[Penang] Kebaya Restaurant, Seven Terraces on Stewart Lane

Kebaya Restaurant at the Seven Terraces purportedly serves Nyonya cuisine, which is unique to the Straits-born Chinese communities in Singapore, Malacca and Penang, and recipes are often guarded jealously and reproduced precisely. The youngish executive chef, Zachary Choong (who didn’t look a bit over his mid-20s)'s modern take on Penang-Nyonya cuisine has won praises from Babas & Nyonyas from Penang, Malacca and Singapore. He pretty much tweaked the recipes to satisfy a wider range of audience: toning down the spices and condiments which we Babas/Nyonyas love in abundance but which can be overwhelming to the untrained palate: belacan (shrimp paste), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, fresh turmeric root, blue ginger (galangal) and a plethora of other aromatics.

What we ordered for our dinner:

Appetisers:

  1. Pie Tee - crispy ‘top hats’ filled with saltwater school prawns, fresh julienned vegetables, with sweet chilli and coriander sauce. These crisp little pastry cups filled with very crisp fresh vegetables were delectable.
  2. Crispy “jiu hoo char” rolls: sauteed carrot, shitake, pork and dried squid, wrapped in latticed rice paper. This is an interesting take on a Penang-Nyonya dish which is usually served as a side: julienned vegetables scented with dried cuttlefish, shrimps and pork, bursting with umami sweetness. By encasing these into crisp egg rolls, it added an additional textural dimension.
  3. Otak-otak pies: Another inventive take on the spicy-velvety soft fish mousse which is usually served in banana leaves in which it’s steamed - much like Thai “hor mok pla” or Cambodian “amok”. Chef Zachary Choong turned the spicy fish mousse into a filling for his pies, and served with a creamy, spiced coconut sauce.
  4. Kebaya crispy wafers, filled with chicken, tofu and vegetable salad - these are like a Nyonya take on Mexican tacos, but with a more complex, spiced filling.

Entrees:

  1. Kebaya Tamarind Beef - 72-hour sous vide Australian beef shoulder glazed with tamarind and Gula Melaka. Absolutely melt-in-the mouth tender beef and very tasty - sourish-sweet - sauce.
  2. 3-layer organic pork belly cooked sous vide, with hoi-sin balsamic reduction dipping sauce. My fave entrée for the evening: the pork was moist and tender, and the skin was wafer-thin and shattered like glass at a bite.
  3. “Hong Bak” lamb shank, cooked sous vide for 48-hours. This is a classic Hokkien dish, given a Western twist by toning down its traditional garlicky, thick dark soysauce dressing . The lighter sauce here seemed to lack the traditional star-anise and clove scent, but was very tasty all the same.
  4. Grilled chicken Kapitan: this was a favourite dish of my dining companions - the rich complex marinade/sauce traditionally composed of shallots, garlic, candlenuts, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, yellow ginger, fresh turmeric root, galangal (blue ginger) and toasted belacan (fermented shrimp paste). The version here seemed very much toned down, but very pleasing, especially to my HK dining companions who may not have been able to take the full force of Nyonya spicing which we Singaporean, Penangites, Malaccans and other Malaysians can take.

Sides:

  1. Wing bean kerabu - salad of wing beans, pomegranate seeds, toasted coconut, calamansi lime and sambal belacan. This was one dish which I thought the chef had not “compromised” in his preparation - the wing beans were crisp, the pomegranate seeds provided welcome bursts of sweetness, whilst the chilli sambal belacan dressing was sharp and tangy. Delish!
  2. “Sambal goreng” - sauteed French beans, snowpeas, baby corn, lemongrass, shallots, belacan coconut creme and cashewnuts. This dish is creamier than I expected, I thought perhaps Chef Zachary took the liberty to add crushed cashewnut/candlenut paste to thicken the sauce - I’m guessing here, of course, but it sure tasted like the traditional Penang “masak Belanda” sauce which utilises crushed nut paste.

