The Mandarin

Special thanks to The Mandarin for extending this food review invitation.

The Mandarin (甘) is the latest bar to hit George Town's nightlife scene. Barely open for a week, this new drinking establishment occupies a two-floor house at Jalan Irving. The place hides behind an unassuming facade reminiscent of a speakeasy. To attract customers, neon lights and Chinese lanterns will be installed soon.
Past the old-fashioned wooden doors, a chic bar takes up a third of the dining hall. Against the wall are liquor racks supported by steel pipes. The Mandarin serves beer, wine, liquor and a host of cocktails. Manning the bar is a seasoned bartender who constantly pushes the limits of perfection.
The bartender's latest creation is Mandarin Senorita. The cocktail is concocted from Jameson Irish Whiskey laced with lemon and lime juice. Shaken in a mixer, the drink is served on the rocks and then topped with dry ginger ale. A cinnamon stick, charred with a propane torch, is added for the finishing touch. Mandarin Senorita has a fruity tang with a touch of smoky cinnamon.
During Happy Hours (3:00pm-9:00pm daily), customers enjoy special prices for draught beer and bottled beer. Apart from alcoholic beverages, the pub has a decent food menu too. The kitchen is open for lunch from 12:00pm to 3:00pm, and for dinner from 6:00pm to 12:00am.
Two types of soup are served today: Mushroom Soup and Pumpkin Soup. They come with garlic bread and potato wedges respectively. The Mushroom Soup is made of actual mushrooms as evidenced by its grainy consistency. Meanwhile, the Pumpkin Soup leaves a satisfying creaminess on the lips.
As a finger food, the Chicken Cutlet goes especially well with alcoholic beverages. The bite-size chicken bites, seasoned to perfection, are satisfying to the last morsel. Dried chili peppers and curry leaves enhance the overall aroma.
Patrons who desire proper meals can opt for Chicken Chop. The boneless chicken thigh is elegantly marinated and then fried to golden perfection. Enhancing its flavor is a homemade sauce with soothing savoriness. On the side are crinkle-cut fries and fresh rocket with balsamic vinegar.
The Mandarin will be introducing pastries in due time. For the purpose of today's preview, I am given samples of Chocolate Walnut Cake and Baked Cheesecake. Both are delectable indeed.
To maintain freshness, The Mandarin prepares each dish from scratch upon order. Judging from the taste, I can tell that a great deal of effort has been expended in fine-tuning the recipes.

Name: The Mandarin (甘)
Address: 3B, Jalan Irving, 10400 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 019-465-8887
Business hours: 12:00pm-1:00am
Coordinates: 5.41332 N, 100.32507 E
Directions: The Mandarin is located at Jalan Irving. When arriving from Jalan Dato Keramat, the bar is one of the first shops on the left. There are parking spaces along Jalan Irving and New Lane (Lorong Baru).

Spice Brasserie

Special thanks to The Light Hotel for extending this food review invitation.

