Wakaba

Special thanks to Wakaba for extending this food review invitation.

This is my third visit to Wakaba Japanese Noodle Restaurant (若葉日本料理) at Elit Avenue. During this visit, I learned that Wakaba used to operate in Cenang Beach, Langkawi several years ago. However in 2015, the restaurant relocated to Penang and embarked on a journey to specialize in homemade noodles.
Since my previous visit, Wakaba has made incremental changes to its menu. The revised menu still revolves around its signature udon, soba and ramen noodles, which are made fresh in the kitchen. In addition, the menu also includes nabemono (鍋物), donburi (丼), curry rice (カレーライス), sushi (寿司), sashimi (刺身) and set meals (セット).
One of the new dishes is Hiyashi Chuka (冷し中華, RM18.00), which is similar to Zaru Soba (ざるそば) except for the fact that it uses ramen (ラーメン) instead of soba (そば). To prepare this dish, ramen noodle is first boiled till cooked. Then, ramen is chilled in ice to bring the temperature down so that it attains some degree of springiness. This dish is appealing indeed.
Ramen is served with other ingredients namely poached egg (温泉卵), crab stick (カニカマ), seaweed (海苔), pickled ginger (ガリ) and shredded cucumber. Meanwhile, the accompanying sauce has a combination of sweet and sour components, which really helps to draw appetite. The sauce is refrigerated for one day to allow its taste to develop fully.

Kurobuta Toubanyaki (黒豚陶板焼き, RM45.00) is another new dish on the menu. The centerpiece is kurobuta pork, one of the most prized pork selections in Japanese cookbooks. This exquisite pork is taken from Black Berkshire, a unique swine breed from England. Taken from the shoulders, kurobuta pork is very expensive because it has to be specially imported from Spain.
Raw kurobuta pork is served in a ceramic pot called touban (陶板). Similar to nabemono, the pot is heated by a gas-powered stove. As kurobuta pork is renowned for unusually high fat content, the flesh remains juicy and tender despite being cooked for nearly 10 minutes. As soon as the succulent pork starts to cook, it emits buttery aroma to the immediate surroundings.
Once cooked, the pork is best enjoyed with specially-formulated dipping sauce based on vinegar. The sauce carries sharp tanginess which helps to accentuate savoriness of pork. Meanwhile, shimeji mushrooms (占地), bell pepper and onion provide natural sweetness that complements well with flavor-rich pork.
Kurobuta Toubanyaki comes as a set which also includes an appetizer, miso soup (味噌汁), rice and fruit. The actual appetizer varies from day to day. Today, the appetizer is potato croquette (コロッケ) infused with milk. I think the croquette is nicely-prepared overall.
Besides pork, there are other versions of toubanyaki on Wakaba's new menu. Beef (ビーフ) and seafood (シーフード) are popular options. For something lighter, try pork cutlet (ヒレカツ) or fried shrimp (海老カツ) toubanyaki instead; raw egg is included.
Wakaba's ice cream menu has been expanded too. Besides the sesame version which I tried before, Yuzu Ice Cream (ゆずアイスクリーム, RM4.00) has proven to be very popular. This homemade ice cream is made from yuzu (柚子), a citrus fruit originally grown in East Asia. I love the ice cream's pleasant sweetness and creamy consistency. The ice cream is also littered with occasional bits of yuzu fruit.
Although Wakaba's menu appears to be more expensive than the average Japanese restaurant in Penang, its selection of premium ingredients justifies marginally higher pricing. To truly enjoy Japanese food, why go for localized ones that cut corners when you can enjoy authentic dishes that are prepared by an experienced chef from Japan?
Name: Wakaba Japanese Noodle Restaurant (若葉日本料理)
Address: 1-1-31, Elit Avenue, Jalan Mayang Pasir 3, 11950 Bayan Baru, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-637-1122
Business hours: 11:30am-2:30pm, 6:00pm-10:00pm, closed on Mondays
Website: https://www.facebook.com/wakabapg
Coordinates: 5.32277 N, 100.28198 E
Directions: Wakaba is located at the western side of Elit Avenue in Bayan Baru. Roadside and garage parking are available.

Barista Pizzeria

Special thanks to Barista Pizzeria for extending this food review invitation.

