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 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 “assam laksa”, a sourish rice noodle soup dish, rated at #7 in CNN’s 2017 list of the World’s Best Dishes.
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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.