Our lunch on the first day of the Muslim fest (and Malaysian public holiday) of Eid ul-Fitr was at 𝗡𝗲𝗶𝗴𝗵𝗯𝗼𝘂𝗿𝘄𝗼𝗼𝗱, a hidden dining gem located in the Minor Basilica of Saint Anne’s neck of the woods.
Helmed by a young but very talented owner-chef, Sean Khaw, it’s perhaps Penang’s best casual dining spot. If this eatery is in George Town, there would be a queue outside its door.
Quiet and unassuming, 32-year-old Ayer Itam-born Sean Khaw has 12 years of cooking experience under his belt, including stints under Jason Tan at 1-Michelin-star Corner House in Singapore, and under Emmanuel Stroobant at 2-Michelin-star Saint Pierre, Singapore.
We started off with:
Toasted sourdough with salted butter. Not quite the thick-crusted, dense, chewy sourdough bread we are more used to on the island. The one here was soft, almost cottony - like Japanese-style breads.
But we liked that the bread was freshly-toasted over charcoal embers, and served warm with good butter sprinkled with sea salt.
Our lunch spread - all sharing platters - consisted of:
Grilled all-spice chicken wingettes - juicy and well-marinated, we picked these little morsels clean in a matter of seconds.
Pulled lamb rolls, with harissa dip - these little parcels looked like crisp, deep-fried Chinese spring rolls. Bitten into, each golden parcel yielded moist, deep-flavoured pulled lamb.
The creamy harissa dip on the side seemed unnecessary, but provided an additional taste dimension. Personally, I could’ve used a Sriracha or even ketchup dip instead.
Roasted cherry tomatoes bruschetta with basil & anchovy oil, atop toasted sourdough bread - I loved this: shades of Catalonian pa amb tomàquet, with its sweet, ripe cherry tomatoes. There were three of us in our lunch party, and the chef thoughtfully cut the bruschetta into 3. But I could’ve had the whole plate to myself.
Pickled tomato salad, with citrus-basil-horseradish dressing - this was a lovely light & crisp salad, with a lot of things going on, none more surprising than the fragrance from aniseed, ever so faint but detectable.
The mandarin orange segments provided a lovely sweet-acidic tang, undercutting the peppery arugula and radish. The “pickled” tomatoes seemed more “marinated” to me, with a gentle heat from the horseradish.
Half-a-roasted chicken au jus, served atop pumpkin puree - very well-done here: the chicken was perfectly moist and juicy, whilst the skin was on the verge of crispiness. The pumpkin puree was lovely, though it could do with a bit more seasoning, perhaps cumin or coriander, or the tiniest pinch of curry powder - but that’s just me.
Braised Australian lamb shank, with pickled onions, potato puree and green harissa sauce - this was a much-touted dish: the lamb-shank was slow-braised till fall-off-the-bone tender, and was served reclining seductively on a soft divan of buttery, pureed potatoes, streaked through with tangy ribbons of pickled onions. It was really good.
Shredded beef ragu pasta, with tomatoes, parsley and Parmigiano-Reggiano - the beef ragu seemed more liquid than I’d have liked, but the whole concoction was perfectly-balanced in terms of flavours and textures. Another winner here.
Smoked cabbage with toasted hazelnuts and dashi-butter sauce - we liked the concept of smoking the cabbage here - a gentler approach than char-grilling, then given a Japanese makeover with the dashi-butter dressing. The toasted hazelnuts provided a nice crunch, but we actually relished combining the cabbage leaves here with the next side we ordered - the crushed potatoes.
Roasted, crushed potatoes with pickled onions and parsley - tasty, but when combined with the smoked cabbage side, we ended up with a delicious combination approaching British bubble-and-squeak. Now we know why that was a match made in heaven!
Crème brûlée - this was a revelation: the creamiest, most perfect rendition of this dessert I’d tasted in this parts of the woods! I’d come back here just for this - forget the other dishes.
NBW flourless chocolate cake - chocolate crémeux, almonds, espresso and Chantilly cream - another winner. The dense, moist slice of pure chocolatey deliciousness was utterly decadent, and made even more sinful with the addition of the Chantilly cream. Sheer perfection.
So, Chef Sean Khaw really do possess some serious talent here. We admire his quiet, unassuming demeanour. Anyone over in George Town, across the Straits of Penang, would be trumpeting the kind of pedigree he has. But he seemed more content with running his own little show here in his quiet neck of the woods. Amazing.
The restaurant is just two minutes’ stroll from the top Catholic pilgrimage centre in Malaysia, and where the annual Feast of Saint Anne takes place.
3427, Jalan Kulim, Taman Bukit Mas, 14000 Bukit Mertajam, Malaysia
Tel: +6012-903 0862
Lunch:11.30am-3pm, Mon, Thu-Sun.
Dinner (2 sessions): 6pm-8pm, 8.15-10.30pm, Mon, Thu-Sun.
Closed on Tue & Wed.