From 1 August 2019 to 30 September 2019, The Light Hotel is serving Khazanah Sajian Nusantara buffet dinner at Spice Brasserie. Inspired by racial harmony that paved the way to the nation's independence, the buffet menu features iconic dishes from all communities in Malaysia. The popularity of many dishes transcend ethnic lines, reflecting fellow Malaysians' common love for good food.
The Khazanah Sajian Nusantara buffet dinner has 3 menus on daily rotation, featuring more than 100 dishes in total. Upon entering Spice Brasserie, diners are greeted by Roast Lamb on a spit. Accompanying condiments are black pepper sauce, barbecue sauce and mushroom sauce.
Next, the poultry station serves Roast Duck, Roast Chicken, Char Siew Chicken and White Sliced Chicken. Malacca-style Chicken Rice Balls and Braised Tofu are prepared too.
As for Middle Eastern fare, Chicken Shawarma is The Light Hotel's signature dish. Other à la minute dishes are Chicken Noodle Soup, Roti Canai and Char Kway Teow.
Nasi Kerabu Sehati is a rice dish from the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The rice is cooked with bunga telang (butterfly-pea flowers) so that it turns blue. Mixed with chopped herbs, nasi kerabu is typically eaten with salted fish and salted eggs.
Nasi Kebuli Sejiwa is an Arabian-influenced rice dish that is more prevalent in southern states like Johor. Meanwhile, Nasi Dagang Murni hails from Kelantan where it is a popular breakfast dish. Nasi dagang uses wild rice which is purple in color.
Originating in Kedah, Nasi Daging Sejati is cooked with broth and a special spice mix. The rice dish comes with succulent slices of beef, and is often eaten with air asam (tamarind sauce).
Penang-style Nasi Biryani Wawasan is prepared in two versions: chicken and lamb. In both cases, the pungent aroma of spices cannot be overstated.
Kari Kepala Ikan (fish head curry) is one of the most popular dishes in The Light Hotel. The spicy dish contains crunchy lady's fingers.
Ketam Masak Mentega is another signature dish of The Light Hotel. The flower crabs are stir-fried with garlic, butter and curry leaves.
Other popular nasi kandar dishes are Sambal Udang and Milagu Podi Sambar. The latter is a South Indian vegetable stew infused with tamarind.
As for Kurma Kambing, the braised mutton is not so spicy but is tasty nevertheless. Meanwhile, Ayam Hitam Manis is cooked in sweet soy sauce.
Daging Rendang Tok is the Perak version of the ubiquitous rendang dish. Compared to rendang recipes from other states, Daging Rendang Tok is much drier and therefore savorier.
Next, Ayam Masak Lemak Warisan is cooked with coconut milk. This makes the dish rather creamy.
Sambal Sotong Petai Makmur is a spicy dish of squids, stink beans, onions and tomatoes. Stink beans are known for their peculiar smell.
Gulai Nangka Muda & Ikan Bilis Abadi is common in northern states like Kedah. Jackfruit is cooked as a vegetable in this dish.
Asam Pedas Ikan Pari Harmoni has a combination of sour and spicy flavors. Sourness is primarily contributed by tamarind.
Kari Ikan Tongkol uses mackerel tuna, a common type of fish in this region. The taste of curry is somewhat heavy because it is meant to go with rice.
Nyonya Otak-Otak is a recipe from the Penang Peranakan community. The spicy fish cake is wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed. This delicacy is best enjoyed while it is piping hot.
Lemon Sauce Deep-Fried Chicken is quite appetizing. Unfortunately, the lemon sauce does not penetrate the chicken chunks thoroughly enough.
As for Western dishes, Baked Mussels are flavored with tomato and basil sauce. The half-shell mussels are also topped with bell peppers, black olives, cherry tomatoes and basil leaves. I like the presentation of this dish.
Moving down the buffet line, Seared Salmon is cut into bite-size pieces with the crispy skin intact. This dish is very well received. It is served with homemade mashed potatoes.
Murtabak Lasagna Muhibbah is a Malaysian take on the classic Italian lasagna. The stack has six alternating layers of dough, cheese and chicken murtabak. I find this dish to be quite delectable.
Similarly, thin crust pizzas come with Malaysian-style toppings. Shown here are Jackfruit Cheese Pizza, Nasi Kandar Pizza and Seafood Pizza. I believe thicker crust works better in these instances.
The salad section covers Waldorf Salad, Spicy Chicken Salad, Marinated Mango Salad and Macaroni Salad.
Also prepared are Kerabu Daging Salai (smoked beef salad), Kerabu Suhun Kacang Gajus (glass noodle salad with cashew nuts), Tauhu Sambal Kering Berkacang (tofu with spicy peanut paste) and Tempeh Goreng Sambal (fried fermented soybeans).
Should diners prefer, they can also mix their own salads. A variety of fresh vegetables and dressings are provided. Malay-style condiments like sambal belacan and budu are available too.
The pastry section features a colorful assortment of Malay kuih like kuih talam and kuih ketayap. On the other hand, Western-style cakes include Black Forest Gateau, Carrot Cake and Cheesecake.
Other popular desserts are Bread & Butter Pudding, Bubur Gandum (sweet wheat porridge) and Pengat Durian. Pengat Durian is loaded with durian goodness, making it gratifying indeed.
After a satisfying meal, cleanse your palate by having a bowl of Ais Kacang Setinggi Angkasa. Various toppings like red beans, dried nutmeg and attap chee (nipa palm fruit) are provided.
Khazanah Sajian Nusantara buffet dinner is served every evening except on Fridays and Saturdays. The buffet price is RM116.00 net for adults and RM60.00 net for children. Early bird vouchers are currently on sale for RM80.00 net, so hurry up to take advantage of this special offer!