Desserts:

  1. “Tang Yuen” - onde-onde stuffed with fresh, dessicated coconut, simmered in coconut crème and Gula Melaka. This was a clever marriage of Chinese glutinous rice balls (“tang yuen”) and the Malay/Nyonya “onde-onde” with its fresh grated coconut-Gula Melaka filling. The balls were tinted blue using “bunga telang”, a local bluish-purple flower beloved by the Nyonyas for colouring our desserts blue.
  2. Gula Melaka mousse, encasing a sponge cake centre, with caramelised cashewnuts. This pudding was rich and lovely, with the sourish-sweet after-taste of good Gula Melaka (Malaccan palm sugar).
  3. Cempedak crème brulee - basically traditional French crème brulee, but with local “cempedak” (jackfruit) worked into it, giving the tiny little dessert an intoxicating fragrance.

Overall, a nice dinner - the posh ambience and prompt, efficient service worked better than the East-meets-West cuisine. Definitely Penang’s nicest dining space, and which gives beginners a gentle introduction to local Nyonya cuisine.

Address details

Kebaya Restaurant & Baba Bar
Seven Terraces
Stewart Lane
Tel: +604-264 2333 / + 604-2612862
Opens daily for dinner only: 6.00pm till 10.00pm.

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Hello Peter. How does it compare to Mama’s in Penang? I really enjoyed my food there especially the otak otak ( those pies sound interesting) though I suspect the food there, though elegant was also toned down?

BTW how are you finding Penang vs KL food wise?

Hey Chris

Mama’s is 100% authentic Nyonya and much cheaper than Kebaya, which I’d more characterise as “fusion-Nyonya” - its Kebaya taco-like wafers marries Vietnamese “banh xeo” (crisp egg omelette) to Penang’s own “kueh pai tee” (pastry shells), whilst the filling is more Western than Asian. No such “intransigence” at Mama’s - there is a good reason why it has “celebrity” clientele like Penang’s shoe-maker Jimmy Choo and film director, Ang Lee, who make a beeline there for its Penang-Nyonya cuisine. BTW, Mama’s had been renamed Mum’s Nyonya Cuisine in late-2015 - I surmised that there must have been a change of ownership, so not sure if the food is still the same as I’m guessing there is a change of chefs as well.

I’m enjoying Penang food very, very much as compared to KL’s. Penang still keeps to its roots in terms of food preparation - I’ve been in KL for 5 years now, and I’m never really enamoured with KL-Cantonese and Hakka cuisine, which can taste a bit “alien” to my Hokkien/Teochew palate. Penang, like Singapore, is mainly Hokkien and Teochew, so their food has a familiarity which I don’t find in KL. That said, I’d been brought by my Penang foodie friends to some pretty “meh” places - like the cluster of popular hawker stalls on Sungai Pinang Road (next to the Penang Japanese School) yesterday - we tried the Penang curry mee, wanton noodles and herbal duck drumstick with vermicelli, and none of them measure up to the usual standards I’d expected of Penang hawker stalls - and the place was inexplicably packed with local Penang diners - what gives?!

Other than that, Penang is a virtual goldmine of good eats - I’m slowly making my way through old Georgetown - taking notes, speaking to the hawkers, getting to know their history and hopefully able to share them here with other Hungry Onion readers. Being able to speak the local lingo (Hokkien and Teochew) is a definite plus here in Penang - the hawkers open up and often share their experiences, and I’m all ears :smiley:

I’m getting up early tomorrow morning to go on another culinary food hunt in George Town. There is a Hokkien noodle place in Pulau Tikus suburb which opens at 7am -by 8.30am, it’s all sold out and the stall will have been wiped clean and closed!! I want to be there by 7am tomorrow.

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Thanks for sharing your Penang adventures- I am curious, besides you speaking the local lingo, are there any ice breaking techniques you use to get them to open up?

Sharing a common language is a HUGE ice-breaker - once, a Vietnamese-Chinese restaurant-owner in Paris started talking about his family life to me when I was at the cash counter to pay the bill because he realised I could speak Teochew or Chaozhou dialect. It went on for 20 minutes, and I was only listening! My friends, both American residing in Paris and who’d been his regulars for over 10 years said he hardly spoke to them beyond the obligatory “bonjour” or “merci” despite both parties’ fluency in French.

