The Straits Cafe & Lounge

Special thanks to Ixora Hotel for extending this product review invitation.

In conjunction with Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) this year (15 September 2016), Ixora Hotel is rolling out a seasonal offer of Frosty Skin Mini Mooncakes (冰皮小月饼).
Each box of mooncakes contains 6 pieces. There are 3 types of flavors:
- Coffee With Chocolate Cookies
- Green Tea In Red Bean & Sunflower Seed
- Frosty Mango In Fresh Mango Cake
Customers may order a single flavor or any combination.
The mooncakes are made from natural ingredients. Despite their vibrant colors, no artificial coloring is used. As the mooncakes do not contain artificial preservatives also, they need to be kept chilled if not consumed immediately. The shelf life is 3 days - which is good news if you are concerned about artificial preservatives.
Presented in a nice box and matching paper bag, the mooncakes are presentable gifts during this auspicious festival. These mini mooncakes are available from 15 August 2016 to 15 September 20016, so do hurry if you do not wish to miss them! Each box is priced at RM48.00 net.
To maintain freshness, the mooncakes are made fresh every morning. Therefore, 1-day advance ordering is recommended. Customers may order by phone (04-382-8888), through email (info@ixorahotel.com) or by filling up the order form at The Straits Cafe & Lounge.

Name: The Straits Cafe & Lounge
Address: Ixora Hotel, 3096, Jalan Baru, Bandar Perai Jaya, 13600 Perai, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-382-8888
Business hours: 6:00am-12:00am
Website: http://www.ixorahotel.com/dining
Coordinates: 5.37805 N, 100.39825 E
Directions: From Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan (North-South Expressway), take the Prai exit and head west. After Megamall Pinang on the left, turn left and follow the road to Ixora Hotel's basement parking. The Straits Cafe & Lounge is located next to the lobby. Ixora Hotel provides free parking for guests who subscribe to the hotel's Facebook page. Remember to bring along the parking ticket to get it validated at the front desk.

Happiness 33 Cafe

Special thanks to Happiness 33 Cafe for extending this food review invitation.

