Coffee Island

Special thanks to Coffee Island and PG Food Hunter A Team for extending this food review invitation.

Coffee Island is a popular restaurant along the bustling Gurney Drive. Especially on weekends, this eatery is frequently patronized by local and foreign customers alike.
While Coffee Island has been serving various local delights and Western dishes over the years, bak kut teh (肉骨茶) is a recent addition to the already-extensive food menu.
Bak kut teh is traditionally served as a breakfast meal, but Coffee Island also serves it as dinner. Taking a step further, organic bak kut teh (有机肉骨茶) is made available during dinner hours from 5:00pm to 1:00am.
Coffee Island's organic bak kut teh refers to its pork derived from pigs which have been raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics. Although not as common as regular pork, raw organic pork is typically 10%-20% more expensive than its non-organic counterpart.
Brief historical background on bak kut teh: It is a local Malaysian creation and was originally used to treat various ailments among Chinese tin miners. The name "bak kut teh" literally means "meat bone tea" in Hokkien. The first two words refer to the liberal use of pork ribs in this dish. Despite its name, no tea is actually used in the preparation of bak kut teh itself. Rather, the name refers to Chinese tea typically consumed alongside bak kut teh to "neutralize" excess fats in this pork-laden dish.
For a large dining party, there is a set dinner menu called Penang Flavor Bak Kut Teh Set (槟城驰名皇排肉骨茶套餐) for RM298.00 nett. This menu consists of 8 dishes and is meant for 10 persons. The dishes are:
1. Penang Famous Bak Kut Teh (皇排肉骨茶)
2. Dry Bak Kut Teh (干乡肉骨茶)
3. Curry Chicken With Bun (馒头咖哩鸡)
4. Penang Loh Bak (槟城卤肉)
5. Steamed Fresh Whole Fish In Chef's Special Recipe (家乡蒸金风)
6. Braised Home Made Beancurd With Abalone Sauce (鲍玉汁金砖)
7. Braised Bitter Gourd With Egg Gravy (凉瓜滑蛋)
8. Fried Squid With Dried Chili (宫保苏东)
Of course, the main focus is obviously the Penang Famous Bak Kut Teh (皇排肉骨茶). The bak kut teh is served in a claypot to retain warmth. Besides devilish cuts of pork ribs (排骨) and three-layer pork (三层肉), there are also a decent amount of pork balls.
The herbal broth is reasonably strong in herbal flavor; in fact drinking it directly is very satisfying to the tongue. As for the pork, the fat layers are thicker than usual because the pork is sourced from organic-farmed pigs. Absence of growth hormones results in slower growth, therefore more accumulation of fat. Whether consuming organic pork is healthier than regular pork is a debatable issue, but what's undisputed is that the extra fat gives the bak kut teh stronger, more succulent flavor.

Bak kut teh goes well with Chinese cruller (油条), but the portion seems insufficient for such a large bowl of bak kut teh.
Next up, the Dry Bak Kut Teh (干乡肉骨茶) is the dry version of bak kut teh which was first popularized in Klang. In this wok-fried version, the broth is boiled down to a thicker gravy, then ingredients such as dried chilies are added. I personally prefer this dry version as the taste is sharper and more pronounced than the soup-based one.
Our next dish is the Curry Chicken With Bun (馒头咖哩鸡). A stone bowl of chicken curry is served with a platter of house-prepared mantou (馒头) or steamed Chinese buns. In my opinion, the curry should be made less oily, while the chicken should have been chopped to smaller pieces for better contact with the curry. Interestingly, I like the mantou very much; its mild sweetness is gratifying especially when dipped lightly with curry.
The Penang Loh Bak (槟城卤肉) is another personal favorite of mine. Loh bak is a Hokkien street delicacy made from minced pork seasoned with five-spice powder (五香粉). The pork is rolled with bean curd skin (豆腐皮) and deep-fried to give an irresistible layer of crisp on the outside. Although usually eaten with sweet chili sauce, I usually prefer to enjoy the loh bak on its own.
Steamed Fresh Whole Fish In Chef's Special Recipe (家乡蒸金凤) is another interesting dish. Sometimes known locally as "African fish" (非洲鱼), tilapia is a popular medium-grade fish often prepared by steaming to retain its smooth texture. The flesh is mildly sweet while the fermented bean-based sauce gives the fish a delightful tangy flavor.
Next is a dish of Braised Home Made Beancurd With Abalone Sauce (鲍玉汁金砖). Several pieces of bean curd are served in thick abalone sauce, alongside a hearty amount of enoki mushrooms (金针菇). The bean curd is not too impressive, but I welcome the use of enoki mushrooms with abalone sauce.
Moving on to the Braised Bitter Gourd With Egg Gravy (凉瓜滑蛋), this is a fairly decent dish of bitter gourd (凉瓜) in egg gravy. As young bitter gourd is used, it is not too bitter to the point of unpleasantness. I find the yolky gravy truly delectable.
As for the Fried Squid With Dried Chili (宫保苏东), this is a stir-fried dish of sliced squid with dried chili peppers (辣椒干) and scallion (青葱). The thick sauce at the bottom is sweet and quite pungent, thanks to the dried chili peppers used. The squid used here are fresh, therefore the flesh is quite succulent with every bite.
In addition, we ordered a dish of Vegetarian Bak Kut Teh which is not included in the set meal package. Essentially, it is a claypot of bak kut teh herbal broth with enoki mushrooms (金针菇), bean curd (豆腐) and bean curd skin (豆腐皮). Do not be misled into thinking that this dish is suitable for vegetarians! Although pork meat is not included, the broth is prepared using pork. How can you brew such addictive herbal soup without using any meat?
The set meal includes free-flow of Steamed Fragrant Rice (细苗白米饭) and Yam Rice (芋头饭). I picked the latter, and it turns out to be a fairly good choice.
Chinese tea is also included in the set meal package. Consumption of Chinese tea after a meal of bak kut teh is strongly advised because the drink has the effect of "neutralizing" the heavy pork-laden dish. Hot water is available at charcoal pots between dining tables. Keep an eye on your children as the pots can be a safety hazard!
Although the set meal is a package for 10 persons and we had 11 diners, we still struggled to finish the food. Overall, many dishes are commendable and certainly worth trying. Both the soup-based and dry versions of organic bak kut teh are nice, and so are several of other dishes. For RM298.00 nett, our meal at Coffee Island is certainly good value for money. As the owner explained, pre-ordering is highly recommended as some ingredients such as mantou (馒头) need to be prepared upfront.
More exotic versions of bak kut teh are also available, such as Abalone Bak Kut Teh (鲍鱼肉骨茶). But we need to defer this experience for the next visit.
Diners who prefer something other than bak kut teh and "chu char" (煮炒) dishes can also opt for Western meals from the food menu. But I highly recommend that you give the organic bak kut teh a try at least once when visiting Coffee Island.
Name: Coffee Island
Address: 77, Persiaran Gurney, 10250 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-227-2378
Business hours: 7:00am-1:00am
Coordinates: 5.43305 N, 100.31599 E
Directions: From Gurney Plaza, drive southeast along Gurney Drive (Persiaran Gurney) towards Gurney Tower. About 900 meters down, Coffee Island is located on the right. There are parking spaces for customers inside a small lane immediately before Coffee Island. Street parking is also available along Gurney Drive.

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