette is actually A SINGAPOREAN!!!!!

She did endear herself to us by the fact she's lived here a long time, and also, she was saying, aiya, these singaporeans, to them, (in relation to crabs), its all about the size. Hence the sri lankan crabs are popular. Size, doused in sauce.

As opposed to us clever Malaysians who appreciate the subtle sweet flavours of our smaller mud crabs.

Someone quipped that it would be quite hard to ruin this photo, as the crabs looked soooo beautiful. Signature styled Egg Yolk Style. Rather than the usual deep fried murdered by salted egg yolk style you get, this one allows the flavour of the crab meat to be savoured. Delicious.

8 Vegetarian Treasures in Chef's Sauce. The wood ears ...or was it cloud ears, are from HARBIN, where apparently the best ones come. Wood or cloud, the texture is supposed to be somewhere in between. Not an ear connoiseur, even I could tell that this was really fine quality stuff.

Bitter gourd with Salted Vegetables. I love bitter gourd, so this is one of my favourite dishes. Bald Eagle and bittergourd are like PKR and Umno.

The amazing Claypot Rice with HK Waxed Meats. What can I say? I think a picture (even a not so terror one, unlike those from the Queen of the DSLR) speaks a thousand words. I can almost smell that intoxicating aroma....

Their signature fried rice, simple, but not so simple. Two types of rice, (thamby managed to sniff this out with her nose, the amazing chap), crab meat, enough wok hei....

The handsome young chef, and co-owner, who made it all happen.

Sweetened Japanese Pumpkin Sago Soup With Green Beans. Smooth and creamy, but not cloying, sago pearls to give it that contrasting texture, and green bean to give it that oomph.

Malai Gou. (Malay Kueh). Not a fan usually, but this was moist, spongy, and not too sweet.

Banana Chinese pancakes...(banana chinese are what ah? Yellow outside white inside?) and Nutty sesame rice ball. I like this take on the pancake, instead of the normal lotus or red bean.

Now, what were these people laughing at?

Check out this cute little bejeweled chandelier....

Did thamby steal some of the jewels and wear them like a queen?

No, apparently, they were laughing coz they saw her digging her nose. How very unqueenly. It's like imagining the Queen on the potty. Cis.

Thanks again Hooi Khaw for the invite, and to Jeanette for having us.

Elegant Inn also has some CNY set menus, very reasonably priced, from RM788++ per table for dinner, or from RM538++ for lunch. (thinking to self, when to go back there and eat).

On another unrelated note, erm, I was interviewed on BFM yesterday, so if you want to listen, check out the pocast HERE.