Next to TSS Cafe & Restaurant is Pusat Perniagaan Tambun Permai, a commercial block of buildings which includes Galaxy Hotel. This 48-room budget hotel in Simpang Ampat provides accommodation at reasonably low prices.
Next to the hotel's lobby is Happiness 33 Cafe (33喜乐咖啡厅) which opened around 3 months ago. Besides catering breakfast for hotel guests, this pork-free eatery also enjoys a steady stream of walk-in customers. "33" refers to the age at which Jesus Christ was crucified; the proprietors are devout Catholics.
Happiness 33 Cafe's menu covers a range of all-day breakfast, snacks, Western and local dishes. The Jumbo America Breakfast (RM12.90) is one way to get the engine started in the morning. The platter comprises of sausages, ham, buttered toast, fried egg and baked beans.
For something lighter, Tricolour Sandwiches (RM10.90) is a sensible choice too. The dish consists of three pieces of buttered toast made from thick-cut bread. Each piece is topped with egg, ham, lettuce, sesame seeds, mayonnaise and Thousand Island salad dressing.
Mushroom Soup (RM7.90) is one of the bestselling items at Happiness 33 Cafe. The soup is made from genuine mushrooms, which explains why it is saturated with pleasing mushroom goodness. The creamy soup is littered with bits of mushrooms, providing satisfying mouthfeel sip after sip. The actual serving includes toasted bread.
Moving on to main dishes, Carbonara Spaghetti (RM10.90) is blessed with creamy sauce made from egg, cheese and butter, which is best consumed before it thickens. This pasta dish also includes sliced chicken, ham, mushroom and cherry tomatoes. A shower of chopped herbs helps to improve aroma and flavor.
One of my personal favorite dishes is Happiness Sour & Spicy Three Colour Chicken Rice (RM12.90). The chicken, tender and juicy, is flavored by savory gravy which strikes a chord with my palate. Also included a fried egg and pickled mango salad. The latter is similar to Thai mango salad (ส้มตำมะม่วง) and is addictive indeed.
However, the most visually captivating aspect of this dish is the heap of "rainbow" rice which consists of 5 types: plain rice (white), rice dyed with pandan (green), whole grain rice (red), rice dyed with ginger (yellow), and rice dyed with butterfly-pea flower (blue). Like other dishes at Happiness 33 Cafe, only natural coloring is used. Aesthetic appeal aside, I must say that I enjoy the rice thoroughly.
The next dish is Creamy Garlic Butter Special Chicken Chop (RM14.90). Deep-fried chicken is topped with roux made from butter and garlic, followed by oregano herbs. The meal also includes cabbage salad and a miniature shopping cart filled with French fries.
Compared to the previous dish, I feel that the texture of chicken is not as appealing as its batter coating is too thick. Meanwhile, the creamy roux is acceptable in small amount, but becomes overwhelming if consumed in excess amount. Nevertheless, I feel that the fries work quite well with the roux. This is probably why additional roux is served in a heart-shaped bowl.
Youngsters may find the Happiness Fish Burger (RM13.90) to be particularly appealing. The centerpiece is a baked fish fillet with delightfully crispy texture. Also sandwiched between two halves of a charcoal bun are lettuce, cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and Thousand Island dressing. The burger is accompanied by French fries on the side.
Happiness Spicy Three Colour Fish Rice (RM13.90) is usually served with rice; this presentation is solely for the purpose of this review. There are two versions: kapitan and curry. The former is featured here.
The kapitan gravy is perfectly flavored with various spices, resulting in pleasant sensation which is not excessively spicy despite the absence of rice. Meanwhile, the gravy contains generous amount of deboned fish pieces. As the fish's texture is easy on the mouth, this dish should serve everyone well including children and the elderly.
Moving on to Black Pepper Chicken Chop (RM12.90), the grilled chicken is seasoned with sweet-savory black pepper sauce and respectable amount of oregano for aromatic appeal. Besides vegetable salad, there is also a layered tower of "rainbow" rice. Among all main dishes served today, I think this dish comes in a close second.
As for drinks, Happiness Strawberry (RM6.90) and Happiness Blue Sky (RM6.90) are fizzy carbonated beverages that are flavored by syrups of different colors.
However, I personally enjoy Happiness Italian Cappuccino (RM5.90) to a greater degree. Although the aroma and flavor of coffee are largely lost in a cold drink, this cup of iced coffee is nevertheless pleasing especially during a hot noon.
Happiness 33 Cafe prepares home-cooked, wholesome food using natural ingredients. Cutting no corners, I sense that the proprietors are putting their heart and soul into the creation of every dish. Given the premium food quality, the restaurant's pricing is surprisingly affordable. It is also interesting to know that Happiness 33 Cafe provides catering and delivery services to nearby areas.

Name: Happiness 33 Cafe (33喜乐咖啡厅)
Address: 42, Lorong Tambun Permai 1, Pusat Perniagaan Tambun Permai, 14100 Bukit Tambun, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 012-405-3197
Business hours: 9:00am-3:00pm, 5:30pm-9:30pm, closed on Mondays
Website: https://www.facebook.com/Happinesscafe33
Coordinates: 5.27595 N, 100.45862 E
Directions: Traveling southbound along North-South Expressway (Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan), take exit 158 towards Bukit Tambun. After the toll plaza, turn left at the next intersection and then turn left again at Pusat Perniagaan Tambun Permai. Happiness 33 Cafe is located next to the lobby of Galaxy Hotel. Parking is available in front of the hotel and at the basement.

Yoshinoya Hanamaru

Special thanks to Yoshinoya Hanamaru for extending this food review invitation.

