Café 4U

Special thanks to Café 4U for extending this event invitation.

Café 4U is a new eatery and nightlife spot at Bukit Mertajam. I am fortunate to be invited to its opening ceremony today. Although today's food is unrelated to its actual menu, the proprietor took some time to introduce his business concept.
The eatery serves light meals such as pasta and sandwiches during the day. During the evening, it provides nighttime entertainment by serving beer and other alcoholic beverages.
Occupying the second floor of a shop, the premises permits smoking. Disco music is played after sunset. There are also a couple of electronic darts machine as entertainment for guests.
Name: Café 4U
Address: 62A, Jalan Limau Manis 3, Taman Limau Manis, 14000 Bukit Mertajam, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 012-632-8955
Business hours: 9:00am-2:00am
Coordinates: 5.35211 N, 100.43728 E
Directions: From the North-South Expressway, take the Bukit Mertajam exit and head east. Drive forward till the end, then turn left. Take the service road on the left parallel to the main road. Café 4U is located at the row of shops on the left, just above a vehicle workshop. Parking is available in front the row of shops.

The Lawn Cafe

Special thanks to The Lawn Cafe for extending this food review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

Resting on the terraced foothills of Paya Terubong is a new café, The Lawn Cafe. This intriguing place is made entirely of glass and metal. In fact, transparent glass panels form three sides of this interesting structure. Not requiring a single brick to construct, the structure was erected within a mere week!
Located within the grounds of Eco Terraces, The Lawn Cafe is a joint venture between Ecoworld and Coffee Concepts Company. For quite some time, the latter has been the Ecoworld's appointed supplier of pop-up coffee bar in many events hosted by Ecoworld.
Due to increasing popularity, both parties built a similar glass café in Johor Bahru in September 2015. Like the Eiffel Tower, what started as a temporary structure eventually became permanent. After Palladium Cafe (Johor Bahru) and The Parque Cafe (Kota Kemuning), The Lawn Cafe marks the third identical concept café in just a short span of several months.
In case the glass café looks familiar to you, its design was inspired by Jay Chou's (周杰伦) music video for "Handwritten Past" (《手写的从前》). Like the version as depicted in the music video, The Lawn Cafe measures just over 5 meters on each side, making the entire structure very "transparent" indeed.
Indoor seating is very limited. However, many visitors will prefer to take advantage of the evening breeze outdoors, especially after the sun had set. Surrounding the glass café is an expansive lawn with rattan chairs and neatly-kept turf. There are also two large pavilions on the hilly grounds that provide excellent photographic spots!
According to Coffee Concepts Company, serving quality coffee is no laughing matter. As a reputable supplier of coffee beans in Johor Bahru, Coffee Concepts Company spares no expense in creating the best coffee experience for all visitors. At the helm is an award-winning barista Tan Yaw Tzong, who has a sophisticated espresso machine at his disposal.
The Lawn Cafe uses two types of Arabica beans: house blend and single origin. For Caffe Latte (RM10.90), steamed milk at precisely 65oC is used to produce most homogeneous consistency. As milk is fresh, the latte is sufficiently sweet and no sugar is necessary.
The Lawn Cafe is located just past the sales office of Eco Terraces. Nevertheless, it is open the public, not necessarily for residents only. A walk along the uphill pathway itself is a scenic experience on its own.
Name: The Lawn Cafe
Address: Eco Terraces, PT2509, Jalan Paya Terubong, 11060 Air Itam, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-827-5522
Business hours: 10:00am-8:00pm
Coordinates: 5.36876 N, 100.27461 E
Directions: From Paya Terubong, drive along Jalan Paya Terubong towards Relau. After the Petronas gas station on the right, turn right immediately afterwards and drive along the driveway uphill. The Lawn Cafe is located within visible distance from the end of this driveway. There are parking spaces at the end of the driveway.

Constant Gardener Coffee

Special thanks to Constant Gardener Coffee for extending this food review invitation.

