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Monday, November 29, 2010

Day 2 in Penang on 7 Nov 2010 - Sea Pearl Lagoon Cafe

I believe firmly that there is some truth to the saying that locals know where the best food is. And my friend P proved me right when she brought us to Sea Pearl Lagoon Restaurant located somewhere at the far end of Gurney Drive (not along the hawker food street area). The restaurant is apparently very popular among the locals and only accessible by car. However be warned that the ambiance of the place is rather dismal - it isn't a restaurant where you should dress up to go to - you would fit right in to the rather dirty-looking place in a pair of slippers and home shorts. But the food....I rarely say this given how much seafood I eat, the food is GLORIOUS, food fit for a seafood god.

I'll start with the best item - the salt-baked prawns. The Slog Reviews: Off the scale. Have you ever had salt-baked prawns? I've never had prawns so exquisitely fresh and sweet and baked to perfection such that the meat within remains tender yet moist. And there is just the slightest hint of saltiness that comes from the shell...the pic above shows just the first plate we had - we ordered another plate of course (500gm per plate).

The restaurant however doesn't specialize in doing prawns but rather, crabs. Pic above shows the salt-baked crabs which the 3 of us shared and were they good! The Slog Reviews: Off the scale! Salt-baked crabs filled with sweet roe and fresh firm meat. I owe P such a huge one for this sensational experience.

My CEB who likes Lala (clams) ordered a plate of clams and while they were nothing like the crabs or prawns, they were done in a different style and sauce (compared to JB) which lent the dish a unique but not unpleasant taste. The Slog Reviews: 8/10. Despite our satisfaction with this dish, I would still advocate that one should fill all available space in one's stomach with the prawns and crabs instead.

There are also other stalls at the restaurant which sells other type of food. Like satay. Mediocre at best so the advice above holds still - don't waste good calories or stomach space on these.

Alright, alright...I know. The table below is one of the few pics I'll post which shows the aftermath of The Slog's encounters with good food. My CEB likes taking pics like these which I feel are pretty gross and a testimony to our gluttony. But facts are facts, and so, we three gluttons polished off everything on the table - prawns, crabs, lala and satay.

After dinner and after meeting P's boyfriend who let slip that there might be durian ice cream at Penang's local ice cream parlor, we dropped by one of Maxim's outlet but alas, there was no durian ice cream. P bought us ice cream which was really sweet of her given how she had been driving us around most of the day. Although there was a sign board explaining how the ice cream in the shop was special (something about what ingredients went in and how it was made), I thought it was rather over-priced and unremarkable. Give me my favourite Haagan-Daz anytime!

We ended the night at Batu Ferringhi where there were loads of night markets and hawker food but being stuffed with the prawns, crabs and satay, we could not eat a bite more. There were lots of fakes and pirated stuff being sold at the very touristy stretch but as we didn't have much time to explore this area of Penang, when we go back there in a few weeks time, I'll have more to write about.

In any case, take note of where the best salt-baked crabs and prawns can be found:

Sea Pearl Lagoon Cafe
338, MK.18 Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang
(Next to Tua Peh Kong Temple)
Tel: 04-8990375

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Day 2 in Penang on 7 Nov 2010 - Penang Street Famous Food

There is a really popular local food street in Penang located within a stone's throw from Gurney Plaza at Gurney Drive. This was how the place looked like at 6pm on a Saturday evening and it was tough finding a seat not only because of the crowd but also because many stores reserved the tables in front of their store for their customers.

My friend from Penang, P, who had dropped us off here told us that the stores towards the start of the street were more popular and even so, to help narrow down the bewildering array of choices before us, my CEB and I decided to order only from the stores with the longest queues on the assumption that these were the best. So he got in line at the "Cantonment Road Famous Char Koay Teow" stall (this is how it was spelled). The Slog Reviews: 7.5/10. Nothing too extraordinary about the char kway teoh really save that it was light, non-oily and went down the throat most easily.

He also ordered the Ikan Bakar (BBQed stingray) which turned out to be done in a very different style from that which we are used to. The Slog Reviews: 4/10. There was very little meat to the fish and the sambal/chilli sauce was bland and unremarkable. Not worth ordering.