Since the opening of Yoshinoya Hanamaru in Sunway Carnival Mall 4 months ago, this Japanese quick service restaurant has opened a second outlet in Gurney Plaza. The restaurant concept is an amalgam of Hanamaru Udon (はなまるうどん) and Yoshinoya Japanese Kitchen (吉野家), which are independent restaurant chains in Japan.
This colocation concept allows customers to purchase food from both menus on a single receipt. The Malaysian franchise holder of both brands is Texchem, the very same company which also operates Sushi King chain restaurants.
To streamline the ordering process, customers are asked to place their orders at the start of the queue. Most dishes are prepared in a matter of minutes, so customers can wait in line to collect their orders. Along the way to the cash register is the tempura (天ぷら) station where customers can pick their favorite deep-fried items.
In Japan, Hanamaru is a popular udon (うどん) chain restaurant. For this Gurney Plaza outlet, udon is made at the central kitchen in Sunway Carnival Mall. Hanamaru's udon is made from scratch using special wheat flour that is imported from Japan.

One of Hanamaru's bestsellers is Ontama Beef Bukkake (温玉牛肉ぶっかけ, RM14.80). This is the cold version, where cooked udon is chilled in iced water for several seconds before serving. The result is springy noodle with unique cooling effect on the lips. The word "bukkake" (ぶっかけ) refers to the blanching of udon with hot broth; In Japan, this word does not carry sexual connotations.
Apart from udon, the main appeal of this dish is the beef. Cut into thin slices, the beef is tender and juicy, culminating in pleasant mouthfeel that makes it quite enjoyable. Also included is onsen tamago (温泉玉子), where the egg is cooked in simmering water such that the yolk remains runny. According to the staff, Japanese customers are fond of adding grated ginger to udon. Ginger is provided upon request and without extra charge.
Customers who prefer heavier flavoring should check out the Spicy Miso Udon (辛肉味噌鶏だしうどん, RM12.80). This dish uses miso broth which is prepared from fermented beans and chicken stock and kelp (昆布). Meanwhile, spicy ground chicken is too salty if eaten directly, but works well when mixed thoroughly in miso broth. The level of spiciness is moderate by Malaysian standards.
Like the previous bowl of udon, this dish also includes an onsen tamago. Customers who fancy crispiness can also help themselves with tempura flakes at the condiments station.
Udon is often enjoyed with tempura (天ぷら). Deep-fried items in Hanamaru's menu are karaage (からあげ, RM3.80), prawn (えび天, RM4.80), squid (いか天ぷら, RM4.80), enoki mushroom (えのき, RM2.80), fishcake (かまぼこ, RM3.80), chikuwa (ちくわ, RM3.80) and sausage (ソーセージ, RM3.80).
Kakiage (かき揚げ, RM4.80) is made from julienned pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato, long bean and onion. A soft-boiled egg forms the finishing touch. I enjoy the natural sweetness of these vegetables and the fact that its crispiness does not feel greasy in any way.

As for Yoshinoya, the menu largely includes teishoku (定食) and curry rice (カレーライス). Nevertheless, Yoshinoya's iconic dish is the Beef Bowl (牛丼, RM11.80). The bowl of rice is topped with succulent beef slices and onions. Flavored with sweet sauce made from dashi (fish and kelp stock), the overall taste is pleasant indeed.
The Beef Bowl includes an onsen tamago. I like to mix the runny egg with rice. As suggested by the staff, it is advisable to add beni shoga (紅生姜, pickled ginger) and a light sprinkle of shichimi togarashi (七味唐辛子) - a suggestion which I agree. In fact, this is how people enjoy Beef Bowl in the Land of the Rising Sun.
As for teishoku, Ontama Spicy Chicken Katsu Set (温玉スパイシーチキンカツセット, RM18.80) appears to strike a chord with the local palate. This dish features is a piece of deep-fried chicken cutlet, flavored with sweet-savory sauce with moderate degree of spiciness. Onsen tamago is added to the top. This set meal comes with shredded cabbage, rice and miso soup (味噌汁).
As for drinks, free-flow Green Tea (お茶, RM1.50) is available. Hot and iced versions are available at the dining area. Overall, I feel that Yoshinoya Hanamaru's menu is quite varied and appeals to my palate. Last but not least, it is important to note that Yoshinoya Hanamaru is a pork-free restaurant.
Name: Yoshinoya Hanamaru
Address: 170-B1-37, Plaza Gurney, Persiaran Gurney, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: N/A
Business hours: 10:00am-10:00pm
Website: http://www.yhmalaysia.com
Coordinates: 5.43794 N, 100.31000 E
Directions: Yoshinoya Hanamaru is located at the Basement level of Gurney Plaza, next to Seoul Garden and Sangkaya. Gurney Plaza has basement and multi-level parking garages.

