Vistana

Special thanks to Vistana Penang Bukit Jambul for extending this food review invitation.

There are two major occasions when Vistana hosts festive banquets: Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Aidilfitri. My visit today is to participate in the preview of the upcoming Chinese New Year Yee Sang banquet (新春欢聚捞生晚宴), which is available daily from 18 January 2016 to 22 February 2016.
The mastermind behind this year's menu is Master Chef Ng Wing Lam (吴永霖), Vistana's Executive Chef for Chinese cuisine for several YTL hotels including Vistana Kuala Lumpur and Vistana Kuantan. Hailing from Hong Kong, Chef Ng is a 35-year veteran in the culinary line.
On Chinese New Year Eve (7 February 2016), a large dinner reception of 40 tables will be held at the Grand Ballroom. On other days, dinner is held in private rooms according to party size. Advanced reservation is certainly recommended as tables are selling quickly.
In conjunction with the festive spirit of the Spring Festival, Vistana's ballroom is blessed with good fortune by a pair of lively "lions". Lion dance performance will be held on selected days including Chinese New Year Eve (7 February 2016).
On certain nights, there is also live entertainment from musical troupe Princess And The Frog (青蛙王子). The pair of performers are ready to lighten the ambience of the ballroom with a number of Mandarin, Hokkien, Cantonese, English and Malay songs.
As the name implies, the highlight of tonight's banquet dinner is Salmon Yee Sang (三文鱼捞风生起). The dish consists of approximately ten individual ingredients, some to provide crispiness, some for taste, and others meant for visual appeal. Of course, the most important ingredient is raw salmon, from which "yee sang" (鱼生) derives its name.
Although the origin of yee sang is a matter of debate, many Chinese consider it auspicious to serve yee sang during Chinese New Year. It is customary for the entire family to toss the ingredients up in the air with chopsticks. This is a symbolic gesture of achieving "greater heights" in the year ahead.
For many Chinese restaurants, the second dish is usually shark fin soup. However in support of conservation efforts, YTL Group has pledged not to serve not to serve shark fin in all of its restaurants. Instead, Vistana serves Braised Pumpkin Soup With Assorted Seafood (金汤海皇羹).
The thick stew is derives its flavor from sweet pumpkin flesh, but also borrows heavily from seafood ingredients such as shrimp. Small cubes of soft tofu provide lovely mouthfeel. Although the pumpkin soup is more dilute than shark fin soup, I find it well-flavored nevertheless.
The next dish is Steamed Red Lion Fish With Superior Soya Sauce (清蒸红狮鱼). The flesh of red snapper is reasonably firm in texture, but its dense flesh deserves more seasoning in order to truly shine. To provide fresh aroma, the fish is topped with generous amount of parsley. As the fish is littered with tiny bones, it is advisable to be careful especially when supervising small children.
Moving on to poultry, Homemade Whole Chicken With Mushrooms (家乡煀肥鸡) is next on the line. Baked chicken is flavored with thick gravy made from corn starch. Red dates (红枣) provide some degree of sweetness. Meanwhile, wood ear fungus (黑木耳), enoki mushrooms (金针菇) and bok choy (小白菜) act as counterbalance to this savory dish.
This is followed by Deep-Fried Crispy Prawns With Yellow Beans And Mayo (豆酥脆明虾). The dish consists of deep-fried shrimp fritters with the shell removed. The crispy coating of yellow bean crumbs and mayonnaise drizzle make this a scrumptious treat.
This dish is particularly popular among children. I cannot recommend this dish highly enough.
Taking a detour to vegetarianism, Braised Garden Vegetables With Assorted Mushrooms (罗汉上素斋) is a stark contrast to the meat-heavy dishes so far. This vegetarian dish is made from a wide assortment of vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflowers, carrots, wood ear, enoki mushrooms and oyster mushrooms.
As the final dish before desserts, Wok-Fried Rice With Anchovies & Chicken (银鱼仔鸡粒炒饭) is meant to fill up any remaining space in the stomach. Littered with green peas and sweet corn, the rice is also topped with anchovies that serve not only as garnish, but also to provide respectable degree of crispiness. Although the rice is well-prepared, I think it can improve by going in either saltier or spicier directions.
Finally for desserts, Ginger Tea With Red Dates & Black Sesame Rice Ball (姜茶红枣汤圆) is served. The tangyuan (汤圆) is made from glutinous rice flour and contains black sesame paste as filling.
The accompanying syrup is made from ginger which is too dilute as a drink, but works fine as part of a dessert. Also included in the syrup are red dates that provide certain degree of sweetness. I appreciate such desserts in course dinners, as opposed to lychee syrup that is easily available from a can.
Tonight's dinner is a prelude to the actual banquet dinner, but several dishes have been switched to give more rounded representation of available choices. There are 3 sets of 7- or 8-course dinners to choose from, with prices ranging from RM618.00 to RM888.00 per table.
Name: Vistana Penang Bukit Jambul
Address: 213, Jalan Bukit Gambir, 11950, Bukit Jambul, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-646-8000
Business hours: 7:00pm-10:00pm
Website: http://www.vistanahotels.com/Penang/bukitjambul/Default.aspx
Coordinates: 5.33637 N, 100.29159 E
Directions: Driving southbound on Jalan Bukit Gambir, turn left just before Vistana and drive up to the lobby entrance. Basement parking is available from the back of the hotel. The parking fee is RM3.00 per entry for banquet guests.

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