I had a craving for carrot cake but he couldn't find any and ended up ordering fried oyster. The Slog Reviews: 7.5/10. I don't eat oysters so I can't comment too much about the freshness of the oysters but my CEB ate all of the oysters with great relish. As for the egg, I found the consistency a little too heavy for my liking.

The conclusion I drew after our experience at Gurney Drive is that Singapore's hawker food easily gives the street food there a serious run for its money. Not so though when it comes to Penang Laksa. Never, and I mean never, have I heard of any place in Singapore selling penang laksa that is able to rival the penang laksa sold in Penang, esp the penang laka sold at this very old run-down 1960s coffeeshop along Penang Road.

I don't know what the name of the shop is and neither does my friend who had earlier posted pics of this place and the penang laksa on her facebook page but if you walk along the main Penang Road, and ask the hawkers there (Even those selling penang laksa themselves) where the famous penang laksa is, they would point you in the direction of this coffeeshop which sells this.

Despite its appearance, and despite my having an aversion to sour-tasting laksa, I have developed a craving for penang laksa (even now as I type this) ever since having a bowl of this penang laksa. It is that good. The Slog Reviews: 10/10. Don't, don't ever give this laksa stall a miss if you are in Penang. It is worth the wait, worth the crowd and the walk to get there. While my CEB downed his second bowl of penang laksa from the shop, I had him get me a bowl of the chendol from the stall outside the shop (Had to pay an extra 50ct to the penang laksa seller to eat the chendol in his coffeeshop)

But before you diss the appearance of the chendol above or the fact that I had to part with 50ct just to eat this sitting down comfortably, take a look at the picture below of the queue for the chendol and the people standing around in the broiling hot Penang sun enjoying the chendol.

The name of this chendol stall is "Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul" (yes, spelt this way). Now, if you have folks back home whom you pity for missing out on all the smashing great food in Penang, you can go to this famous shop called CHEE HIANG Penang to buy back some biscuits for them. Take note though of the long queues and impatient attitude of the staff behind the counter - although it is ridiculous that the choices of biscuits isn't made available to one while one is queuing, one is expected to know exactly which boxes of biscuits one should buy upon being served.

Day 2 in Penang on 7 Nov 2010 (Cheong Fatt Sze Mansion)

If there is one thing I am willing to take a bet on, it would be that your stay at Cheong Fatt Sze Mansion (CFSM), otherwise known as the Blue Mansion in Penang, would be one that stands out from the rest of your other hotel stays.

In case you can't make out the words on the picture below, essentially it states that there are daily tours of CFSM at 2 timings (11pm and 1.30pm) which cost RM12/pax (the tours are free for hotel guests) where one is not allowed to take photos, and that there is the choice of having a homestay at CFSM (it is not mentioned but you might want to note that the rate for the rooms is either RM350 or 450 depending on the room). There is also a disclaimer at the bottom which one might want to take note of.

Well as I had said in my earlier post, we hadn't planned on staying in CFSM at all. However, my CEB who has since heartily regretted his decision, agreed to us spending a night here without even looking at the 1 of the 16 rooms in CFSM which was still unoccupied. I didn't have any violent objections to his decision (Save that it would have been nice if he had asked me b4 agreeing) because I was rather intrigued by the rich heritiage of CFSM.

Once one steps through the front doors in the above picture, to the right is this spacious dining area which upon closer inspection, is really quite meant for display. The intricate inlay of silver leaves in the woodwork makes one feel quite intimidated at the thought of sullying such beauty with one's posterior and belongings. Note the beautiful glass-stained windows and the fengshui-inspired openings above the windows which are shaped like ancient taels (money).

And to the front, or rather about 5 metres to the front past a round table and the holding area is this screen door with yet another beautiful expensive-looking furniture piece. According to the tour guide (we went on a guided tour), if one was a mere acquaintance or business partner, one would not be allowed past the screen door which opens to the courtyard and the rooms.

Finally to the left is yet another area which looks like the reception area for guests to register but really isn't. The reception area is through the door on the right of the picture

And looks like this - this is where the hotel's only computer (and meant for staff) and a rack meant for one to hang up one's ancient looking room key is. There is also a router meant to give wireless access to the mansion but be warned that the wireless signal in the room is v v weak.