Occupying two units at the ground floor of the Chinese Chamber Of Commerce Building, Constant Gardener Coffee is one of the finest coffeehouse that I ever encountered in Penang.
This café is operated by a hardcore coffee enthusiast, who has devoted his life into studying coffee from the soil to the cup. As he expresses, the ideal coffee experience should stimulate all five senses: sight, smell, sound, taste and touch.
For example, the visual aspect of the cup needs to be perfect under the right lighting. The choice and loudness of ambient music also needs to appeal to the ears.
Indeed, the setting inside the café is a stark contrast to Light Street several steps away. The harmonious ambience seems to project Zen-like state of tranquility throughout the entire premises.
The quality of coffee beans depends on many factors, several of which transpire in the farm. Therefore, Constant Gardener Coffee does not have a fixed coffee blend like most coffeehouses do.
As a cash crop, coffee beans come in a wide range of quality depending on cultivation technique, soil quality and weather. At Constant Gardener Coffee, only the perfect coffee beans make the cut.
The name "Constant Gardener Coffee" was inspired by the proprietor's mother who loves gardening. The word "constant" conveys the message that the pursuit for the perfect cup of coffee is a never-ending journey.
Filtered Coffee (from RM16.00) is the best way to enjoy the bare flavors of coffee. No milk, no creamer, no sugar, and absolutely no distractions. Filtered coffee is poured in a wine glass in order to restrict diffusion of vapor, therefore allowing coffee aroma to be more pronounced.
To my surprise, one can also enjoy black coffee in chilled state. Instead of stirring with ice, Constant Gardener Coffee uses a one-of-a-kind iced beaker to chill coffee without compromising its concentration. This is mirrors James Bond's "shaken, not stirred" preference for Martini.
Besides coffee, the menu also includes several types of tea, chocolate, juice, shakes and smoothies. Although the list is modest, it is evident that the proprietor goes to great lengths to craft the menu.

Cocoa lovers should try a cup of Single Origin Dark Chocolate (RM12.80). Like coffee, cocoa of different origins result in distinctively different taste. This season, the two origins are Madagascar and São Tomé. Both are island nations off the African continent.
Madagascar Mixed Red Fruits (67% dark) is projected against a fruitier backdrop and is my personal preference among the two. Meanwhile, São Tomé (70% dark) carries bolder taste and has marginally better aroma.
As for something chilled, the Peanut Butter Caramel Swirl (RM14.50) offers buttery sensation but not in a surfeiting manner. The level of sweetness is "mainstream", which is higher than what I prefer. I wonder whether the general public is prepared to accept less sugary eating habits?
Thanks to the cozy ambience and genuinely good coffee, Constant Gardener Coffee is a popular place in the afternoon and late night. If you consider yourself to be a self-respecting coffee enthusiast, Constant Gardener Coffee is your mecca when you are in downtown George Town.
Name: Constant Gardener Coffee
Address: 9, Lebuh Light, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-251-9070
Business hours: 9:00am-12:00am, closed on Mondays
Coordinates: 5.42005 N, 100.34178 E
Directions: From Jubilee Clock Tower, travel along Light Street (Lebuh Light) with the Penang State Assembly Building (Bangunan Dewan Undangan Negeri) on the left and Fort Cornwallis (Kota Cornwallis) on the right. After Hong Leong Bank on the left, the next block is Penang Chinese Chamber Of Commerce Building. Constant Gardener Coffee is located at the ground floor of this block. Street parking is available along Penang Street (Lebuh Penang) and King Street (Lebuh King).

Kochabi Duck Meat Koay Teow Soup

Special thanks to Kochabi Duck Meat Koay Teow Soup for extending this food review invitation.

