Kesum Art Restaurant

Special thanks to Kesum Art Restaurant for extending this food review invitation.

Kesum Art Restaurant is located at the corner of Stewart Lane (Lorong Stewart) and Chulia Lane (Lorong Chulia). Surrounded by narrow alleys and heritage buildings, this restaurant doubles as an art gallery. Its name "kesum" refers to a tropical herb that is often used in Southeast Asian cooking. Kesum leaf is also known as laksa leaf because it is an essential ingredient of laksa.
The art gallery takes up the upper floor of this shop. On the walls are a number of oil paintings created by resident artists Rosli Jaafar and Shaparel Salleh. The displayed arts are for sale. On occasion, this art gallery also serves as the venue for art exhibitions and forums. Kesum Art Restaurant often participates in cultural events such as George Town Festival, during which some proceeds from art sales are donated to charities.
The dining section at the ground floor is decorated with more oil paintings. With a color scheme of black and purple, the restaurant presents a mystical charming ambience. As for the menu, Kesum Art Restaurant specializes in Johorean cuisine, which is currently a rarity here in Penang. The cooking recipes are based on the proprietor's home cooking from the southern state.
Today's meal commences with Chicken Satay and Beef Satay (RM9.00 for 6 skewers). Marinated with a blend of spices especially kunyit (turmeric), the meats are gently roasted over flame to retain their juiciness. Satay is nearly always eaten with spicy peanut sauce. Sliced cucumber and shallots are also present.
An alternative appetizer is Gado-Gado (RM9.00), a popular salad dish from Indonesia. "Gado" means "to mix" in Indonesian. The name reflects the fact that a variety of ingredients are mixed together to create Gado-Gado. Included here are tempeh (fermented soybeans), tofu, potatoes, kacang panjang (yardlong beans), kangkung (water spinach), quail eggs and keropok (crackers). Gado-Gado is served with another type of spicy peanut sauce, which has slightly different composition compared to the one used for satay.
Hailing from Java, Botok Botok (RM19.00) is a popular delicacy made from fish and kelapa parut (grated coconut kernel). Although the traditional recipe calls for ikan kembung (mackerel), this restaurant uses sea bass instead because the latter appeals better to the local palate. The fish is marinated with daun kesum (laksa leaf), daun selasih (basil leaf), daun cekur (galangal leaf), daun bebuas (premna mint leaf), daun kunyit (turmeric leaf) and daun limau purut (kaffir lime leaf). The fish is then blanketed in several layers of pucuk mengkudu (noni leaf), pucuk ubi (tapioca leaf) and pucuk kaduk (wild betel leaf).
Steamed in banana leaf, the seasoned fish is delightfully delicate and flavorful. On the side, a saucer of chili paste with limau kasturi (calamansi) provides sharp pungency. There is also a special blend of soy sauce infused with fiery sensation of cili padi (bird's eye chili). Botok Botok comes with a heap of steamed rice, crackers, cucumber and salted duck egg. A truly exquisite dish, I must say.
Another dish that strikes a chord with my palate is Lontong (RM15.00). Also originating in Indonesia, Lontong has become very popular in Johor and Singapore. This dish is named after its main ingredient: compressed rice cake. Although similar to nasi impit in appearance, the rice cake for Lontong is prepared in a different manner.
The milk-rich soup, called "soto", is infused with aromatic essence of turmeric. Other ingredients in this dish are glass noodle, tempeh, tofu, tofu skin, sengkuang (jicama), yardlong beans, carrots and quail eggs. A small serving of crackers is presented on the side. Lontong comes with two condiments: sambal tumis ikan bilis (fried anchovy sauce) and spicy peanut sauce.

Compared to laksa recipes from other states, Laksa Johor (RM15.00) is most peculiar in the sense that it uses spaghetti instead of rice noodle. This Western influence was inspired by the late Sultan Abu Bakar (Father of Modern Johor) during a tour in Europe.
Meanwhile, the spicy fish gravy has noticeably thicker consistency compared to Penang's asam laksa due to the presence of kerisik (coconut butter). Other essential ingredients for laksa are bean sprouts, cucumber, onions, mint leaves, calamansi and chili paste.

Shrimp lovers will be infatuated with the bowl of Mee Rebus Udang (RM19.00). The sweet-spicy gravy is made from shrimp broth. 4 pieces of fairly-large shrimps make the gravy richer than it already is.
Besides yellow noodle, this dish also contains bean sprouts, tomato, water spinach and hard-boiled egg. Fried shallots help to accentuate the dish's aroma and flavor. Green chili peppers and calamansi are provided as condiments.

Moving on to traditional Malay desserts, the creamy Pengat (RM4.00) is rich in coconut milk. Sweetened with gula melaka (palm sugar), Pengat can be served with either bananas or sweet potatoes; the former is used today. Pisang raja is a suitable cultivar because the fruit is soft and sweet. Also included in this sweet dessert are jelly-like sago pearls.
Pulut Hitam (RM4.00) is another sweet dessert which takes advantage of the creaminess of coconut milk. Loaded with black glutinous rice, this dessert is a great way to conclude a meal. Finally, a scoop of vanilla ice cream serves as icing on the cake.

The drinks menu covers many hot and cold drinks that Malaysians are very familiar with. Some of these drinks are Sirap Limau (RM4.00), Lemon Tea (RM4.50), Sirap Bandung (RM5.00) and Sirap Selasih (RM4.00). The last drink contains basil seeds that resemble frog eggs.
Savoring its home-cooked food, it is clear that Kesum Art Restaurant does not cut corners when it comes to food preparation. The restaurant's dishes provide a window into authentic Johorean cuisine. In lieu of à la carte orders, the restaurant also offers 3-course meals from RM23.00. Kesum Art Restaurant also caters private events and provides food delivery to nearby areas.

Name: Kesum Art Restaurant
Address: 57, Lorong Stewart, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-262-5757
Business hours: 11:30am-6:30pm, closed on Fridays
Coordinates: 5.41916 N, 100.33764 E
Directions: Kesum Art Restaurant is located at the corner of Stewart Lane (Lorong Stewart) and Chulia Lane (Lorong Chulia). There are some parking spaces along Chulia Lane and towards the end of Stewart Lane. For more parking, try the further end of Love Lane.

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