So, the room. The only room available was the Chang Yu room. The first thing that caught my eye were the mosquito nets - when I jokingly mentioned that these probably were dusty from lack of use, the hotel staff was silent. In the night, I found out why and thanked heaven that I had a huge can of mosquito repellent with me because the mosquito net was hardly enough to keep away the mosquitoes! My CEB who had refused to use the net over his bed ended up crawling into my bed in the middle of the night because of the many mosquitos, the cold and other reason.
Ok, don't get me wrong - the other reason has to do with the strong sense of unease he felt (think spirits) in CFSM. To be honest, we have stayed in some pretty crummy places before during our adventures together but till today, he cites CFSM as the worst place he has stayed in. On the other hand, I was so charmed by CFSM after this stay (despite the mosquitos) that I even queried about being able to do our wedding photoshoot here in January. I guess this is something that isn't ever going to materialise given my CEB's aversion to the place. Oh well. And if u must know, he has told me to stick to booking standard business hotels for future holidays.

Oh well. If you like details, symbolism and have an appreciation of heritiage and beauty, CFSM is still the place to stay at (Despite the lousy breakfast spread and slightly smug attitude of the male staff here) Look at the intricacy of the railings of the second floor in the pic above. The pic below shows one of the large function rooms on the second floor too. Apparently, the entire place (not just the room) can be booked for a private event.

Below is a picture of the balcony outside the doors of the room above. Those are actually 3D hand-painted carvings and not just stickers or posters above each archway. Each carving is different and breathtakingly exquisite and detailed in its depiction of both people and objects. I would draw your attention too to the mosiac on the floor. Apparently each tile features 8 petals or 8 something. This mansion is big on the number 8, like there are 8 rooms in each wing of the mansion, and there are 8 pillars (instead of 4 which would have been sufficient) in the courtyard.

Eight of course is one of the lucky numbers for Chinese and for CFS whom this mansion is named after, fengshui is such a huge thing for him that it isn't just the house which is themed around the number 8. He apparently died leaving 8 official wives and 16 children. But I digress. Anyway, from the balcony, one is able to see to the opposite side of the road which the mansion faces (this balcony is above the doors of the entrance). The 5 houses there were built by CFS too because he was terrified that someone would buy the plot of the land opposite his fengshui-themed mansion and construct a building that would be inauspicious or otherwise affect the "qi" of CFSM.

And so. With that I conclude the review of our stay at CFSM. Since my CEB and I have such vastly differing views on our stay here, I have decided to refrain from rating this place but to encourage all who visit Penang and want to come away with an unforgettable experience, to book 1 of the 16 rooms here for a night's stay (do not forget the repellant)

And if one is into pussies as I am, CFSM has the most lazy and adorable looking house cat that lounges on one of the steel benches near the rooms all day. Be warned that one should can only access the pussy and the rooms if one is a guest of the house - pussy and the rooms are off limits to those on the guided tours!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 1 in Penang on 6 Nov 2010 (Yeng Keng Hotel)

Just when I thought I'd seen it all given the extensive amount of travelling I had to do for my company's overseas acquisition last year and my own holiday sojourns in the region this year, I was proved wrong (yet again). For the first time (and hopefully last), we were told by a most apologetic lady boss that her hotel was overbooked despite their giving us a written email confirmation that a room had been reserved for us for the 2 nights we were in Penang.

Yes, that IS the lady boss in question with my CEB in the picture above. She said she was glad we didn't lose our temper or behave unreasonably as some guests would have upon being told they didn't have a room. I didn't tell her that experience and common sense has taught me that being nasty is always the last resort and 99% of the time, unnecessary. I understood that she was sorry this happened, I empathized with her the difficulty of running a hotel and human failure, but what I needed to hear was how she was going to fix the situation. And yelling at her or the staff would not motivate them to fix it in the best way for us.

She offered us the choices of staying at Traders Hotel or Cheong Fatt Sze Mansion (which I shall write about in the next entry). The hotel manager Jacky would fetch us to the hotel and back to Yeng Keng the following day. I didn't want to stay at Traders because if I had booked the hotel on my own, I would have gotten GC points. Besides, I'd read about it being a little run down. So anyway, after one most unforgettable night at CFSM, Jacky picked us up the following day after breakfast and brought us back to Yeng Keng Hotel. Below shows the entrance of Yeng Keng Hotel - it is a most beautifully restored hotel centrally located and within walking distance of all the famous eating places in Penang.

