Urban Spice

Special thanks to Urban Spice Cafe for extending this food review invitation.

Update: This business has ceased its operations.

Lebuh Acheh is packed with heritage buildings on both sides of the street. Near the junction with Lorong Lumut is a structure which stands out prominently from its peers. Built in 1940, this building is the location of Urban Spice Cafe.
Urban Spice is a restaurant-cum-café which serves Asian fusion food. More specifically, the eatery specializes in Nyonya (Peranakan) delicacies with elements of other cuisines. The restaurant is part of Spices Hotel, a scattered collection of rooms at the upper floor and nearby buildings.
Speaking of the hotel, a bricked courtyard at the back of the restaurant leads to Lorong Lumut where most hotel rooms are located. Despite being a stone's throw away from the restaurant, Spices Hotel enjoys relative seclusion as Lorong Lumut is off the beaten path. As part of George Town's heritage area, the architecture of the hotel remains untouched from the original buildings.
The building at Lorong Lumut has 9 rooms in total. Each room has an attached bathroom. Spices Hotel offers an interesting combination of cultural nostalgia and modern comfort at the heart of George Town.
The common area is designed to facilitate mingling among like-minded backpackers. Brick walls on the sides of the room are preserved from the historical structures. So is the brick archway which bisects the room. Indeed, the hotel even spares an ancient tree which has taken root into the old walls.
The word "spices" in Spices Hotel is intentional. A small tray of spices is all it takes to permeate the entire room with aromatic fragrance. Shown here are star anise, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, turmeric and more. No wonder early European voyagers were so eager to reach the Spices Archipelago!
Hotel guests are served breakfast at Urban Spice. After 10:30am, the full menu becomes available. For something relatively light, Roti Ketam (RM16.00) is a sound choice. Infused with eggs, the French toasts are filled with a savory mixture of fresh crab meat, chicken and vegetables. The bread and fillings blend seamlessly, making this dish very agreeable to my palate.
Next, Pulled Beef Burger (RM18.00) comes with either salad of fries. The former sounds more interesting: mesclun salad with mango salsa dressing.
The beef is braised slowly so that it becomes very tender. Seasoned with a variety of spices, the savory gravy permeates the meat in its entirety, making the beef very flavorful bite after bite. Meanwhile, the ciabatta has an ideal balance between chewiness and crispiness.
The Lamb Burger (RM18.00) is another recommended delicacy. It is usually served with sesame bun, but customers may request for ciabatta should they prefer so. Like the previous dish, the burger also comes with a choice of either salad or fries.
Keeping its promise to prepare every ingredient from scratch, Urban Spice makes the lamb patty by hand. Fresh meat is ground and seasoned with spices. Judging from its heavenly taste, I must say that such effort deserves commendation. Not only is the lamb gratifying with each bite, such tenderness is unlike what I have tasted before.
Moving on to poultry, Spicy Roast Chicken (RM22.00) uses a special blend of spices to bring out the best flavor of chicken. Chicken is susceptible to dryness, so it is important to control the level of doneness. Fortunately, the kitchen manages this aspect quite well.
The Spicy Roast Chicken includes both salad and fries.
Still on the topic of chicken, Ayam Percik (RM22.00) is a Kelantanese delicacy which uses a unique blend of spices like turmeric, cumin, lemongrass, tamarind, coriander and more. Coconut milk also helps to impart a sense of creaminess to the gravy. Served on the side is a bowl of pickled cucumber-and-onion salad and a heap of rice dyed with butterfly-pea flower (bunga telang) extract.
Many Penang restaurants add hawker food into their menus to exploit the fact that it is located in Penang - regardless whether it is their specialty. But at Urban Spice, Char Koay Teow (炒粿条, RM15.00) is placed on the menu for a very good reason.
It is surprisingly that Urban Spice's Char Koay Teow has reasonably good fiery aroma (镬气). Such quality is not easy to master. Customers can choose either chicken or duck egg. I recommend the latter as it imparts stronger flavor. Other ingredients in this dish are shrimps, garlic chives, bean sprouts, garlic, soy sauce and chili paste.

Rosie's Special Mee Goreng (RM15.00) is named after the chef's mother. This Malay or Mamak (Indian-Muslim) version of fried noodle uses yellow noodle which is generally shorter in length than those used in Chinese noodle dishes. This stir-fried dish also contains squid, potato, lettuce, crushed peanuts, fried shallots, chopped scallion and hard-boiled egg.
Another Penang favorite is Peranakan Laksa (RM15.00). The gravy has moderate level of spiciness thanks to a pungent combination of spices. A special type of rice noodle is used for this dish. Also included are bean sprouts, cucumber, carrot and mint.
For a more Western-style meal, Aglio-Olio Pasta (RM18.00) is the choice of many. The recipe takes creative license by introducing shiitake mushrooms and cilantro. A small amount of chili pepper presents a cooling sense of pungency. Sprinkled on top is a copious amount of grated parmesan cheese.
Switching gear to coffee, Urban Spice uses single origin Sumatran beans. Not many cafés serve single origin beans because the coffee is thought to appeal to a very narrow niche of drinkers. In this cup of Double Espresso (RM7.80), the coffee is so strong that it induces warming sensation at the back of my throat.
Besides coffee, there are several types of cold-pressed juices on the drinks menu. Mixed Juice (RM9.80) can be made from any 2 types of fruits from the following list: orange, apple, pineapple, lemon, watermelon and beetroot. I recommend beetroot as its earthy taste is interesting for a change.
As the name implies, Urban Spice take a liberal approach to using spices for most of its dishes. Despite its varied menu, I am surprised that the kitchen is quite small. True to its commitment to serve only quality food, Urban Spice does not use MSG in its recipes. Pork is also absent from the menu.
Name: Urban Spice Cafe
Address: 89, Lebuh Acheh, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Contact: 04-263-2899
Business hours: 7:30am-7:00pm, closed on Mondays
Website: https://www.facebook.com/89Urbanspicecafe
Coordinates: 5.41496 N, 100.33606 E
Directions: Drive to the end of Cannon Street (Lebuh Cannon) and turn right onto Lebuh Acheh. Urban Spice Cafe is located on the left, just before the junction with Lorong Lumut and just opposite of the basketball court. Street parking is available along Lebuh Acheh, Lorong Lumut and Armenian Street (Lebuh Armenian).

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