Another big get-together Chinese New Year dinner, this time at Maple Palace, Penang’s premier Cantonese restaurant. Proprietor-chef, Mr Tan Loy Sin, is a consummate perfectionist when it comes to ensuring quality produce are used for his well-executed dishes at this restaurant, which has set the benchmark for Chinese restaurants in George Town since it opened back in Sep 2009.
Yee sang with abalone, jellyfish and pear - only available during the Chinese New Year period each year, this salad is a must-order as the first course of any Chinese New Year meal. The version here substituted poached abalone for the traditional raw fish slivers (which I’d much preferred).
Taste-wise, the “yee sang” here was good, but nowhere near those that one finds in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore’s top Cantonese restaurants.
Braised seafood soup with crabmeat, cordyceps and whelk - my favorite dish this evening: very rich, thick broth made from slow-boiling of pork, chicken and dried scallops, enriched with crab-meat and crab-roe, and chockful of fish-maw, etc. It’s served with a side-condiment of dark vinegar, which undercut the richness of the soup.
Marbled Goby (“Soon Hock”) with cuttlefish balls, steamed Cantonese-style - singularly the best Cantonese steamed fish we’d had in a while. Steamed whole, perfectly-timed to achieve the ideal texture, the fish was drizzled with an aromatic, aged soy sauce and hot oil.
Braised Iberico pork-ribs with coffee sauce - sticky melt-in-the-mouth pork-ribs, covered in a coffee-cocoa-flavored sauce, then topped with toasted almond slivers for an added crunch.
Braised South African abalone with sea cucumber, dried oysters and broccoli - one of my favorite Chinese banquet dishes: I love the juxtaposition of a braised abalone’s deep flavors (achieved from slow-cooking with oyster sauce, soy sauce and dried scallops); braised, rehydrated dried oysters; and braised thick caps of shitake mushrooms, with crunchy, blanched broccoli.
Again, I found the rendition here in Penang, whilst good, to be nowhere near as tasty as those I finds in top Cantonese spots in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or even Ipoh. Cantonese cuisine is never a forte of Penang chefs.
Steamed lotus leaf-wrapped rice with Chinese sausages - aromatic and tasty, although the rendition here had only two types of Cantonese sausages: the usual pork one, and one which also incorporated pork-liver.
Chilled sea coconut with honey peach and coco de nata - a chilled clear soup, like many Chinese desserts tend to be. Simple and rather refreshing.
Sweet coconut dessert rolls - pandan-scented mung bean paste, rolled around mango, then covered with desiccated coconut.
Maple Palace Chinese Restaurant
47, Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah (Northam Road), 10050 George Town, Penang, Malaysia
Tel: 604-227 9690
Opening hours: 12noon-2pm, 6pm-10pm daily