Pasar Pulau Tikus (浮罗池滑巴刹) is a popular hawker center in the evening. The most popular stall is probably Peng Hwa Lok Lok (槟华乐乐), but other hawkers should not be passed over either. One of these stalls is Kochabi Duck Meat Koay Teow Soup (古早味鸭肉粿条汤), which has been operating for more than 2 decades.
Especially during weekends, this stall enjoys non-stop business. Most of its customers are local regulars whom the proprietor has acquainted by heart, but there are also occasional foreign tourists who are on a quest to unravel Penang's local delicacies. As this stall is located on the edge of the road, there are even so-called "drive-thru" customers.
Although Duck Meat Koay Teow Soup (鸭肉粿条汤) is the highlight of this stall, the Dry Koay Teow (干捞粿条, RM4.00) is also in high demand. For the latter, koay teow (粿条) noodles are blanched in the very same soup used to stew the duck, then tossed with sweet soy-based sauce.
Noodles are served with petite pieces of duck meat (鸭肉), bean sprouts, scallion (spring onions) and pork lard (猪油渣). I think the duck meat pulls its weight in the overall flavor, but pork lard certain helps to improve mouthfeel too.
The bowl of soup is also served on the side. As the soup has been stewed for several hours, it is quite strong in flavor. I think its strength is fine for most people, but I personally prefer to let other ingredients take the center stage.
Included in the soup are four fish balls made from whitefin wolf herring (西刀鱼, ikan parang). I must say that the fish balls have the perfect springy texture, saturated with delectable juice within each bite. Also included are duck blood and choy sum (菜心).
Although this portion is considered "small", the serving size is reasonable for the price paid. If you want more, "medium" and "large" sizes are also available. There are also optional ingredients such as duck feet (鸭脚), duck liver (鸭肝) and duck gizzard (鸭肫) which are charged separately.
Last but not least, the stall also serves Duck Egg Char Koay Teow (鸭蛋炒粿条) which also enjoys non-stop orders. I have yet to try this dish though, so I can't really comment on the taste.

Name: Kochabi Duck Meat Koay Teow Soup (古早味鸭肉粿条汤)
Address: Pasar Pulau Tikus, Jalan Pasar, 10350 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 012-552-6233
Business hours: 5:30pm-11:00pm, closed on Mondays
Website: N/A
Coordinates: 5.43048 N, 100.31179 E
Directions: Driving northbound along Cantonment Road (Jalan Cantonment), turn right to Jalan Pasar. Pasar Pulau Tikus (浮罗池滑巴刹) is located immediately on the left. Kochabi Duck Meat Koay Teow Soup is one of the stalls next to the road. Street parking is available along Jalan Pasar and Jalan Moulmein, but parking spaces may be limited during certain hours.


Special thanks to Gartien for extending this product review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

Despite being located at the bustling Penang Road (Jalan Penang), Gartien (小田佳园) is often overlooked by many passers-by due to its modest facade.
This location is Gartien's only retail outlet in Penang. The kitchen is located at the back of the store, but I have yet to see it in operation as my visits thus far unfortunately fall on weekends.
During this year's Chinese New Year, the Classic Pineapple Cake (经典黄梨酥, RM45.00) comes in a special box, making it highly presentable as gifts. Purchase of each box also includes a tote bag with a similar festive theme.
The box contains 8 pieces of pineapple cakes, each piece is individually sealed to maintain freshness. However, no artificial preservatives are used. Refrigeration is advised, but the cakes are best consumed at room temperature.
Gartien sources pineapples from a local farm in Juru. The pastry for pineapple cakes is made from halal-certified butter from New Zealand. Eggs and milk powder are used, but no meat is involved. This makes the pineapple cakes ideal for ovo-lacto vegetarians.
For customers' convenience, Gartien sponsors 30 minutes of parking expense at Hotel Central (中央大酒店). This outdoor parking lot is located at Lorong Bertam, which is just a short walking distance away.
Alternatively, customers can also place orders for nationwide delivery.
Name: Gartien (小田佳园)
Address: 380, Jalan Penang, 10000 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-229-0068
Business hours: 9:00am-6:00pm, closed on Mondays
Coordinates: 5.41645 N, 100.32936 E
Directions: From Jalan Dato Keramat, Macalister Road (Jalan Macalister) or Magazine Road (Jalan Magazine), turn to this one-way section of Penang Road. Gartien is located approximately 200 meters ahead on the left. As for parking, turn left into Lorong Bertam just before the traffic lights. There is an open-air parking compound on the right. Remember to bring your parking ticket to Gartien for validation.

