Vistana

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

Vistana Penang Bukit Jambul is a 4-star hotel near Kompleks Bukit Jambul. Taking advantage of its proximity to the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone, this 423-room hotel is a popular choice for corporate clientele.
Although I have visited Vistana several times before (for Chinese New Year and Ramadan previews), this is my first overnight stay in this hotel. For the most part, Vistana provides the amenities and comfort a 4-star hotel should offer.
Buffet breakfast is served at the hotel's sole eatery, simply called Cafe. This halal-certified restaurant serves a mixture of Malaysian hawker fare and Western style breakfast. Breakfast is served from 6:30am to 10:30am.
Name: Vistana Penang Bukit Jambul
Address: 213, Jalan Bukit Gambir, 11950, Bukit Jambul, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-646-8000
Business hours: 24 hours
Website: http://www.vistanahotels.com/Penang/bukitjambul
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 hotel guests.

Ming Xiang Tai

Ming Xiang Tai (名香泰饼家) is a popular Cantonese pastry house in Penang. Starting as a trishaw peddler in Teluk Intan during the 1970s, the brand has expanded to several outlets throughout Penang Island.
One of the most popular outlets is a corner shop at Victoria Street (Lebuh Victoria) and Armenian Street Ghaut (Gat Lebuh Armenian) in George Town. Situated within proximity of Chew Jetty (姓周桥), the pastry house enjoys throngs of tourists every day.
It is a little-known fact that there is another outlet just several doors away from the corner shop. This smaller shop is called Ming Xiang Tai Medicine Tea Shop (名香泰凉茶铺) and faces Kedai Minuman Dan Makanan CF (进福饮食中心).
Ming Xiang Tai Medicine Tea Shop focuses on traditional Chinese herbal drinks and local products like nutmegs. Although pastry is not sold here, customers are allowed to bring food from the main shop since both outlets are essentially under the same management.
The signature item at Ming Xiang Tai is the Signature Trishaw Egg Tart (招牌三轮车蛋挞, RM2.20). Unlike most bakeries, Ming Xiang Tai uses puff pastry for the tart's crust, instead of shortcrust pastry. Personally, I prefer the former because the flaky texture works better with egg custard. Meanwhile, the egg custard is also quite enjoyable thanks to its lovely composition.
Wife Pastry (粤式老婆饼, RM2.00) is a flaky pastry filled with sweet paste made from winter melons, almonds and sesame seeds. This is a traditional Cantonese pastry which is customarily given to relatives and friends during wedding celebrations. There are several versions regarding the origins of this pastry, one of which involves a poor man who invented the recipe buy his wife out of slavery.
As for herbal drinks, Antelope Radix (羚羊麦冬水, RM11.50) is our choice today. The refreshing sensation through the lips is complemented by bitter-sweet on the tongue. This herbal drink is believed to have cooling and cleansing properties on the human body.
Overall, I find the Signature Trishaw Egg Tart to be most delectable. Indeed, I would recommend this shop to tourists who visit Penang.
Address: 26, Gat Lebuh Armenian, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-261-9887
Business hours: 9:00am-9:00pm
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Chew Jetty Café

Chew Jetty Café (海墘茶室), as the name implies, is located at the entrance of Chew Jetty (姓周桥). As a tourist hotspot, Chew Jetty draws a constant stream of customers to nearby businesses.
One of the stalls in Chew Jetty Café sells Hokkien Mee (福建面, RM3.30), which is better known outside Penang as Prawn Mee (虾面). Hokkien Mee is one of the most iconic dishes in Penang's hawker scene. Indeed, the soup is so aromatic that it can be picked up from the other side of the road!
Hokkien Mee uses spicy soup which is infused with rich flavors of shrimp stock. Typically, yellow noodle (黄面) and rice vermicelli (米粉) are both used in Hokkien Mee. Other ingredients are sliced pork and hard-boiled egg. Overall, I find this dish very enjoyable.
There is also a "hidden" stall here which operates from a private home in Chew Jetty itself. The stall offers several types of cooked seafood dishes. As the supply of fresh seafood is limited, customers are asked to pre-order by calling 04-262-9654 at least a day before.
One of the delicacies that we pre-ordered is Belitung (海螺, RM7.00). The sea snails are cooked in sweet-spicy sauce which really draws appetite through its fiery aroma. Fortunately, the sauce is not too spicy, so it can be eaten without rice. With help of a toothpick, there is a special technique to remove sea snails' flesh from their shells. This dish is certainly worth every sen.
Also ordered from the same stall is Kappa (蛤蜊, RM5.00) or clams. This time, shellfish is cooked with fermented bean paste (豆瓣酱) and ginger. The sauce is moderately spicy and reasonably savory. I recommend this dish too.
As for drinks, Chew Jetty Café offers refreshing juices such as Passion Fruit Juice (百香果汁, RM3.00) and Honey Lemon Juice (柠檬蜂蜜汁, RM3.00).
Address: 49, Pengkalan Weld, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-263-4235
Business hours: 12:00pm-9:00pm
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Via Pre

Special thanks to Via Pre for extending this food review invitation.