Cups & Mugs

Special thanks to Olive Tree Hotel for extending this food review invitation.

Olive Tree Hotel is a 4-star hotel in Bayan Baru, just across the road from SPICE Arena. Due to its proximity to the industrial area, this 4-star hotel attracts a substantial number of corporate clientele.
Besides Sukkah, Olive Tree Hotel has another restaurant called Cups & Mugs. During normal operation, this eatery serves delicatessen-style food such as sandwiches, pastry and coffee. Like Sukkah, Cups & Mugs is a halal-certified restaurant.
Every Friday evening starting 23 September 2016, Cups & Mugs is offering an all-new BBQ Jamboree Buffet. This American-theme buffet replaces Sukkah's Grilled Seafood Buffet on Friday evenings, although the latter is still available on weekends.
Few nationalities have a proud culinary heritage which revolves around meat like the Americans, which is why grills and roasts are the main focus of the BBQ Jamboree Buffet. From the cattle department, there are premium meat cuts such as short ribs, prime ribs and strip steak. Guests who enjoy stronger flavor can indulge themselves with lamb chops. Meanwhile for poultry, chicken drumsticks and wings are available.
The outdoor charcoal-fired grill is located next to the driveway to the hotel's lobby. The mere sight of chicken and beef burger patties is enough to water one's mouth. I am also glad that lamb skewers with mushroom and capsicum have been added to the mix.
Also prepared by the restaurant crew are sausages of several varieties. These meaty devils are best complemented by juicy corn on the cob.
Roasted potatoes are nicely prepared. For something naturally sweet, the grilling station also provides colorful vegetables such as bell peppers, zucchini and squash.
The main attractions this evening are roasted beef ribs and lamb leg. Some of the condiments to go with meat are barbecue, black pepper, mushroom, mustard and mint sauces. Barbecue and mint sauces are my personal favorites due to their heavy flavors.
While waiting for meat to be prepared, guest can also help themselves with tapas, salad and soup. Cold cuts include chicken ham and smoked salmon. The menu may vary from week to week.
After a gratifying meat-centric feast, one should not overlook the desserts section too. There is a reasonable spread of confections to pacify one's sweet tooth.
French pâtisserie, cupcake, tiramisu and fudge cake make their appearances. Although not exactly the sharpest sword in Penang, the pastries are reasonably well-prepared.
Guests who need to satiate their sugar cravings may want to get their hands (and mouth) on mousse and jelly too. Of course, it never hurts to conclude the meal with cut fruits such as pineapples, pitaya (dragon fruit) and honeydew.
Cups & Mugs' BBQ Jamboree Buffet is served from 6:30pm to 10:00pm every Friday. As the restaurant limits the number of diners to 60 per session, prior reservation is recommended. The price tag is RM88.00 for adult, RM44.00 for child, RM55.00 for senior citizen (55 years and above). All prices are subjected to 6% GST. Also for a limited time, each guest can enjoy free flow of beer for only RM20.00 per person.

