Via Pre

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

Via Pre has moved from its original Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld) location to a new shop at Penang Street (Lebuh Penang). This is one of two restaurants that Via Pre currently has - the other being located in Kuala Lumpur, which I had the pleasure of visiting last month.
Via Pre is named after a busy street in downtown Genoa, Italy. In contrast to most Italian restaurants in Malaysia, Via Pre sets itself apart from others through authentic Italian cuisine. As evidence, the restaurant goes to great lengths to procure premium ingredients from Italy. This includes nearly everything from cured meat to cheese, wines to coffee.
The new Penang Street outlet features an open kitchen where customers can see its crew working tirelessly to fulfill orders. The Head Chef of this outlet is Chef Luca from Florence, whom I had the pleasure of meeting previously.
The upper floor of the restaurant provides additional dining space during busy hours. Every Saturday evening, there is live band performance to keep the ambience vibrant.
Our meal is preceded by an apéritif: Bellini (RM36.00). This refreshing drink is made from 2 parts of Prosecco sparkling wine and 1 part of peach purée. This classic cocktail originates in Venice and possesses refreshing sweet-tanginess that draws appetite.
Shortly after being seated, we are served with a basket of bread. Breads are complimentary with most food orders except for pizzas, bruschetta and panini. Bread types vary from day to day. Today, the bread basket comprises of focaccia, eight-grain bread, rustic bread and grissini.
Baked fresh every day, the breads carry irresistible aroma from the oven. In general, the breads are pleasantly crusty - with the sole exception of grissini which are too hard for me. Balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil are provided too.
Prosciutto & Buffalo Mozzarella (RM25.00) is an antipasto (starter) platter served on a tagliere (wooden board). Prosciutto is a general term for any Italian dry-cured ham. There are regional variations of prosciutto, for instance Parma Ham from Emilia-Romagna as shown here.
As for cheese, mozzarella di bufala (buffalo mozzarella) from southern Italy has curd-like softness. It is milder in flavor compared to some other types of cheese. The platter also includes green olives, sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes.

Spaghetti Ai Frutti Di Mare (RM56.00) is a seafood-based pasta dish. Pasta is cooked using garlic and extra virgin olive oil. The oil accentuates aroma and provides a sense of oiliness that is not too greasy. The phrase "frutti di mare" literally means "fruits of the sea", and symbolically refers to seafood. Seafood used in this dish includes squid, clams and mussels.
Seafood pasta goes well with white wine such as Ansonica Costa Argentario La Parrina 2013 (RM32.00). This dry wine is produced from the vineyards of Parrina, Tuscany. Served chilled, the glass of Ansonica is smooth and carries refreshing nutty aroma, making this wine friendly to casual drinkers.
Seafood connoisseurs should go for Misto Griglia Di Pesce (RM78.00), a combination platter of grilled seafood: salmon, grouper, shrimp and squid. For best enjoyment, seafood is marinated and grilled with rosemary and garlic-infused olive oil. Included on the side are diced tomato salad and silk-like sautéed spinach.
Salmon and shrimps are the main highlights of the assorted seafood platter. Thanks to their freshness, their juiciness is exquisite with every bite. On the other hand, squid and grouper are slightly drier; I personally prefer more tenderness. While it is pleasurable to enjoy grilled seafood on its own, it is also nice to dip it in a special sauce made from tarragon and shallots.
The 12-inch Vegetariana Pizza (RM25.00) may be too large for one person, but this is the standard serving size for a wholesome Italian meal. Like bread, pizza dough (schiacciata) is also made fresh in the kitchen. Tossed and stretched by hand, the dough serves as pizza crust. Its scrumptious crisp is attributed to the fact that the pizza is baked in a stone oven.
As for pizza toppings, fresh tomato paste is evenly spread over the crust. This is followed by vegetarian ingredients like black olives, green olives, artichokes, zucchini, eggplant (brinjals), bell pepper and onions. Toppings are held in place by molten mozzarella cheese. Finally, parsley and basil are used as garnish.
Progressing into desserts, La Crème Brulee' Di Via Pre (RM18.00) is the most interesting from the presentation perspective. Alcohol on custard's surface is ignited at the dining table, resulting in spectacular display of flame which lasts for over a minute. Flambéing icing sugar causes it caramelize, forming a brittle layer which keeps the custard insulated from heat.
Meanwhile, the vanilla-based custard is blessed with alluring lime aroma, teasing the palate with its lovely citrus essence. Included on the side is a piece of baci di dama, which loosely translates to "lady's kisses" - because it resembles a pair of lips. Baci di dama is made from crushed hazelnut while chocolate cream holds the halves together.
After a heavy meal, it is ideal to have a digestif to relieve any surfeiting feeling. A small glass of Limoncello Napioli IGP 27' (RM23.00) does the trick. Produced in Torreglia of northern Italy, this lemon liqueur is made by fermenting lemon zest and syrup. This digestif is delightfully sweet and has respectable alcohol overtones.
Via Pre also produces its own Limoncello which is drier and has higher alcohol content (39%) than the imported version. The liqueur takes 50 days to prepare, and is usually reserved for special events such as Christmas.