Below shows the common area of the second floor of the hotel which I thought was done up most tastefully so as to be well-decorated yet not cluttered. And yes, the chandelier is really something.

Because of the mix-up, the lady boss had arranged for us to be given the garden suite. The price difference between the garden suite and normal room is about RM50 (excluding tax) and I am not quite sure what the differences are save that Jacky told us that the garden suite had a private living room area. Per the picture below, while it is a nice touch, having a sofa area outside the blessed coolness of the air-conditioned room means that hardly anyone will use the settee if at all.

Below is a picture of the inside of our suite - I think the room should have been named Green Suite because a garden isn't well, necessarily always green. The Slog Reviews: 8/10 for cleanliness and comfort. I read on trip advisor that the rooms in Yeng Keng can be rather smallish but the garden suite is good-sized, comes with a safe, and fairly decent bathroom (no bath tub). Toiletries provided are basic so one is advised to bring one's own toiletries.

I've taken another picture of the back of the hotel which shows off the beautiful artwork in the hotel as well as the clean spacious layout of the rooms and hotel in general.

The backdoor also leads to the hotel's swimming pool which we observed to be deserted no matter what time of the day it was - the sun is scorchingly hot in Penang!

The hotel serves buffet breakfast and despite it being a boutique hotel, I have to say that compared to CFSM, it does a marvelous job of serving a decent yet tasty spread. The Nasi Lemak was so good that my CEB had 2 packets of that! I also rather liked the noodles and western spread of bread and cereal.

However, what really stood out was the provision of the local nyonya kueh by the hotel as part of its breakfast spread! It reflects the thought and commitment by the owners in ensuring that Yeng Keng Hotel reflects the rich nyonya heritage in Penang.

The Slog Reviews: 8/10. Although the hotel did mess up the reservation, the sincerity and readiness of the owners and the office manager (Jacky) to take responsibility and make good the mistake pretty much won us over. On its own merits, the hotel is centrally located along Chulia Street where the good food is, and is a refreshing change from the usual modern business hotels. This hotels isn't ranked #1 of all the hotels in Georgetown on Tripadvisor for no reason.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ipod Touch

2 new gadgets in a month for a technosaur is a nightmare come true. My beloved boss bestowed on me a Blackberry 9700 early this month (click here) and just when I was getting used to having and carrying 2 phones around (co phone is purely for co-related matters of cos), myCEB decided to get me an iPod Touch for Xmas this year.

I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth BUT....it isn't funny when I find myself pressing the screen of my Blackberry (instead of scrolling using the control panel) to get it to work. Thanks to the iPod Touch, which also incidentally is to be thanked for the 3 hours of sleep I have been getting the past 2 days. Addictive. And to think my CEB called me a Blackberry addict.

And oh, so much too for my allegiance to Sony Ericsson. I've used nothing but SE phones since 2003. I was even oh so proud, not too long ago, at not having joined the iPhone club unlike my CEB, my sister and just about everyone else. In fact, I thought my Sony Ericsson W950i, with its 8.1mp camera was all I needed - it could take great photos for the blog, had wifi connectivity and would fulfill the basic functions of a phone - phone calls and texting.

It still IS the deal....but it is a tad worrying when more often than not these days, I find my thumb smoothing the control panel bit of the phone (as if it was the Blackberry!) instead of pressing down as I should. The only consolation I have is that I didn't join the iPhone club which would have rendered both the iPod Touch and Blackberry quite redundant.

It appears that the IT Gods have a plan for The Slog.

Now if only the same could be said about Cupid. My CEB and I were viewing houses last Sunday with our agent and we could not find one of the blocks we were scheduled to view. My CEB joked with the agent that we needed a wand (so that like in 1 of the Harry Potter movies with a wave of the wand, the building blocks would part to reveal the block we were searching for).

Our agent: Haha, like Harry Potter
My CEB: Ya but I have no hair (my CEB decided to go bald a couple of years back) so you must call me Hairless Potter.