My previous visits to Via Pre last January and March have been enlightening. Unlike most Italian restaurants in Malaysia, Via Pre remains faithful to authentic Italian ingredients and recipes. This is why I am much honored to pay my third visit, this time to Via Pre's second outlet at Bukit Damansara, Kuala Lumpur.
This new outlet is located in a more secluded part of the capital city. Surrounded by affluent neighborhood, Via Pre enjoys a constant stream of customers including Western expatriates. Because this restaurant is not quite as spacious, there are fewer variety of cured meat, cheese and wine here as compared to its sister outlet.
Shortly after being seated, customers are served with a complementary basket of focaccia and wholemeal bread. Despite having limited kitchen space, Via Pre insists on baking its own bread to ensure maximum freshness. Indeed, the bread is aromatic upon serving, and the soft texture appeals to my palate. Italian bread is customarily enjoyed with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The meal starts with Spritz (RM27.00), a drink which I have been craving for since my previous visit. This apéritif is concocted from a precise ratio of Prosecco sparkling wine, Aperol liqueur and soda water. A slice of orange in each glass imparts tangy citrus appeal. Spritz is one of the most popular thirst-quenching drinks during the summer months of Italy.
The opening dish is Cozze Della Casa (RM56.00), or "homestyle mussels". At the center of the bowl are giant New Zealand mussels, extremely fresh and blessed with plump flesh. The mussels are flavored by spicy tomato marinara sauce made from fresh tomatoes, garlic and a dash of white wine. Around the rim of the bowl are slices of schiacciata bread. Schiacciata has very similar texture to pizza crust; the bread is chewy and slightly powdery on the surface.
Cozze Della Casa is often paired with white wine. Parrina Ansonica Costa dell'Argentario (RM39.00) from Tuscany is one good choice.
From the pasta menu, Aglio Olio With Broccoli & Sausages (RM32.00) is great for diners who prefer a balance between meats and greens. This lovely dish matches savory duck sausages with vegetables such as broccoli, dried chili, garlic and parsley. Spaghetti is made from whole-wheat flour and is cooked al dente. Upon request, gluten-free pasta is also available. At Via Pre, pasta is either made from scratch, or sourced from Italy.
Costolette Agnello (Lamb Chops, RM79.00), Via Pre's signature lamb rack, makes a comeback - albeit with slightly different presentation. Three frenched ribs of Australian lamb are gratinéed with eggplant paste and goat cheese. A dash of extra virgin olive oil permeates the immediate vicinity with tantalizing aroma and helps to accentuate bold flavors of lamb. Served next to lamb ribs are broccoli, potatoes and sweet potatoes. Lemon wedge and scallion sauce are provided. The heavenly savoriness of this lamb chop is gratifying indeed.
In most cases, red meat like lamb is ideally paired with red wine. The choice of red wine this evening is Parrina Sangiovese Riserva (RM39.00).
At Via Pre, pizza crust is made from scratch such that it has the distinctive chewiness of fresh dough. As for toppings, Via Del Pre Kul (RM32.00) is the choice today. Covered with Neapolitan sauce (tomato sauce) and mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella), the dough is topped with an assortment of fresh vegetables like broccoli, black olives, capers, garlic, onion and chili. Light sprinkle of chopped parsley forms the finishing touch of this delectable pizza dish.
Il Tiramisu (RM22.00) is served as the dessert. This coffee-flavored treat is primarily made from savoiardi (ladyfingers), an egg-based sponge cake shaped like a large finger. For tiramisu, savoiardi is soaked in espresso. The dessert is also layered with creamy mixture of mascarpone cheese, eggs and cocoa. As per tradition, tiramisu is also given an infusion of Marsala wine. Finally, tiramisu is typically carpeted by a layer of cocoa powder for aesthetic effect.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Tonight's dinner service concludes with a cup of fine coffee. At Via Pre, coffee beans are supplied by Rome-based Buscaglione Caffè. Italians are known for their cult of coffee, so the fact that this coffee makes the cut says a lot about its superior quality. Shown here is a cup of Espresso (RM9.00) and a cup of Latte (RM12.00).
It is interesting to note that the Italian palate is extremely diverse. For example, most coffee roasters are only known locally and rarely get the opportunity to venture beyond their respective regions of origin.