Hardcore drinkers may even want to get their hands on Limen Liquore. With alcohol content (42%) approaching that of whisky, this is not a common beverage to be trifled with. Its sweet-smelling lemon fragrance is pleasurable in small amounts, but the fumes can overwhelm the nasal cavity with ease. The liquor gives mild burning sensation as it trickles slowly down the throat.
Few people have coffee culture as developed as the Italians, who consume coffee at the conclusion of nearly every meal. At Via Pre, the beans are roasted by Buscaglione Caffè of Rome. Extracted espresso is used to prepare this cup of Cappuccino (RM11.00). The coffee is notable for its exquisite smoothness as well as its relaxing aroma.
Occasionally, customers are served with a type of sugar confectionery at the conclusion of their meals. Chocolate Praline serves this role today. The chocolates pieces are contain crushed pistachio nuts and are infused with some wine for the extra kick. Intense dark chocolate essence strikes a chord with my bitter-inclined palate.
Once again, the food quality at Via Pre continues to impress with flying colors. It is no wonder the restaurant is packed with customers during dinner service!

Name: Via Pre
Address: 20E, Lebuh Penang, 10200 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-262-0560
Business hours: 11:00am-11:00pm
Coordinates: 5.41933 N, 100.34136 E
Directions: Via Pre is located on Lebuh Penang (Penang Street) between the intersections with Union Street (Lebuh Union) and Bishop Street (Lebuh Bishop). It is at the other end of shops from The Chambers and Penang 3D Trick Art Museum. Street parking can be scarce on weekdays.

Swenz Cafe

Special thanks to Swenz Cafe for extending this food review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

The New Swenz Cafe has 2 outlets currently: Seberang Jaya and Raja Uda. The latter is located within a stone's throw away from Raja Uda's Econsave supermarket. This air-conditioned restaurant has a spacious dining area, making it a conducive place for dining with children.
Swenz Cafe's menu consists of local favorites such as fried rice and noodles. Western food and light snacks are also available. The food here is entirely pork-free. As a significant number of customers do not take beef either, beef is also notably absent from all dishes.
The bowl of Mushroom Soup (RM5.90) is prepared from scratch - from fresh portobello mushrooms. As evidence, the soup still contains visible chunks of mushroom that provides additional mouthfeel. I personally prefer the soup to be made thicker, but taste-wise I think the soup is quite balanced. Some black pepper is added for improved aroma and flavor.
Scallop Shark Fin Soup With Mushroom (RM8.90) is another peculiar item on the menu. This soup is based on a popular delicacy which is typically served in upscale Chinese restaurants. Of course, sharks fins and scallops have been reduced in amount in order to fit the price point. Indeed, most of the soup's flavor comes from other ingredients: shiitake mushrooms, crab sticks, egg and glass noodle. Should customers prefer some sourness, rice vinegar is also provided.
According to the staff, Sambal Prawn Rice (RM9.90) is one of the more popular rice dish here. Shrimps are stir-fried with onions in sweet-and-spicy gravy. The gravy may be too intense to be taken directly, but with rice, its lovely flavor can be properly appreciated. This dish comes with a heap of rice and a fried egg.
Tom Yam Fried Noodle (RM7.90) is another crowd favorite. Egg noodle is cooked with chicken chunks, shrimps, sausages and cabbage, then topped with a fried egg. The tom yum seasoning works harmoniously with noodle and other ingredients.
As for Western food, I recommend the Chicken Chop With Mongolian Sauce (RM14.90). The sauce produces distinctive tanginess on the tongue - different from the usual black pepper or mushroom sauces. Deboned chicken thigh is deep-fried until it becomes crispy. As with all Western dishes, fries and coleslaw are served on the side.
For something light, Chicken Ham + Egg + Cheese Polo Bun is a sensible choice. Polo bun (菠萝包) is a popular breakfast item in Hong Kong. Checkered patterns on the sugary crust resemble the surface of pineapples, which gave rise to the bun's Cantonese name. The bun is cut into halves and is used as a sandwich for chicken ham, cheddar cheese and omelette.
Meanwhile, the healthy drinks section of the menu contains nearly a dozen types of mixed fruit drinks. Each drink is named after a popular soccer team. For instance, Manchester United (RM5.50) is made from fresh apples, carrots and oranges. For aesthetic appeal, each type of fruit juice forms a separate layer in the transparent mug. The drink also comes in large size (RM9.50) that is sufficient for 2 or 3 persons.
The food at Swenz Cafe is reasonably affordable as the pricing is tailored for the mainstream crowd in Butterworth. Moving forward, the restaurant plans to include more dishes into its already-extensive food menu. Espresso will be also be included in due time.