The proprietors behind Barista Coffee 'N' Pizza House opened a new outlet 4 months ago. Formally known as Barista Café & Casa De Pizzeria, this eatery is located next to The Boutique Residence Hotel and is within a stone's throw from the bustling Armenian Street (Lebuh Armenian) and Cannon Street (Lebuh Cannon).
Like the original outlet in Bazaar Tanjung, Barista Pizzeria specializes in hand-tossed pizza, pasta and coffee. There are nearly 20 types of pizzas with various toppings, ranging from chicken to mutton, seafood to vegetarian. Pizzas are made to order and typically take 20 minutes to prepare from scratch.
Barista Pizzeria spans the width of two shop units along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. The dining section has air-conditioning, providing much-needed break from the scorching afternoon sun. Background music fills the room with lively character, making this place a great spot to rest and mingle around after a long day exploring the nearby heritage area.
Meanwhile, customers who prefer al fresco dining can find a seat along the front corridor of the eatery. Outdoor dining is more viable in the mornings and evenings when the weather is more favorable.
At Barista Pizzeria, each pizza comes in standard size of 11 inches and is served on a wooden peel. Typically, the pizza uses 3 types of cheese (colby, cheddar, mozzarella). Parmesan is sometimes used as the fourth. Dried Italian herbs and olive oil help to enhance aroma, which permeates the entire dining room with lovely fragrance as soon as the pizza comes out from the oven.
English Breakfast Pizza (RM24.00) was introduced to the menu recently and has toppings that are typical of English breakfast: chicken sausage, turkey bacon, mushroom, cherry tomato and egg. The egg is at the center is reasonably runny when served, resembling half-boiled egg that many people enjoy as breakfast. This pizza is usually given a light drizzle of mustard, but mustard sauce is unfortunately in low supply today.
Meanwhile, the Queen Margherita Pizza (RM21.90) is a type of Neapolitan pizza customarily topped with basil leaves, cheese and tomato sauce. The tomato sauce is infused with some cheese, making it rich in flavor on its own. In addition, the pizza also includes 3 types of cheese - all molten as a sticky layer above the crust. I find this pizza quite enjoyable and would certainly recommend it to anyone who loves basil.
The pasta section of the menu has a handful of spaghetti and linguine recipes. Fusion Mutton Bolognese (RM16.00) is probably one of the more special ones. A heap of linguine, cooked al dente, is topped with savory minced mutton and tomato gravy. Grated parmesan cheese, parsley and Italian herbs provide the finishing touch to this appetizing pasta dish.
Barista Pizzeria's menu has a reasonably complete range of coffee drinks. Coffee beans are supplied by illy, a reputable coffee roaster from Italy with worldwide recognition. Each cup of coffee comes with a couple of cookies for good measure. Meanwhile, non-coffee drinkers can order from a list of non-caffeinated drinks such as soda, fruit juice and milkshake. Beer is also available.
Doppio (RM6.95) means "double" in Italian, or in coffee parlance, refers to double shot espresso. This is the best way to appraise illy's coffee in its purest form.
Café Latte (RM7.95) consists of single shot espresso, abundance of steamed milk and a thin layer of milk foam. This hot drink is served in a tall transparent mug to showcase its smooth, homogeneous consistency.
Cappuccino (RM7.95) is similar to Café Latte but typically comes in smaller volume. Cappuccino contains equal parts of espresso, steamed milk and milk foam, making the top foam layer rather thick and appealing. A sprinkle of cocoa powder is added on top for aesthetic appeal.
Next is an iced coffee drink which enjoys widespread popularity in Italy. Shakerato (RM8.95) consists of two shots of espresso, milk and ice cubes - all shaken thoroughly in a cocktail shaker. The original version of Shakerato in Italy usually does not include milk.
As for coffee granita (iced blended coffee), there are also several interesting types to choose from. Mocha Invasion (RM11.95) is prepared from espresso, milk, chocolate syrup, coffee ice cream and ice cubes. Whipped cream and chocolate fudge serve as icing on the cake.
Besides dine-in customers, Barista Pizzeria also caters for private parties between 15 and 50 people. Party packages are attractively priced from RM13.90 per adult and RM7.90 per child, and typically include several types of pizza, soup, salad and drinks. Birthday cake and live performance can also be arranged upon request.

Name: Barista Café & Casa De Pizzeria
Address: 133, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-261-5013
Business hours: 9:00am-11:00pm
Coordinates: 5.41575 N, 100.33738 E
Directions: Barista Pizzeria is located towards the end of Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, near the intersection with Armenian Street (Lebuh Armenian) and Cannon Street (Lebuh Cannon). As a tourist spot, parking in this area is quite limited. Chances are that you need to park several streets away and walk here on foot.

