[Penang] Baked chicken at Half Acre Restaurant, Balik Pulau

Balik Pulau is a small, mainly Hakka-populated town on the other side of the island of Penang. Its name - “Balik Pulau” - literally means that in Malay, i.e. “Other Side of the Island”. Balik Pulau is also home to Burmese and Siamese Christian communities who descended from refugees that settled here after escaping religious persecution in their home countries back in the 19th-century.

Food-wise, Balik Pulau is known for churning out the best versions of Penang’s “asam laksa”, a sourish rice noodle soup dish, rated at #7 in CNN’s 2017 list of the World’s Best Dishes. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Penang “asam laksa” showed strong Siamese and Burmese influences - almost like a cross between Thai khanom jeen nam ya and Burmese mohinga.

Balik Pulau is also where Penang’s current hottest restaurant is located - Half Acre, a rustic Hakka-Chinese eatery whose specialties are slow-cooked chickens in wood-fired giant urn-ovens, and 30-hour slow-simmered soups. There is a two-week wating list for a table at the moment, and the restaurant is packed very quickly when it opens for lunch at 12 noon daily. But try coming early and you might snare one of the several tables they reserved for walk-in customers.

The restaurant is very popular among the local Penang crowd at the moment, whose taste can be very discerning.

  1. The signature dish are the whole chickens, marinated overnight, then baked in the giant urn-ovens with at temperatures of over 300 deg Celsius (570 deg F) for about 15-20 minutes. The chickens are then served whole, suspended in metal serving contraptions. Customers are given gloves to peel the fall-off-the-bone tender flesh from the baked chicken. Very moist & tasty meat.

  1. There were 6 types of soup to choose from - all served in ceramic pots and enough for 4-6 persons. The soups have all been slow-simmered for 30 hours. We chose the wintermelon, red dates, wolfberries and chicken soup. Very full-flavoured.

Other dishes we ordered include:

  1. A Nyonya-style steamed red snapper. It had the requisite spicy, sweet-sourish flavours which Penangites, whose palates are long-influenced by the Burmese and Thais, on top of their Hokkien (Fujianese) taste preferences, yearned for.

  1. A rather unusual prawn dish, where crisp-fried shell-on prawns are coated in a milk-cheese-chili-curry leaf sauce. We didn’t find the prawns as fresh as we’d like here. In Penang, where street food vendors/hawkers frown on refrigeration, and only use the fresh produce they got from the wet markets on the same day, it can be jarring to discover a popular restaurant using pre-frozen seafood. Avoid.

  1. The stir-fried beansprouts and salt fish dish, recommended by our waiter, and was told it consisted of their own farm-grown beansprouts, and with salt fish bought from one of Balik Pulau’s famous salt fish makers, turned out to be pretty average. The expected heady, salty tang from the salt fish was missing, and Penang’s beansprouts lacked the juiciness and crunchiness of neighbouring Ipoh’s. Try and order another vegetable dish rather than this one.

Overall, a good meal, with service par excellence. Food was a case of hits-and-misses, the baked chicken and soup being definite standouts.

Half Acre Restaurant
Lot 403, Jalan Titi Teras, MKM E
11000 Balik Pulau, Penang
Tel: +604-866 1151
Opening hours: 12noon-3pm, 6pm-10pm, Tue-Sun. Closed on Mondays.


Looks worth a trip out from Georgetown next time I’m in Penang.

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Looks like they are very good for the oven baked chicken. I am not familiar with this type of clay oven cuisine from Taiwan.

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Very popular in Taiwan (http://www.taiwancamping.net/2009/07/earthen-jar-oven-roast-chicken.html?m=1), and it suits the flavour palate of Penangites, who are mainly Hokkien (Fujianese) like the Taiwanese.

Taiwan also has a large Hakka (客家人) minority, which influences its cuisine. Penang’s semi-rural Balik Pulau township is mainly Hakka, and Penangites from George Town usually descend upon this town on weekends in search of Hakka food.

I see! Because the place seems a bit remote to have enough clients to visit regluarly.

Half Acre has moved from its rustic Balik Pulau location to Straits Quay in the wealthy suburb of Tanjung Tokong late last year. It’s almost like a Penang episode of The Beverly Hillbillies in terms of change of environment!

Anyhoo, we were there to check out Half Acre’s new spot last night. Instead of looking out to the backwoods of Penang previously, with stray cows ambling past, we now had in front of us a marina with yachts amidst high-rise luxury apartments. :scream:

Their trademark giant glazed urns, used to charcoal-bake their signature chickens were there, looking a bit incongruously out of place amidst the yachts in the marina.

But all is well and good! The cooking standards (and even prices) have been retained - only the clientele’s demographics seemed to have changed slightly, from their erstwhile mainly countryfolk to the more posh set now.

Chicken and bittergourd soup - very flavoursome, as Half Acre slow-simmered their soups overnight, allowing the flavours to deepen. Besides the bittergourd and chicken pieces, dried scallops, dates and wolfberries were added.

Baked Village Chicken - still moist and fall-off-the-bone tender, subtly-spiced. It’s served whole, head, feet, everything.

Chili-garlic-lime clams - these were, sadly, overcooked and the clam meat was hard and dry, A pity since the seasoning was spot-on.

Steamed minced pork with salted fish - pretty average-tasting.

Portions are large and meant for sharing. Even then, 3 of us couldn’t do justice to the dishes we ordered, and a return visit is needed to try other options on the menu.

Half Acre Restaurant
3E-G-3Ground floor, Straits Quay
Jalan Seri Tg Pinang, Seri Tanjung Pinang
10470 Tanjung Tokong, Penang
Tel: +604-893 1617
Opening hours: 11am to 11pm daily


Worth a visit? We’re looking at apartments in Straits Quay but I am a bit hesitant as it looks like a food desert over there…

Definitely worth a visit - pretty good cooking. But call ahead to check their operating hours - I hadn’t been back there since the MCO in March 2020.

Walked past last night, open and empty! Will patronize soon…

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