Name: The New Swenz Cafe
Address: 22A, Lorong Teras Jaya 9, Kawasan Perniagaan Teras Jaya, 13400 Butterworth, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-320-0763
Business hours: 10:00am-10:00pm
Coordinates: 5.43362 N, 100.38952 E
Directions: From Jalan Ong Yi How, turn into Kawasan Perniagaan Teras Jaya. Swenz Cafe is located on Lorong Teras Jaya 9, within a short distance from Pasar Besar Econsave. Street parking is available in front of the restaurant.

Pony Tale

Special thanks to Pony Tale De' Cafe for extending this food review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

Opened in December 2015, Pony Tale De' Cafe is one the pioneer restaurants in SPICE Canopy. This family-oriented restaurant is located across the road from Pisa Corner Cafe.
Pony Tale draws inspiration from one of proprietors' travels around the world. Having been exposed to local delicacies in multiple countries, she strives to bring the best food from each culture under one roof. Pony Tale's menu emphasizes on natural ingredients and healthy cooking recipes.
This philosophy is exemplified by the Pony Wild Wild Mushroom Soup (RM16.80). Made from fresh shiitake and portobello (button) mushrooms, the mushy soup is infused with genuine mushroom goodness. Sautéed enoki mushrooms are added to produce the desired mouthfeel. This bowl of soup also comes with a slice of garlic bread.
Inspired by seafood stews from Sicily, Seafood Pumpkin Pot (RM29.80) is another highly recommended dish. This tomato-based stew is cooked with premium-quality New Zealand mussels, blue mussels and shrimps. According to the chef, the original Sicilian version is extremely thick, but this version is made lighter to suit the local palate.
The stew is served in a pumpkin bowl, which has been partially hollowed out to serve as a vessel. The pumpkin is baked so that the remaining flesh is sufficiently soft to be scraped off with a spoon. Indeed, there is still a substantial amount of pumpkin flesh remaining - but consuming all the starchy fibers can be surfeiting for some people.

Borrowing elements from Thai cuisine culminated in a peculiar-looking dish: Cuttlefish Steak (RM38.80). Cut from the cuttlefish's mantle, the steak is gently pan-fried to maintain its tenderness. The steak is then curled up and stuffed with aromatic herbs such as coriander and basil. Meanwhile, the Thai-style sauce helps to accentuate the cuttlefish with sweet and sour flavors. This unique dish includes mashed pumpkin gravy and sautéed vegetables on the side.
For light snacks, Apple Cinnamon Sweet Crêpe (RM14.80) is a sound choice. Batter is spread evenly on a hot plate until it solidifies. After adding homemade apple cinnamon sauce, the crêpe is folded over and rolled into a cone. Unlike the traditional French pastry, this crêpe is made crispier especially around the edges.
The crêpe is presented with additional apple cinnamon sauce, apple slices, vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, icing sugar and cocoa powder. The crêpe is too unwieldy to be held by hand, so it is better to pluck off piece by piece.