Cupid save me...is this your grand plan for The Slog here?!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Day 1 in Penang on 6 Nov 2010 (Mixed meat at Chulia Street)

Because I had been to Langkawi b4, I was in charge of planning our time there and because my CEB had been to Penang b4 (he would tell you it was a long time ago), he was in charge of planning the couple of days we had there. However, because I made the unfortunate mistake of disclosing to him that a friend of mine (who is from Penang and was home on a break) was kind enough to volunteer to take us around, my CEB did his research (all of 30mins at that!) at the very last minute and our time in Penang was most eventful indeed after we touched down about 10.30am from Langkawi.

First, courtesy of my CEB wanting to put the results of his research to good use, we took a bus (no, I am not kidding) from the airport to Komtar which took us about 45mins (no traffic jams). The bus was packed and we had to stand most of the way. With our luggage. Now if that was not bad enough, my CEB insisted that we take the free public bus (yet another "gem" he had unearthed in his research) from Komtar to the hotel. Instead of a taxi which would have cost less than RM10 based on the map that we had. Because I had (most regrettably) entrusted the entire Penang leg of our trip to him, I had no choice but to keep reminding myself of that fact and hold my tongue. So, we waited half hour (standing of cos) at Komtar for the public bus which was of course packed with those who could not afford private or paid transport. And the public bus dropped us a distance from our hotel which we had difficulties locating...because, I guess my CEB forgot to Google Earth that bit. Ended up relying on directions from kind hearted strangers (some of which were wrong) and having to drag our luggage in the blazing (man, was it blazing!) sun trying to find the hotel.

And when we finally did, we could not check in because they told us the room was not ready at 1pm. So we left our bags with them and went for lunch at this place they recommended as one of the places to eat at Chulia Street - just two shops down from Yeng Keng Hotel on its left (left if one is walking out from the hotel).

And indeed the coffeeshop was very packed with meat-loving tourists and locals (more locals than tourists). Although the food did take some time to arrive (the people standing around are waiting to get theirs packed), when it finally did, I was all of "Huh? Why would anyone queue much less wait for so long for this?" The Slog Reviews: 7/10. The dish of mixed meat was not oily despite its high fat content. The roasted meat was also tender and fresh but nothing quite exceptional to justify the long queues. Also, the portion which we had ordered (For 2 of us) was really just enough to fill one person's empty belly and we were served soup which we had not ordered either. The damage was minimal - less than RM20 for the 2 of us but I would not recommend going to this place with an empty stomach or if one has limited time in Penang.

Day 3 in Langkawi on 5th Nov 2010 (Champor Champor at Pantai Cenang)

As mentioned, our hotel for our last night in Langkawi was at Pantai Cenang. Having blacklisted Orkid Ria Seafood Restoran, we decided to try Champor Champor which is located in the heart of Pantai Cenang. The Slog Reviews: 9.50/10 - great ambiance, service and food. The prices are a bit on the steep side for Langkawi standards (about RM 25 per dish) but are well worth paying for the ambiance and service. And the Tom Yom soup which we shared below while not particularly outstanding was yummy enough (RM10+).

My CEB had the beef rendang while I ordered lamb stew with rice. My CEB said that the beef was slightly overcooked and hard but I had no problems with my lamb stew or the pieces of beef he shared with me for that matter. Presentation of both dishes was decent enough with the rice serving being uniquely cyclical-shaped but what really sold me was the ambiance - the rugs, the tables set-up and flags draped across the ceiling lent the entire restaurant both a cozy and oriental atmosphere that I've not seen before. There is also a bar corner at another section of the restaurant where one can grab a beer to chill out and have a gab fest with the friendly bartender.

The opening hours of Champor Champor are 19:00 – 01:00 but if you wish to be sure before going down, you could always call this number first 604 955 1449.
We didn't have the tel number for the breakfast and bar and relied on information from the net which said that the place opened at 7am. As a result, when we drove to Breakfast and Bar at 7am, it was closed. We waited till 7.20am and saw a few employees within getting ready for the day but they blithely ignored us. When we finally managed to stop one of them who was walking out, he told us off-handedly that they would only open at 8am. Ugh.

Because we had gotten up so early to have breakfast at Breakfast&Bar, we ended up with spare time on our hands and my CEB suggested cutting through the motels along Pantai Cenang to get to the beach. At 7+am on a Sat morning, the beach was rather deserted and pretty dull-looking.

And after all the walking on the beach (and no breakfast), we decided to head straight for Langkawi airport (all the shops and eateries were still closed about 8+am) for our flight to Penang.