Sharing the same culture also helps in knowing what to say or what not to say to them. Hawkers love to gossip on the local news/current affairs - so picking on the current “hot topic” of the day please them no end. Current one is the preparation for the Chinese New Year (8 Feb). But they tend to favour “regulars”, so if there are those customers are around - you just know that you have to take the back-seat.

Swee Kong?

Yes. Also the sweet Indian appams (called “apom manis” in Penang) cooked using claypots atop little wood-fired braziers - Ravindran Supramaniam and his wife, Kanchana Kalimuthu, have been running the stall for more than 40 years now. Unlike Indian appams in KL or Singapore, Penang ones have eggs, giving the moist pancakes with crispy edges a wonderful aroma.

With Mama’s new incarnation an uncertain, do you know of a good alternative in Penang offering authentic Nyonya cuisine?

We’ll be there in a few weeks so hopefully I can give back to the forum, not that I’ll have any ability to tell the authentic. I’ll be trawling through chowhound and the like over the next week to try and put together a list of must visits, but Nyonya is definitely something I want to try more of. I think your posts about Sedap in London may have been what first put the Malay peninsula on our culinary radar, before we visited the first time in 2013 (we never made it to Penang, one of the reasons we wanted to go back).

Hi,

A few doors down from Mama’s is Nyonya Breeze which I liked quite a bit (having also dined at Mama’s twice before). Loved their Kerabu Bok Nee.

I’m curious - what is the new incarnation of Mama’s supposed to be?

Re: Pulau Tikus- yes, by all means those appams are nice. It’s nuts to me how it’s just done on the street in a large basket-like steamer. There’s also a Nyonya at that market who makes a great Nasi ulam. Very jealous of you klyeoh!

I’ve yet to visit Mum’s Kitchen, and might do so in the near future - will make sure to report back here.

fraglino’s rec, Nyonya Breeze, is a good option, although I’ve also not been for a couple of years now, so cannot say for certain if it has retained its standards. Nyonya Breeze opened a branch at the Straits Quay a wjile back and, apparently, the more experienced kitchen crew went over there. You might want to check that one out - it’s also situated closer to the Batu Ferringhi/Tanjung Bungah beach resorts, if you happen to be staying near there:
http://www.straitsquay.com/outlet/nyonya-breeze/

Perut Rumah , previously at Kelawei Road, has moved to Bawasah Road (near Hotel Royal), and is worth checking out, too - although I must say that their Penang-Nyonya cuisine is getting more & more commercialised these days.

Another place which offers pretty authentic Nyonya food, albeit slightly over-priced, is Little Kitchen @ Nyonya, on Noordin Street. It offers a set menu with the freshest ingredients for the day. Very small restaurant - you fee like you’re dining in a private kitchen. Address: 179, Lebuh Noordin, 10300 George Town, Penang. Tel: +60 4-261 6731

Do drop me a line when you’re in Penang - if I happen to be in town at the time, we can have a chowdown.

Hi fragolino

The next time you’re in Penang and hanker for nasi ulam, the best version I’d come across thus far is from Moh Teng Pheow on Chulia Street. They are descendants of Penang’s legendary Nyonya kueh-maker, “Tua Bak”, from the 1950s-60s. The Nyonya kuehs are Moh Teng Pheow are very good still, but nowhere as good as they once were when “Tua Bak” operated from her 32 Love Lane location decades ago. Thes.e days, you can get better Nyonya kuehs from Eaton (Batu Lanchang Road) or Li Er (Burmah Road in Pulau Tikus).

But one goes to Moh Teng Pheow for their nasi ulam these days - tastier and has better texture than the much-mentioned rendition (among Malaysian foodbloggers) at Mimi’s Café in Wisma Central.

klyeoh,

I’m always impressed with your knowledge of the food scene in this part of the world.
Thanks very much for the recommendations. I wish you’d write a book!
I’m hoping to return to Penang and Singapore in March. I will definitely hit these places up when I’m there.

Many thanks

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Cheers, fragolino.

Update: Nyonya Breeze on Abu Siti Lane is closed. There’s some large-scale renovation going on at its old site.

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