Franco

Special thanks to Alora Hotel for extending this food review invitation.

Alora Hotel Penang is a hotel in Bayan Point. In case this building looks familiar, it was formerly a service apartment called B-suite. Under new owners, this 19-floor building has been converted to a hotel and is being upgraded in phases. There are 304 rooms in total, each room having an astounding 500 square feet of floor space!
Quite recently, the hotel has opened several eateries at the Ground Floor: Franco, Ichiban The Izakaya and Chop Chin Hin Hardware Cafe. While some of these brands are franchises, the restaurants are operated by the hotel itself. My visit today is aimed at Franco, a casual dining restaurant which specializes in fusion cuisine.

With warm yellow lights, unique floor tiling and red-and-black color scheme, Franco presents a family-friendly dining atmosphere. Wooden tables and steel chairs are nearly arranged around the dining area. Although Franco has over a dozen outlets across the country, this is the only outlet in Penang so far.
Franco French Toast (RM17.80) is one of the most popular dishes here. The toast is made from a special type of bread called "Queen Bread", which is thoroughly dipped in beaten eggs. The bread is pan-fried and then served stacked on top one another in a warm iron pan. The toast is topped with whipped cream and icing sugar, while maple syrup is provided separately. The fluffy nature of the bread and savory butter-like savoriness make this dish very agreeable with my palate.
Orijinaru Soufflé Pancake (オリジナルスフレパンケーキ, RM13.80) is made to order and requires 20 minutes to prepare from scratch. This dish is the assimilation of traditional French pastry with elements of Japanese baking techniques. As soon as the pancake is served, sweet-smelling aroma permeates the immediate vicinity, turning over several heads in the process.
The pancake is quite thick and is served warm. Both facts explain why the center of the pancake feels moist. The pastry appears fluffy yet not too crumbly to an extent where it flakes off. Indeed, the word "soufflé" means "to puff" in French. The pancake best enjoyed in small bites and especially with some maple syrup. Overall, I think this is a commendable dish and is best shared around the table.
The word "yūmeina" means "famous" in Japanese, so the fact that Spaghetti Yūmeina (有名なスパゲッティ, RM28.80) is the bestseller in Franco should not come as a surprise. Off the bat, I am immediately impressed with the enormous serving size. Also included in this oversized dish are smoked chicken ham, shimeji mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, eggplant, baby spinach, cabbage, onion and sesame seeds.
Spaghetti is cooked al dente and complements harmoniously with the broth. All ingredients are brought together in a seamless manner through a special blend of broth based on soy sauce. The broth is water-based, which explains why the pasta does not feel greasy at all. A poached egg (温泉卵) takes the center stage, boasting its solidified albumen which envelopes a runny yolk.
Next, Berries Cheesecake Decadent Parfait (RM15.80) is a French frozen dessert made from alternating layers of soft serve vanilla ice cream and Philadelphia cream cheese. Graham crackers provide the much-needed crispiness, while fresh blueberries and strawberries punctuate the dessert with fruity sourness. Once again, this serving of parfait is significantly larger than average ones sold in other restaurants or shopping mall kiosks.
Iced Matcha Latte With Matcha Softee (RM14.80) is a matcha-lover's dream come true. Served in a stoneware cup similar to Japanese tea cups, the drink is infused with mild, satisfying bitterness of ground tea leaves. Meanwhile, soft serve matcha ice cream towers above the rim of the cup. If you are a matcha-lover and need to choose between a drink and an ice cream, why not pick both?
Overall, Franco impresses me with its large serving size, well-balanced flavoring and creative fusion gourmet. Besides the à la carte menu, the restaurant also offers 3-course lunch (from RM19.90) and 4-course dinner (RM35.90) every day. It is also interesting to note that Franco is a pork-free restaurant and does not serve alcohol.

Name: Franco
Address: Alora Hotel Penang, 19, Medan Kampung Relau, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-646-7777
Business hours: 12:00pm-11:00pm
Website: http://www.alorahotel.com
Coordinates: 5.33366 N, 100.29441 E
Directions: Alora Hotel is a 19-floor building in Bayan Point. Franco is located on the Ground Floor and next to the hotel lobby. Basement parking is accessible from the west side of the hotel. The parking fee is RM1.00 per hour.

Auction Rooms

Special thanks to Auction Rooms for extending this food review invitation.