As for beverages, Pony Tale has over 20 different types of juices and milkshakes. The drinks are categorized into 4 series by seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. There are also a decent range of hot and iced coffee drinks. Most coffee drinks are prepared from espresso, but manually-brewed coffee such as drip brews and cold drips are also available.

House blend coffee beans are grown and processed in Sumatra. Roasted to medium-dark, its Espresso (RM7.80) carries pleasant bitterness as it trickles down the throat. For coffee enthusiasts, Pony Tale also carries several single-origin blends that are available upon request.
On a hot day, a glass of Chococado Espresso (RM19.80) is the perfect remedy to cool the body. The key ingredient in this ice-blended drink is Indonesian avocado. Chocolate ice cream is added on top, while a shot of espresso is included separately.
According to the chef, Chococado Espresso is designed to be enjoyed in 3 stages. Firstly, one appreciates the refreshing sensation of ice-blended avocado. Next, chocolate ice cream is stirred into the drink, adding a harmonious dose of sweetness into the slushy mixture. For the finale, pour some espresso (amount according to personal preference) to enjoy another dimension of bitterness in this multifaceted beverage.

Hailing from the Spring Series is Green Bonanza (RM14.80), another ice-blended drink based on choy sum (菜心). Several types of fruits, such as apple and lemon, are also blended together. This results in fruity sweetness which negates the "leafiness" of choy sum. The glass of Green Bonanza is palatable even for people who naturally dislike eating green vegetables.
Pony Tale's menu is entirely pork-free. Keeping in line with its philosophy of healthy cooking, the kitchen does not use any artificial flavoring (MSG) nor coloring. Sauces and condiments are made from scratch wherever possible. I feel that the menu is well-crafted with customers' experience in mind, not solely for the kitchen's convenience.

Pony Tale will be opening a second outlet in Auto-City before Christmas this year. Occupying the former premises of Soho Country House, this new location will be significantly larger. Although the first outlet was opened without much fanfare, there will be a grand opening at the Auto-City restaurant.

Name: Pony Tale De' Cafe
Address: 180-B-01-11, Setia SPICE Canopy, Jalan Tun Dr. Awang, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-611-1319
Business hours: 10:00am-10:00pm (Monday-Thursday), 10:00am-11:30pm (Friday), 8:30am-11:00pm (Saturday-Sunday)
Coordinates: 5.32881 N, 100.27884 E
Directions: Pony Tale is located at SPICE Canopy, facing Jalan Tun Dr. Awang and Pisa Corner Cafe. There are parking spaces in front of the restaurant.

Sudut Selera Tanjung Chali

In downtown Alor Setar, one of the most prominent Chinese hawker centers is located at Sudut Selera Tanjung Chali, better known to locals as Hai Tao Ki (海头街). Most hawkers used to operate at Pekan Cina on the other side of Kedah River (Sungai Kedah). The current location is next to the now-defunct Looking Good supermarket at Jalan Dato Mohammad Samad.
There are approximately 20 hawker stalls in total. According to locals, popular dishes here include Tua Pan (大板, local name for Yin Yong 鸳鸯), Lor Mee (卤面), Wan Tan Mee (云吞面), Loh Bak (卤肉) and Fried Oyster (蚝煎).
One of the busiest stalls is Mr. Lim's Loh Bak (五香卤肉). During weekends, there is a long queue in front of his stall. My waiting time today is about half an hour - awfully slow considering the fact that food has been prepared upfront and only requires brief deep-frying before being served.
Loh Bak (卤肉, RM1.70) contains minced meat that is seasoned with five-spice powder (五香粉). Each piece is rolled in tofu skin, and then deep-fried in hot oil so that it becomes crispy. The dipping sauce is a mixture of thick sauce made from corn starch, and chili sauce of moderate spiciness.
Meanwhile, Pandan Chicken (香草鸡, RM3.60 per set of 6 pieces) is rich in savoriness due to flavorful marinade. Other fried food include Salted Egg Roll (皮蛋卷, RM2.50) and Prawn Fritter (虾煎, RM1.00).
Drinks are vended by another stall. A unique drink here is Cin Cao (青草, RM1.40), which is made from centella (pegaga) leaves. I find the grass-like taste quite appealing.

Address: Jalan Dato Mohammad Samad, 05050 Alor Setar, Kedah
Contact: 019-455-5522
Business hours: 6:00pm-12:00am