The new 6-week-old Osmanthus Alley is owned by the same folks who used to run Mama Goose trailer cabin food-truck at Hin Bus Depot. With their new, larger premises here, they can now offer an expanded menu, containing many of the familiar favorites from their Mama Goose days.
Light Taiwanese snack items pre-dominate, but their offerings ran the gamut from Shanghainese “lion’s head dumpling” to Szechuanese hot-and-sour soup, and British-Chinese staples like crispy shrimp toasts, as the chef, Master Tang (as he calls himself) spent 10 years (2004-2013) in London, working in Chinese restaurants there like Leong’s Legend on Gerrard Street, Chinatown.
- "Lion’s head dumpling" - Shanghainese braised pork-meat ball. I quite liked the version here. But then, I’ve always enjoyed every “lion’s head dumpling” I’d ever had, except for my very first one - back in 2000 when I was on a 7-week business trip in Beijing. I’d never seen or heard of a “lion’s head dumpling” back in Singapore, so was curious enough to try it on my second week in Beijing. It was the vilest dish I’d ever encountered up till then: obnoxious-tasting (either Beijingers do not have access to fresh pork, or they mixed other sort of meats into the mince) and super-greasy - I felt an oil slick spreading from my lips to the corners of my mouth (ugh!).
The one served here was light, non-greasy at all, and had a nice, delicate flavour.
Ma-po tofu - the classic Szechuanese spicy-savory dish which combines custardy soft neutral-tasting tofu with a tongue-numbing, spicy sauce, flecked with garlicky minced pork. Quite a respectable version here, though far from the best rendition I’d had in Penang (the honors go to Great Delight Kitchen on Phuah Hin Leong Road).
The other Szechuanese standout on the menu here is their ultra-spicy-sour Suan La Tang soup. One can order the soup with or without Szechuanese wontons, which has thicker skins than Cantonese-style wontons. We opted for the version with wontons.
Beef fillets in black pepper sauce was the tastiest dish we had, well-balanced, with a strong but not overwhelming black pepper flavor. The capsicums and onions provided pleasant textural contrasts to the tender beef slices.
The Crisp, batter-fried prawns and apples in wasabi-mayonnaise here was a sinus-clearing mustard-gas-attack-on-a-plate. I suspected they perhaps have a commis chef who accidentally doubled, nay, tripled the wasabi portion in the dressing. We practically cried though that course.
Shrimp toasts - I ordered this out of an odd sense of nostalgia. A retro British-Chinese Chinatown staple, it’s on the same level as shrimp cocktail or crab Rangoon, something you remember from out of the Sixties or Seventies. It’s done pretty well here, though. I’d order it again, and again.
- This other dish was much more interesting, and perhaps a nod to the chef’s Penang origins: Kafir lime leaf-scented stuffed chicken wings.
- This vegetable dish was one of my favorites: Szechuanese dry-fried green beans. The version here didn’t seem to have assertive enough flavors, though (the usual Szechuan version will have garlic, ginger, preserved mustard green, dried chili peppers and Szechuan peppercorns in generous amounts), and the green beans had not been charred beforehand, as should be done for this dish.
Overall, some hits and some misses.
The eclectic decor is filled with some amazing driftwood art-pieces, the chef’s own handiwork on days when he’s not cooking.
Hin Bus Depot, 59 Jalan Gurdwara
10300 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +6011-1181 2722
Operating hours: 11am to 9pm Mon-Tue, Thu to Sun. Closed on Wed.