Via Pre

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

Situated along Weld Quay and next to The Royale Bintang Penang, Via Pre is one of the few Italian-operated Italian restaurants in Penang. This eatery is at the ground level of a two-floor heritage plaza; Jammin Via Pre, a popular gastropub, is located just upstairs.
The warm Mediterranean climate allows Italy to develop a rich culture of culinary arts. Although relatively small, Italy boasts surprisingly diverse range of cuisine. Many dishes are attributable to certain regions of the Apennine Peninsula.
In pursuit for authenticity, Via Pre sources nearly all food ingredients from Italy. This includes cured meat, cheese, pasta (except freshly-made ones), condiments, wines, coffee, sparkling water and many more. The only notable exception is fresh produce, which is sourced locally to maintain freshness.
Right after placing their orders, customers are served with a complimentary basket of assorted bread. To keep fresh flow of bread every day, dough is prepared the evening before and allowed to leaven overnight. The bread is then baked each morning before Via Pre opens its doors. Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil are provided as dipping sauces.
White bread and whole wheat bread are nearly always available. Originating in Florence, schiacciata is a flat crispy bread made from garlic, rosemary, extra virgin olive oil and salt, and is the precursor of pizzas. Meanwhile, focaccia is popular in Genoa and northern Italy, and enjoys the ideal texture between soft and fibrous. Grissini is an Italian breadstick which is flavored differently every day, such as rosemary.
Italians are known for their fondness for tagliere. The word "tagliere" refers to the wooden board on which cured meat and cheese are served. This is synonymous to "platter" in English. At Via Pre, Assorted Cured Hams & Grilled Sausages With Cheeses, Pickles & Sides are available in various sizes depending on number of people. Today's platter (RM65.00) is meant for 1-2 persons.
The choices for dry-cured meat and cheese varies daily, depending what's fresh in the kitchen. Customers can place specific requests and Via Pre will try to accommodate. By default, the platter is beef-free, but customers can also select beef cuts such as bresaola (air-dried beef). All items in the platter are imported directly from Italy and are available for take-out.
By European law, parma ham only refers to dry-cured ham from the Emilia-Romagna region. I particularly enjoy spicy salami for its saltiness upon first contact with the tongue, followed by cooling spiciness which gradually manifests itself as aftertaste. The slightly moist san daniele ham is made from pork trotter and is cured with sea salt. Meanwhile, mortadella is produced in Bologna and is lighter on the palate.
There are also regional variations for Italian cheese. Grana padano originates in Pianura Padana valley and is known for its distinctively grainy texture. Also produced in northern Italy, gorgonzola is made from unskimmed milk and the blue veins are caused by mold spores. The pungent fontina is derived from milk of cows raised at the foothills of the Alps. Most variants of Italian cheese are made from cow's milk, but there are also several types made from goat's milk. Apart from cheese, there are also condiments such as grilled zucchini, black olives and grilled capsicum.
As for pasta, Linguine Riviera (RM35.00) is tossed with green sauce called pesto alla genovese. Originating from Genoa, the sauce is made fresh from butter, basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil. Since no preservatives are used, pesto has to be made fresh and cannot be kept for more than 3 days. Several pieces of fresh tiger prawns, flambéed in olive oil and brandy spirit, serve to provide succulent juiciness.
Although linguine is the recommended type of pasta for this dish, Via Pre's kitchen has several dozen varieties to choose from. All imported from Italy, customer can try other types such as penne, fettuccine, fusilli or capellini. Alternatively, adventurous diners can also opt for more exquisite ones like conchiglie, cannelloni and farfalle. Those with dietary restrictions can also request for gluten-free pasta.
