[Penang] Modern-Penang cuisine at Kota Express, 262 坊.

Two-week-old Kota Express (launched on 5 April 2019) offers an inventive menu of Modern-Penang creations.

With the extensive restoration works on-going at the 18th-century Fort Cornwallis (works on the moat is only due for full completion towards end-2020), it’s no wonder that Kota Dine & Coffee at the fort has decided to diversify its business by opening this nifty little branch outlet at the corner of Beach Street and Armenian Street, near the famous “Two Children on a Bicycle” mural by Ernest Zacharevic.

Zacharevic’s popular “Two Children on a Bicycle” mural is on the west wall of the eatery, on Armenian St.

262 坊 (the Chinese character ‘坊’, pronounced “Fang” meaning a square) has 3 different F&B outlets operating there - a Forest Bottle coffee bar, Plan C patisserie, and Kota Express, which offers savoury, modern interpretations of local Penang food items. The dining hall is bright, sun-lit, with a long communal table, plus smaller tables scattered around.

We ordered a selection of their dishes to share:

  1. Nasi Lemak Curry Puff - not sure what I make of this: combining two popular Malay dishes, the nasi lemak and the curry puff into one. The flavours in the filled pastry worked, but the tasteless accompanying sambal ikan bilis sauce did not.

The curry puff was filled with nasi lemak, turmeric-fried chicken & egg.

  1. Garoupa Cake Laksa Capellini - very tasty, and the star item of today’s lunch. Spicy, sour-sweet flavours of the saauce complemented the pasta perfectly.

  1. Grilled Chicken Rempah Udang - frankly, I didn’t know what to make out of this. The grilled chicken was good - moist and cooked a la minute. But the rempah udang topping, which should be piquant with chilis, dried shrimps and toasted, dessicated coconut, spiced with coriander, turmeric & lemongrass, did not have any of the flavours at all. Either that, or the chefs have decided to dumb-down the recipe to suit non-local palates.

  2. Trio of Asian Capellini: Tom Yum, Laksa and Penang Hokkien Prawn Mee - I like this dish, more for the fact that one gets 3 small portions of noodles, each packing quite a flavour punch.

  3. Chilled Penang Asam Laksa Sherbet - a pretty refreshing drink, tasted more like a sour lime or tamarind drink, but spiked with a bit of chili. The fresh torch-ginger and mint leaves atop the drink was more for garnishing. I wished the kitchen had been more adventurous and actually whizz those herbs into the drink itself, but I guess they were playing “safe”.

  4. Bubur Cha Cha Smoothie. This one tasted quite vile, actually. It was absolutely bland and lacked the coconut richness and the necessary sweetness that bubur cha cha, a traditional Malay/Nyonya dessert, ought to have. I’d not recommend one to order this at all.

Quite a few misses compared to the hits. I want to like this place a lot, for its inventiveness and its beautiful presentation, but I cannot - most of its dishes missed the flavour profiles typical of Penang’s traditional dishes which they sought to deconstruct. You can re-make a dish’s appearance and make it more interesting, but if you cannot produce the requisite flavours, then it’s just not on.

Kota Express at 262 坊
262 Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai)
10300 George Town, Penang
Tel: +604 3714929
Operating hours: 10am to 10pm, daily.


Two brilliant photos.

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From the picture of interior of restaurant, it looks like none of the clients were locals. I guess it’s their intention to water down the flavours.

Who is cooking?

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Yes, its proximity to Armenian Street, essentially George Town’s epicentre for tourists, means that most of its clientele will be out-of-towners.

The chefs are locals, but remain pretty much anonymous - Kota Express is owned by a shady local tycoon who’s very well-connected to the state government. I’ve been Googling like crazy, but it’s like trying to find out the name of the executive chef of a Mafia-owned cucina. :joy:

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Thank Peter for the search! :sweat_smile:

Looks like it is operated in the old style that the chef basically stayed anonymous.

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Couldn’t resist returning to Kota Express again today to try a couple of interesting-sounding items I missed yesterday.

  1. Nyonya Chicken in a Lotus Bun - I was intrigued by the “Nyonya” moniker - a term given to the female gender of the “Peranakan” or Straits-born Chinese community in Malacca, Penang and Singapore, as I myself am from that community. And - there’s no such thing as “Nyonya chicken” in our culinary repertoire.
    Well, turned out - the chicken was done “Inche Kabin”-style. This dish originates in Penang, where chicken pieces are marinated in spices and coconut milk (usually overnight) before being deep-fried till crisp on the outside, but still moist inside.
    The rendition here at Kota Express combined “inche kabin” chicken with Chinese steamed “mantou” buns. The chicken was tasty, but I missed the tangy Worcestershire sauce which has to be served with “inche kabin”, traditionally.

  2. Udang Galah Hokkien Capellini - basically the chef’s interpretation of Penang Hokkien prawn noodles (“udang galah” is the Malay term for large prawns). The rendition here is pretty tasty - the prawn bisque had deep flavours. I’d come back here just for it

  3. Kota Nasi Lemak Curry Puff - couldn’t resist another order of these pastries, which were crisp and delicious when served piping hot.

We had a couple of Kota’s fizzy soda concoctions - both a bit too sweet for our taste, but very refreshing all the same.
Kumquat Mojito (calamansi, sour plum, yuzu, Sprite & soda) on the right, and Kota Signature (lemongrass, calamansi, lime, chili, Sprite and torch-ginger) on the left.

A good place for a quick, casual lunch on Armenian Street, and an alternative to the more established and much larger China House across the street (which played host to Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, when the British royals visited Penang at end-2017).


Can I know who is the Interior Achitect? Because the design look so nice

Read the place was torn down due to illegal construction. But their FB is still there, so I’m confused.

Another cafe is now standing in its place in the old location - I’ll have to go check it out.

But the Kota Express team itself has moved across the road, about 30 yards away, and now operates in a much larger premises as Rempah:

I don’t know actually, but can ask around.