Name: Spice Brasserie
Address: The Light Hotel, Lebuh Tenggiri 2, Pusat Bandar Seberang Jaya, 13700 Seberang Jaya, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-382-1111
Business hours: 6:00am-11:00pm (Sunday-Thursday), 6:00am-1:00am (Friday-Saturday)
Coordinates: 5.39434 N, 100.39868 E
Directions: From Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan (North-South Expressway), take the Seberang Jaya exit and head west. Turn left just before the pedestrian bridge and drive all the way to the end. When the road splits, keep right. The Light Hotel is the first building on the left. Spice Brasserie is located next to the lobby. There are parking spaces within the hotel's compound. The parking fee is RM4.00 per entry.

Diable Pasta

Special thanks to Diable Pasta for extending this food review invitation.

Food Architect at Kampong Malabar has rebranded been as Diable Pasta (摩化). Given a new lease of life, Diable Pasta specializes in Italian pasta with a creative twist. The restaurant is popular within the social media circles for selfie-worthy dishes like Flying Pasta and Trash Pasta.
The restaurant is air-conditioned and has a family-friendly dining atmosphere. The spacious eatery makes it a suitable venue for casual gatherings. Meanwhile, a lightwell at the center keeps the dining hall illuminated throughout the day.
Diable Pasta is notable for using unconventional sauces like salted egg, tom yum, Japanese curry and more. Meanwhile, classic sauces such as carbonara, pesto and arrabbiata are available too. Pasta choices are spaghetti, fettuccine, macaroni, fusilli and angel hair.
Activated Charcoal Onion Rings (RM8.90) serves as a starter dish. The onion rings are fried with crispy batter, which has an exotic black color. Other items on the appetizer menu include Garlic Bread, Caesar Salad, Chicken Meatballs and Cheesy Bacon Fries.
If you are fond of coffee, Espresso Creamy Pork Sausage Pasta (RM17.50) should appeal to your palate. The sauce has a pleasant combination of sweet and bitter tastes. Al dente spaghetti is served with pork sausage, shimeji mushrooms and parmesan cheese. For an additional RM3.00, the dish can be made "flying". Watch the fork levitating in the air!
The next dish, Green Curry Seafood Pasta (RM18.80), has a drier consistency. The green curry is perfect for people who want their tongues tantalized. Seafood ingredients are fried fish, squids and scallops. The pasta of choice is fusilli. For an extra RM2.00, the dish can be presented in a "trash can".
Any pasta dish can be upgraded to a full meal for just RM3.80. The set meal includes soup of the day, a drink of choice and free flow of ice cream. Chicken Soup and Mojito are shown here. Big eaters can get any pasta dish replenished for a mere RM5.00. This applies to the pasta and sauce only.
Diable Pasta uses premium ingredients despite having affordable prices. Taste-wise, I think the sauces are engineered to perfection. Come with friends for lunch on weekdays to take advantage of "Buy 3 Free 1" promotion for main dishes. Meanwhile, Diable Pasta also caters for private events like birthday parties.
Name: Diable Pasta (摩化)
Address: 4, Kampong Malabar, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 012-395-0310
Business hours: 6:00pm-10:00pm (Monday), 11:00am-3:00pm, 6:00pm-10:00pm (Tuesday-Sunday)
Coordinates: 5.41887 N, 100.33368 E
Directions: From Penang Road (Jalan Penang), turn right to Kampong Malabar. Diable Pasta is approximately 200 meters ahead on the left. Street parking is available on Kampong Malabar, Cintra Street (Lebuh Cintra) and Chulia Street (Lebuh Chulia).