Tracing its origins in Naples, Calzone Classico (RM29.00) is a folded pizza crust that is filled with prosciutto (dry-cured ham), salami, mozzarella cheese, pomodoro (tomatoes), onions and eggs. As the ingredients are sealed within pastry crust, they retain most moisture and have distinctive taste compared to regular pizza. For example, the tomatoes in the calzone still appear juicy as though they were merely steamed.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. This saying cannot be more appropriate when it comes to baking pizzas. At Via Pre, the pizzas are cooked in a traditional stone oven to produce the right texture on the crust. The dough is made from refined flour and contain no eggs, and is hand-tossed so that it feels doughy instead of being crispy. Compared to most Italian restaurants, only 120 grams of flour is used in order not to make the crust too surfeiting.
Moving on to meats, Costolette Agnello (RM72.00) or "lamb chops" features three pieces of pan-fried Australian lamb ribs, which announce their presence with strong toasty aroma as soon as they arrive the dining table.
The lamb racks are gratinéed with special paste made from eggplant (brinjal) and goat cheese. Both of these ingredients work together to produce an assimilation of savory flavors.
I suggest that you start with the ribs first because their savoriness is best pronounced when they are still hot from the pan.
At the center of the dish is a small cup of lentil beans, a staple crop cultivated in the Apennines of central Italy.
Also included with this dish are roasted baby potatoes and sweet potatoes. I like the subtle sweetness provided by the latter. As for greens, steamed yardlong beans and broccoli are served on the side. Usually, French beans are used as they provide better juiciness, but the chef is given the liberty to substitute with a different ingredient if one is in short supply.
The lamb rack is best enjoyed when paired with white wine, such as Adesso Inzolia Sicilia IGT 2013 (RM26.00). This wine is derived from grapes grown in the Mediterranean island of Sicily, where the warmer climate allow the wine to carry sharper flavors. In addition, Via Pre has an extensive stock of red wines such as Merlot from Venice.
As for desserts, Panna Cotta (RM15.00) is the recommended choice. The pudding is made from Italian sweetened cream, cooked and thickened with gelatin, then aromatized with vanilla. The Panna Cotta is quite sweet, but fortunately in a pleasant way that is neither surfeiting nor overpowering on my palate.
This chilled dessert is plated with fresh blueberries and strawberries. Reduced balsamic vinegar and strawberry coulis are also used as part of the overall presentation.
Few cultures know coffee better than Italians. Once again, this fact is vividly resonated at Via Pre. The cup of Cappuccino (RM11.00) is brewed from coffee beans roasted by Buscaglione Caffè. Blended and packed in Rome, Buscaglione Caffè's beans are renowned for their bold flavor that coffee enthusiasts come to appreciate.
As for non-caffeinated drinks, Via Pre has several types of juices that take advantage of fresh produce in the kitchen. For instance, the glass of Mixed Celery, Apple & Ginger (RM18.00) is freshly squeezed to produce apple pulp's foaminess and refreshing aroma from celery.
Via Pre is managed by two brothers from northern Italy: Maury (right) and Max. Meanwhile, Chef Luca (left) from Florence takes the helm in the kitchen. Chef Luca is said to be a perfectionist, being very particular with every facet of food - ranging from baking pastry to preparing sauces.
Name: Via Pre
Address: 5, Pengkalan Weld, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-262-0560
Business hours: 11:00am-11:00pm
Coordinates: 5.41633 N, 100.34374 E
Directions: From the ferry terminal at George Town, turn right and drive along Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld). Via Pre is located shortly on the left, at the same block as The Royale Bintang Penang and Made in Penang Interactive 3D Museum. Street parking is available along Weld Quay and Church Street Ghaut (Gat Lebuh Gereja).