Starz Diner

Special thanks to Hard Rock Hotel for extending this food review invitation.

I am delighted to be invited to Hard Rock Hotel tonight. This American-owned hotel at Batu Ferringhi is a popular destination due to its family-themed swimming pools and other entertaining amenities. The iconic Hard Rock Cafe is also a popular eatery for locals and foreigners alike.
Apart from Hard Rock Cafe, Starz Diner is another restaurant in Hard Rock Hotel. Unlike other hotel-restaurants of similar prestige, Starz Diner features an à la carte menu of Western-style entrées. Buffet is usually available on Fridays and Saturdays only.
This coming Chinese New Year, Starz Diner is offering the special Chinese New Year Buffet Dinner. This dinner is available for 2 days: 18 February 2015 (eve of Chinese New Year) and 19 February 2015 (first day of Chinese New Year). There is a slight variation in the menu between both days.

This buffet is priced at RM80.00 for an adult, and RM58.00 per child. For an additional RM30.00, each guest can indulge in free flow of house wines, chilled juices and carbonated beverages.
Tonight's food review is just a preview session of the actual days. Therefore, a subset of signature dishes are specially prepared to give us a sneak peek of what to expect during Chinese New Year. On the actual days, the number of dishes is nearly threefold of what we see today.
It is customary to start a Chinese New Year meal with Yee Sang (鱼生). The yee sang at Starz Diner is made from raw salmon, raw tuna, jelly fish and different kinds of colored crackers. In addition, five spice powder (五香粉), plum sauce, rice vinegar, kumquat paste and sesame oil are added to the plate immediately prior to the tossing ceremony.
Yee sang is traditionally served during Chinese New Year as a symbol of prosperity. Family members surround the plate and toss yee sang ingredients with chopsticks. It is said that the longer (and messier) yee sang is tossed, the more prosperity one obtains in the following year.
For appetizers, we started with Marinated Mussels With Pepper. These mussels are carefully-grilled and served with vegetables as garnish. I feel that this dish should include some dipping sauce, or perhaps baked with cheese for added flavor.
Next up, the Seafood Mango Cocktail is a cold dish which features cooked shrimps served with mango cubes in a shot glass. This appetizer is quite delectable, thanks to the tangy-sweet flavor of mango.
Also served in a shot glass is Baby Octopus Salad. The appearance and taste of the octopus are similar to Chuka Idako (中華イイダコ), a type of Japanese pickled ingredient (漬物).
The next dish is a Nyonya delicacy: Pie Tee With Condiments. Pie tee (小金杯) is a bite-size pastry cup filled with ingredients such as shredded jicama (芒光) and carrots (萝卜). I personally feel that this appetizer is saltier than what I am used to. The chef has been informed of my feedback.
Now comes the chef's signature dish: Roasted Duck With Duck Sauce. The duck is nicely marinated to bring out its flavor, then slowly roasted to seal the lovely juices within. On the surface is a waxy layer of duck skin, scrumptious and crispy with every bite.
According to the chef, key to good roasted duck lies in good sauce preparation. Made from fermented soybeans (豆酱) and plum sauce (苏梅酱), the sauce has a fine balance between sweet and tangy flavors. To enjoy the roasted duck further, freshly baked mantou (馒头) is also provided.

This is followed by Steamed Fish Teow Chew Style, which utilizes an entire sea bass (鲈鱼). The fish is a good combination of sweet flesh and fatty tissues, making it a gratifying dining experience.
The sea bass is garnished with preserved Chinese mustard (榨菜), scallion and soft bean curd. The jus has slightly sour flavor, increasing my appetite by several orders of magnitude. The fish is also very fresh, one thing I treasure with utmost importance.
The next featured dish is Fried Vegetable With Loh Hon Chai, which is also one of the chef's personal favorite. This vegetarian dish is made from broccoli, cauliflower, baby corn, carrot, shiitake mushroom, button mushroom, bean curd and seaweed. It is a good way to counteract the heatiness of meat.
If you must have rice as staple food, there is also Steamed Fried Rice In Lotus Leaves With Yam And Dried Shrimps. Although I am satisfied with its fragrance, I prefer more dried shrimps for stronger flavor. In addition, I think yam should be cut into smaller cubes for more balanced flavor.
Another delicacy to indulge in is Crab Meat Seafood Soup. The soup resembles shark fin soup, but contains no shark fin. According to hotel officials, Hard Rock Hotel Penang is committed to exclude shark fin from its menu in support of conservation efforts.
As for dessert, Hot Soya Bean With Ginkgo Nuts And Glutinous Rice Balls is served. The soy milk itself is creamy and smooth. The amount of sweetness is also light - just the way I like it.
The hot soy milk contains ginkgo nuts which complement the drink very well. In addition, I like the lovely tangyuan (汤圆) in the dessert. Tangyuan is a ball of glutinous rice, which contains sweetened bean paste at the center.
As the dinner theme is Chinese New Year, it is hardly surprising to provide assorted Chinese cookies as part of festive celebration. The tidbits such as roasted peanut cookies, pineapple cookies, cashew nut cookies, tapioca cookie (kuih bangkit), melon seeds, preserved longan and dried red dates, are irresistible once you start picking one.
Another crowd favorite is Kuih Kapit (糕加必), a traditional Chinese cracker made by folding a thin sheet of flour. Simple in form, the main appeal of kuih kapit is the lovely crisp with each bite.
There is also Bee Hive Biscuit (蜂窝饼) which is Indian in origin, but has been adapted to suit Malaysian Chinese taste buds. The preparation process is very tedious. Therefore, it is usually reserved for important festivals only.
Another essential star during Chinese New Year is Mandarin Orange (桔). The Chinese name is similar in writing with the word "prosperity" (吉), therefore this fruit is commonly used as gifts when visiting friends and relatives during Chinese New Year.
Nian Gao (年糕) or "Year Cake" is also commonly featured during Chinese New Year. This sticky delicacy is made from glutinous rice flour, coconut milk and sugar. It is considered auspicious to serve nian gao because it is a homonym for "higher year".

The chefs behind tonight's dinner are Chef Yoong (容在庆), Chef Hong (方瑞安) and Chef Chew (邱俊濠). These talented chefs toiled in the kitchen for several hours to prepare such a scrumptious dinner meal tonight.
As an American hotel-restaurant, Starz Diner typically serves Western style cuisine. Chinese food is usually reserved for Chinese New Year celebration only. However, it is a pleasant surprise to find above-par Chinese cooking here at Hard Rock Hotel.
Name: Starz Diner
Address: Hard Rock Hotel, Jalan Batu Ferringhi, 11100 Batu Ferringhi, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-886-8057
Business hours: 6:30am-11:00am, 5:30pm-11:00pm
Coordinates: 5.46744 N, 100.24154 E
Directions: From Tanjung Bungah, travel west towards Batu Ferringhi. Hard Rock Hotel is approximately 6 kilometers from Tanjung Bungah's floating mosque, located on the right of the road. Starz Diner is located on the Ground Floor, next to the lobby of the hotel. There are parking spaces in front of the hotel.