Throughout the entire evening, light background music keeps the ambience of this restaurant lively. With plenty of parking spaces on the side, Via Pre is becoming a popular dining spot for locals and expatriates alike. By the way, food at Via Pre Bukit Damansara is pork-free in order to suit the demographics around this outlet.

Name: Via Pre
Address: 25, Lorong Setia Bistari 2, Taman Bukit Damansara, 50490 Kuala Lumpur
Contact: 03-2011-2003
Business hours: 11:30am-3:30pm, 5:30pm-10:30pm (Sunday-Thursday), 11:30am-3:30pm, 5:30pm-11:00pm (Friday-Saturday), closed on Mondays
Website: http://www.via-pre.com
Coordinates: 3.14386 N, 101.65753 E
Directions: Traveling eastward on Sprint Expressway, take exit 2314B to Bukit Damansara. After the Petron gas station, turn left at the next opportunity to Jalan Beringin. After approximately 400 meters, turn left to Lorong Setia Bistari 2. Drive until you see a row of shops on the right. Via Pre is the corner shop in this row. There are parking spaces in front of Via Pre and at the adjacent overflow parking lot.

Art & Soul

Special thanks to Hotel NEO+ for extending this food review invitation.

Hotel NEO+ is located at the junction of Jalan Gurdwara and Lebuh Presgrave. This 196-room hotel is best known for its youthful appearance, particularly the iconic white wigs worn by female staff members of the front desk.
Besides Lemongrass Restaurant which I visited earlier this year, Hotel NEO+ has another eatery at the ground floor: Art & Soul Cafe.
Unlike Lemongrass Restaurant, Art & Soul Cafe is open throughout most of the day. The food menu revolves around light meals such as sandwiches, pizza and pasta. There is also a drinks bar with a decent selection of coffee, juice, milkshake and beer.
Art & Soul Cafe's décor is geared towards the young adult demographic. Stylish tabletops and wooden fittings provide a relaxing setting for youngsters to hang out. Displayed on the walls are stencil portraits of Hollywood legends such as Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.
Art & Soul Cafe is launching the Saturday Special BBQ Skewers promotion. Starting 8:00pm every Saturday, an outdoor grill is fired up to provide a steady stream of skewered meat for hungry customers. Charcoal is used for cooking, which is good news because burning charcoal helps to impart meats a light sense of toastiness.
Cajun Beef (RM14.00) is cooked to "medium done" in steakhouse lexicon. Teriyaki Chicken (RM8.00) is appealing thanks to its sweet-savory glaze. Juiciness and tender texture of Grilled Seabass Assam Fillet (RM8.00) are preserved by folding it in aluminium foil. Cajun Prawns (RM10.00) may require fingers to become oily as their shells often get in the way of silverware. Lastly, Jumbo Chicken Pepper Sausage (RM8.00) is cut into 3 segments and is interleaved with bell peppers and onion. Pari Belacan Bakar (RM12.00), or Barbecued Belacan Ray, is not available today.
As for condiments, peri-peri, chili, teriyaki and black pepper sauces are available.
The atmosphere in Art & Soul Cafe is kept lively by a local band. Live music runs from 8:30pm to 11:00pm every Saturday. This week, the evening crowd is entertained by one Leo & Viv, a vocal-and-keyboard band from the local artiste arena.
With relaxing music filling the ears, it is even nicer to get my hands on a frothy glass of Carlsberg draught beer (RM18.00). In fact, there is an ongoing Daily Happy Hour from 3:00pm to 8:00pm: Purchase 2 Pilsner glasses and get the third glass on the house!
If beer is not your cup of tea, consider pampering yourself with a monthly special beverage such as Captain Oat Milkshake (RM15.00). This drink is made from oats, milk, vanilla ice cream and honey.
Another monthly special is Mr. Peanut (RM15.00), a sweet-buttery drink made from peanut butter, milk and vanilla ice cream.
As for coffee, Art & Soul Cafe uses espresso extracted from illy coffee beans. I wouldn't go as far to say that this is the best coffee out there, but you can't go wrong with illy for most of the time. My cup of Black Coffee (RM10.00) comes with a piece of marshmallow.
Name: Art & Soul Cafe
Address: 68, Jalan Gurdwara, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-255-1000
Business hours: 11:00am-11:00pm (Sunday-Friday), 11:00am-12:00am (Saturday)
Website: http://www.neohotels.com/en/location/overview/57/Hotel-NEO--Penang---Malaysia
Coordinates: 5.41229 N, 100.32847 E
Directions: Hotel NEO+ is located at the junction of Jalan Gurdwara and Lebuh Presgrave of George Town. Art & Soul Cafe is located on the ground level, right next to the lobby entrance. Multi-level parking is available.