Thursday 25 April 2013

Penang Coffee House

549, Burwood Rd, Hawthorn, VIC 3122

Penang Coffee House on Urbanspoon
Once upon a time, this was well known place amongst Malaysians and Singaporeans as an old reliable, but sadly I think that it hasn't kept up with the times. While it has moved premises, it still looks somewhat dated. This is a family style cafe and is one of those curiosities of the 21st century, a restaurant that does not accept any card or eftpos. For what it is, it's not that cheap and there are a number of other places in the city that have cheaper and yummier food.

The Place
This is a basic cafe with minimal deco and plastic flowers. It really has made no effort to create any sort of ambience and seems to thrive in its suburban drabness. The relatively small tables are movable into configurations that would feet most sizes. It's also relatively child friendly though sound insulation is not great. It is generally a clean restaurant. Parking is on the street.

Things to do nearby: Set near the shopping streets of Hawthorn, near Swinburne University, it might be worth exploring the shops.

The Food
I had been looking forward to this as I once had really good Char Kway Teow here. However, this last minute, the food was really underwhelming. While the Char Kway Teow and Fried Rice Vermicelli (Bee Hoon) from neighbouring tables smelt really good, the dishes that we ordered were not that great.

Beef Rendang - was not very authentic and somewhat bland, and had minimal spice. It reminded me of Chinese style rendang served in Malaysia that's not very flavoursome, and tends to be uninspiring.

Beef Rendang and Ayam Kapitan
Ayam Kapitan - Fried chicken with a basic tangy chilli sauce. The spiced batter was quite nice though the chilli was more sweet than hot.

Kueh Pie Ti sans Chilli Sauce
Kueh Pie Ti - one of the few places that serves this in Melbourne, Pie Ti should be fresh and a good balance between freshness and crunchiness, savoury and chilli. Here however, it's nothing to write home about.

Sambal Kang Kong - There was shrimp paste in this but the spice level is really 'westernised' as in - there was just a hint of it. It is tasty but for any diehards, this would also have been a disappointment. The vegetables were fresh though.

Roti - quite different to the ones in Malaysia
The Roti here seems to be deep fried, or whatever it is they do to make it crunchy - it is nice enough though. However, don't expect the same standard as more recently opened up places that serve great Roti around town.

Hor Fun sans egg sauce.
The Combination Hor Fun was not bad, but lacked the smokiness of the ones served in some of the places around town. I think if they used eggs in the sauce, they would need to use less starch

The Service
The service here is pretty basic and relatively frantic. However, the problem is that there were only 2 working the floor and when it got busy, they started to get on edge and the smiles became more strained. The food did not come out in any sort of order.

The meal was not up to standard and to be honest. In the 80s, when there were fewer Malaysian restaurants around town, people would have been grateful for the servings here. However, fastforward 30 years later, there are many more Malaysian restaurants with punchier and more authentic tastes. Their chillies mean business, their assam is truly sour, their dishes use strong garlic, and they do not apologies for their authenticity. It's educational and many in Melbourne have moved with the times too to explore the frontier of authentic Malaysian tastes. Unfortunately, I don't think Penang Coffee House has kept up. Therefore, I shan't be returning.

Cultural Moment
Penang (Pulau Pinang) - the Pearl of the Orient according to Malaysians was for a while, a key port city in Southeast Asia, taking over from Malacca before being superceded by Singapore. This meant that its food bears strong Chinese (particularly Hokkien), Thai, Malay and South Indian influences, and elements of Nyonya cuisine. Much of these were missing as the focus was mainly Chinese style.

Some of the most famous dishes from Penang include Assam Laksa, Oyster Omelette, Loh Bak (minced pork roll), Penang Char Kway Teow, Hokkien Noodle Prawn Soup, Rojak (Fruit and Veg Salad with Shrimp Paste), Mee Goreng, Lok-Lok and Satay amongst others. A veritable feast and Penangites swear by their version of these dishes.

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