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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “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.
- 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.
- 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!
- “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.
- “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.
- 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).
- 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.
Kebaya Restaurant & Baba Bar
Tel: +604-264 2333 / + 604-2612862
Opens daily for dinner only: 6.00pm till 10.00pm.