The Straits Cafe & Lounge

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

This evening, Ixora Hotel gives a sneak peek of the upcoming Merdeka BBQ Buffet Dinner and Malaysia Day Buffet Lunch. Served at The Straits Cafe & Lounge, the buffet menus cover a decent range of favorite Malaysian dishes.
My meal begins with Cajun Tomato Vegetable Soup, which is quite appetizing thanks to the tanginess of fresh tomatoes. The bread basket contains multigrain bread, country bread, baguettes, Kaiser rolls and bread rolls. Chicken Shawarma is available too.
My next destination is the grilling station at the al fresco section. Scallops and oysters are seasoned pretty well and have a hint of smoky flavors. Other interesting choices are prawns, lamb, beef and cheese sausages.
As for grilled fish, sea bass and stingray are seasoned with spicy sauce. I enjoy the unique texture of stingray; it seems to blend well with the sauce.
Curry Vegetables consist of cauliflowers, cucumbers, eggplants, potatoes and green peas in a creamy curry. The dish is colorful indeed.
Chicken Rendang is slow-cooked for several hours until most liquid has boiled away. The resulting dish is immensely savory. Chicken Rendang goes pretty well with lemang.
Penang Char Kuey Teow is the state's signature dish. Flat rice noodle is cooked with soy sauce, chili paste, bean sprouts, garlic and eggs. This version is served with prawns, squids and mussels.
As for rice, Nasi Ulam is a traditional Malay dish made of steamed rice and chopped herbs. Nasi Ulam is considered a healthy dish because it is blessed with nutrients of raw vegetables.
My favorite choices at the salad counter are Tuna Pasta Salad and Chicken Potato Salad. Alternatively, Malay-style salads are Acar Rampai, Acar Timun Nenas and Kerabu Kacang Panjang. As for diners who prefer to mix their own salads, the salad counter provides assorted raw vegetables and several salad dressings.
In between flavorful dishes, cleanse your palate with fresh fruits such as guavas, watermelons, honeydews, oranges and pineapples.
Pastries are prominently featured during today's preview, although not all types will be present during the actual buffets. Shown here are Pick Me Up Tiramisu, Miracle Berries Chilled Cheese Cake and Mangolicious Cheese Cake.
Also present are Carrot & Walnut Torte, Cioccolato, Gorgeous Lavender, Rose Truffle and Lecious Banana. The pastry team prepared most cakes in bite-size portions for the purpose of this preview.
Last but not least, diners can help themselves with Crème Brûlée, Orange Panna Cotta, Mixed Berry Panna Cotta, Kiwi Jelly, Cocktail Pudding, Almond Tartlets and Blueberry Cheese Tarts. I can tell that the pastry chef spared no expense in cake decoration.
The Straits Cafe & Lounge has a dedicated cake counter that sells these cakes by the slice. The cakes are baked fresh every day. 50% discount applies after 6:00pm. To order whole cakes, please book 3 days in advance.
The price of Merdeka BBQ Buffet Dinner (held on 31 August 2019) is RM88.00+ for adults and RM58.00+ for children. Meanwhile, the Malaysia Day Buffet Lunch (held on 16 September 2019) is priced at RM68.00+ and RM42.00+ for adults and children respectively. In both cases, early birds enjoy "Buy 4 Free 1" discount.
Name: The Straits Cafe & Lounge
Address: 3096, Jalan Baru, Bandar Perai Jaya, 13600 Perai, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-382-8888
Business hours: 6:00am-11:00pm
Coordinates: 5.37805 N, 100.39825 E
Directions: From Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan (North-South Expressway), take the Prai exit and head west. After Megamal 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.