Kimberley Hotel is a new hotel at Jalan Sungai Ujong, within a short walking distance from Prangin Mall. Refurbished from heritage buildings, the 5-floor hotel has 118 rooms in total. Just across a narrow alley from the hotel is Auction Rooms, an eatery which is also under the same management.
Auction Rooms was inspired by auctions that the owner observed during her stay in Australia, although no auctions actually take place here. Despite the modest facade, the dining section of Auction Rooms is elegantly furnished with comfortable sofa cushions and pillows. Cool ambience and warm lighting make the place quite relaxing indeed.
Set lunch (RM18.00) is served between 11:00am and 3:00pm daily. The meal includes a starter, a choice of main dish (such as Otak Chicken Wings and Fish N Chips), ice cream dessert and a drink. The food at Auction Rooms is pork-free.
Today's appetizer is deep-fried spring roll, which is best enjoyed when still hot from the fryer. Inside the crispy roll are shredded jicama and carrot. I like the fact that the spring roll does not feel too greasy.
According to the staff, Grilled Chicken Chop With Mushroom Sauce is one of the popular dishes here. A piece of deboned chicken leg is grilled until brown, then served with grilled potato and a spoonful of mushroom sauce.
The chicken is bursting with juicy tenderness, thanks to the right choice of meat and perfect doneness. Creamy and chunky mushroom sauce serves to enhance chicken flavor to greater heights.
Another choice of main dish is Chicken Parmigiana. Also made from deboned chicken leg, the fillet is deep-fried until crispy. As per tradition, chicken is then topped with fresh tomato sauce and molten cheese. This dish is also served with grilled potato.
The chicken is enjoyable right from the first bite. I like how the succulent flesh interacts with tangy tomato sauce and creamy cheese. I find the fillet to be enjoyable from the beginning till the end. Although I still believe that pan-frying produces better Chicken Parmigiana, I am still satisfied with Auction Rooms' cooking.
Ice cream is served as the dessert. The ice cream is quite dense and does not melt too quickly, much to my delight. I also like the use of honey corn flakes to provide lovely crispiness.
As for drinks, the set meal comes with iced peach tea. Should customers prefer, the à la carte drinks menu also provides a range of coffee, tea, juice and mocktail choices.
The pastry section of Auction Rooms has a handful of cakes to enjoy with coffee. The cakes are sold by the slice.
A slice of Chocolate Deluxe (RM14.00) is the choice to satisfy our sweet tooth. The dark chocolate mousse cake is rich in bold flavor, striking a chord with my palate. A piece of white chocolate and sprinkle of gold dust serve as icing on the cake.
Having fulfilled our sugar craving, the next order of business is an adrenaline boost to get through the lazy afternoon. Mocha (RM11.00) and Cappuccino (RM11.00) are prepared from an espresso machine and are reasonably well-prepared. Foam art provides aesthetic appeal.
The restaurant also serves set dinner (RM28.00) from 6:00pm to 10:00pm. The meal also includes starter, dessert and drink, but different main dishes are offered. Meanwhile, breakfast at Auction Rooms primarily caters hotel guests, but walk-in customers are also welcomed to dine.

Name: Auction Rooms
Address: 38A, Jalan Sungai Ujong, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-263-6688
Business hours: 7:00am-10:00pm
Website: https://www.facebook.com/auctionroomsgeorgetown
Coordinates: 5.41581 N, 100.33173 E
Directions: From Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong, turn left to Jalan Sungai Ujong. Auction Rooms and Kimberley Hotel are located shortly on the left. There is a narrow lane between both buildings which leads to a car park at the back of the hotel.

Up And Above

Special thanks to Up And Above for extending this food review invitation.

Up And Above European Cuisine opened its doors 4 months ago. This semi-fine dining restaurant specializes in French cuisine with elements of other European dishes, particularly Italian. Located at a row of shops just opposite of Pulau Tikus' post office, this 2-floor restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The kitchen is headed by Chef Thomas Lee, who is also one of the owners of the restaurant. An aspiring chef with decade-long experience working in the United Kingdom and Singapore, Thomas is back to his hometown in Penang to start his own restaurant. The name of this restaurant reflects his pursuit of greater heights of excellence.
To cater the fast-moving lunch crowd, Up And Above has the C'est Bon Lunch Special every day between 12:00pm and 3:00pm. "C'est bon" means "it's good" in French. Diners can choose either chicken, pork or fish - each with several cooking techniques (such as sous-vide, oven-baked, pan-fried) and gravy (such as black pepper, creamy mushroom, spicy tomato). Each dish also comes with a choice of starch: either Pilaf Rice, Olive Rice or Mashed Potato.

