We came here on Father's Day because it is one of my father's favourite buffets. Also, he has a discount card for the place... hehehe. We heard from one of the restaurant captains that the original chefs for the restaurant had left to ply their skills in London. However, the hotel had continued to bring in new chefs from Penang to delight the tastebuds of Singaporeans here. It does seem to me sometimes that the quality of the food has changed slightly. But its still pretty good.
So what is so different about this buffet? Well, there are the Penang salads, or kerabu, characterised by their sambal belacan and lime dressing. Then there is the otak-otak. Simply sedap! The steamed otak-otak sets a very high bar for any grilled otak-otak to reach. Rich in flavour, yet melts in the mouth. Except for the chunks of fish of course! The otak-otak and the satay used to run out quickly. So it is important to get what you can, when you can. My uncle used to know one of the chefs at the restaurant. So when we had our extended family meals here, we would get sticks of freshly cooked satay brought to our table.
The main courses are excellent too. I had the lamb and fish gulai (curry) with the nasi kunyit (glutinous tumeric-coloured rice). And then of course there are Penang hawker delights - penang kway teow, prawn mee, and the absolutely unique Penang assam laksa.
Assam laksa is one fiddly dish to make. It was one of the signature dishes made by Ah Ling Zhe, the lady who used to look after my great-grandmother. When my great-grandmother died, she stayed on to maintain the family home. Every now and then, she would make vats of laksa for my father's extended, extended family. We would get a call one day to inform us that Ah Ling was making Penang laksa the next weekend. We would go down and find a vat of noodles and one of laksa gravy, side by side. On the table would be the array of toppings. My family members would fill their bowls with the noodles, pour over the assam gravy with the little chunks of ikan parang inside it. Then they would top off with the prawn paste (hae kor), cut red chilli, mint leaves, pineapple chunks, shredded cucumber, bunga kantan etc etc. I still remember one of my many granduncles telling me that this was the best Penang laksa in Singapore. Of course I, as a young child, was perhaps not fully able to appreciate it (in the first instance, not that good at taking chilli). Even so, I do recall eating my own small bowl of it.
My cousin tried to make Penang laksa once. It was a valiant attempt but alas, it did not quite meet Ah Ling Zhe's high standard. And (as mentioned earlier) this is a fiddly dish to make. So - when you find a place in Singapore (where lemak laksa is the norm) which sells a decent assam laksa, make a careful note of it. One place is Marine Parade (see last post), and another Princess Terrace.