Name: Cups & Mugs
Address: 76, Jalan Mahsuri, 11950 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-637-7856
Business hours: 8:00am-11:00pm
Website: http://olivetreehotel.com.my/dining/cupsandmugs
Coordinates: 5.32698 N, 100.27941 E
Directions: Olive Tree Hotel is located at Bayan Baru, just across the street from SPICE Arena. Cups & Mugs is located at the Ground Floor, just next to the lobby. The hotel's multi-storey parking is charged at RM3.00 for the first hour, then RM1.00 for each subsequent hour. Parking is complimentary for hotel guests.

Italiannies

Special thanks to Italiannies for extending this food review invitation.

Besides Gurney Paragon, Italiannies recently made its second Penang presence in Queensbay Mall. This Italiannies outlet is located next to Fridays, its sister restaurant under the same parent company.
As the name implies in an obvious manner, Italiannies specializes in Italian cuisine with dishes such as pizza, pasta and seafood. Like Fridays, Italiannies presents a casual-dining atmosphere which appeals to families, working people and the drinking crowd. Although the menu in each Italiannies resolves around similar dishes, each outlet is tailored towards specific clientele.
As soon as customers place their orders, they are kept treated to a complimentary platter of Italian bread: focaccia and pane toscano. Accompanying the bread is herb oil which is primarily made from olive oil and sunflower oil. Balsamic vinegar is also added for the sharp acidic appeal.
For appetizer, the Calamari Caesar (RM39.55) is one way to start the feast. The highlight is cast upon deep-fried squid, which is coated with crispy batter that does not feel greasy in any way. Complementing the squid are romaine lettuce, roasted button mushrooms, artichoke hearts, black olives, capsicum, croutons and a sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese. This humongous salad can easily feed 3 or 4 persons!
My favorite dish so far is the Salmon Oreganato (RM58.20), which turns out to be the bestselling dish in this outlet. The presentation is unique to this branch. A piece of pan-seared salmon is topped with oregano butter, then laid on mashed potato flavored by chopped rosemary. Juicy and succulent, the salmon scores extra points in the flavor department.
Presented alongside the salmon fillet are sautéed vegetables such spinach, bell peppers, zucchini, squash and onion. Also included are deep-fried spinach, baked cherry tomato and garlic.
Assimilating Japanese sushi ingredients with Italian pizza culminate in Mentaiko Chicken Pizza (RM46.65). The pizza dough has unique texture - sufficiently firm but also has pleasant flaky mouthfeel. The paste, made from fresh capsicum purée, is layered with chicken slices, onion and bell pepper.
The orange-colored sauce, mentaiko (明太子), is prepared from cod roe and mayonnaise. Meanwhile, bonito flakes (鰹節) is made from smoked skipjack tuna and appears to dance in the wind due to transient air current surrounding the hot pizza. A squeeze of lime provides citrus sourness that adds to the pizza's appeal.

As for desserts, Crème Brulee (RM20.85) is the choice this evening. Prepared in a cast iron skillet, the custard is prepared using milk, egg and vanilla essence. The result is creamy consistency which delights my palate. The top surface is covered by caramelized sugar, made by torching icing sugar until it forms translucent, brittle layer. This dessert is enjoyable and well-recommended.
Unlike most Italiannies outlets, this Queensbay Mall restaurant serves barista coffee. The glass of Caffé Latte (RM8.75) and Cappuccino (RM8.75) are of reasonable quality, but I personally prefer bolder coffee taste. Anyway, I suspect that coffee is just meant to supplement Italiannies' food menu and is not the main focus of the restaurant anyway.
Name: Italiannies
Address: GF-129, Queensbay Mall, 100, Persiaran Bayan Indah, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04 -611-9211
Business hours: 11:00am-11:00pm
Website: http://www.italiannies.com.my
Coordinates: 5.33449 N, 100.30670 E
Directions: Italiannies is located on the Ground Floor of Queensbay Mall, next to Fridays near the north entrance. Queensbay Mall has a multilevel parking garage and several outdoor parking spaces.