The meal begins with Soup Of The Day (RM5.00), which turns out to be Tomato Soup. Prepared from fresh tomatoes, the soup is dominated by appetizing tanginess. Unlike many restaurants, sweetness takes the backseat in Tomato Soup as too much sugar tends to overwhelm the palate early on.
Chicken Parmigiana (RM17.90) is based on traditional Italian dish Parmigiana Di Melanzane, made from eggplant, tomato and cheese. The current form was introduced and popularized by Italian immigrants to the United States. For this dish, a piece of deboned chicken leg is coated with honey corn flakes, then pan-fried with corn oil. Bacon strip and mozzarella cheese are added towards the end. Finally, the chicken fillet is dressed in freshly-made tomato sauce.
Each dish comes with a heap of coleslaw on the side. The coleslaw is made from finely shredded red cabbage and green cabbage, in an appearance similar to German sauerkraut except that it is not fermented. Raisins provide subtle sweetness but not to supplant the natural sweetness of vegetables. The coleslaw is held together using French mayonnaise, which contains mustard to sharpen the taste. Each chew of this crunchy coleslaw is satisfying indeed.
Pork Parmigiana (RM17.90) is prepared in a similar manner. The pork fillet is substantially firmer than chicken, so it is ideal for people who prefer denser texture of meat. Personally, I think the pork is slightly on the dry side, so chicken is still my personal preference. Like its chicken counterpart, Pork Parmigiana is topped with bacon and molten mozzarella cheese.
Olive Rice is infused with some amount of chicken stock, which gives it the slightly oily texture and aromatic presence. A small amount of chopped olive contributes to taste.
Meanwhile, Tilapia Parmigiana (RM17.90) is tenderer than pork but still not quite on par with chicken in terms of texture. However, I feel that the mozzarella cheese topping works harmoniously with the fish.
Pilaf Rice is heavily seasoned with chicken broth, to a greater extent compared to Olive Rice. The appearance is resembles Hainanese chicken rice or poule au riz in French cuisine. The rice is light and bursting with savory flavor - an expectation when rice is infused with so much chicken essence.
Going off a tangent, Oven Baked Sea Bream (RM15.90) takes a different preparation method with different result. The fish itself is exquisite - delicate and tender - making it very agreeable in the mouth. The fillet is flavored with capsicum coulis, which I think is very mild in terms of spiciness.
In lieu of rice, one may also go for mashed potato. The mashed potato here is prepared from actual potatoes, not from instant ones. Mashed by hand, the entire preparation process is laborious but rewarding. I can feel the "grainy" texture of potato granules within each mouthful.
The lunch menu also includes several types of pasta. A recommended dish is Linguine Pork Bolognese (RM9.90). Bolognese sauce is made from minced pork, onion and tomato, resulting in something between creamy and watery consistencies. Eaten with linguine, bold flavor of pork resonates well with the milder taste of pasta. The serving size of this dish is quite large but does not feel too taxing to the stomach.
Crème Brûlée (RM4.00) is prepared by caramelizing a layer of sugar on top of custard. Usually, a butane torch is used. The hard, transparent layer helps to keep the custard moist. There are two types of custard here: vanilla and orange zest. The latter is served today. In either case, vanilla sticks or fresh oranges are used. Up And Above does not use artificial essence in its food.
Last but not least, the cup of Latte (RM5.00) is prepared from espresso coffee. The drink is quite smooth and has pleasant sweetness thanks to the presence of fresh milk. Brewed from organic, fair trade beans, the coffee is surprisingly affordable especially in an upscale setting.
At Up And Above, much effort is expended in food preparation. The restaurant favors fresh ingredients and manual preparation to present maximum freshness - even if it means higher cost that many restaurants are unwilling to afford. Nevertheless, the lunch menu is surprisingly inexpensive when ambience and service are taken into consideration. The restaurant has an entirely different menu for breakfast and dinner, both of which I am eager to savor next.

Name: Up And Above European Cuisine
Address: 37-D, Jalan Cantonment, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 012-407-9168
Business hours: 7:30am-3:00pm, 6:00pm-10:00pm
Website: http://www.upandabove-dining.com
Coordinates: 5.43224 N, 100.31189 E
Directions: From Burmah Road (Jalan Burma), turn left into Lintang Burma at Kedai Makan Chang Senr (昌胜咖啡室). Immediately, drive along the service road parallel to Burmah Road. After the corner, Up And Above is located on the left. Street parking is available along the service road, but vacant spaces may be scarce during peak hours.