There are buffets, and there is the Penang buffet at the Princess Terrace, Copthorne King’s Hotel. First conceptualized back in 1974 by the hotel’s legendary manager, Yeoh Cheng Kung (he was later to become the Executive Director of the Republic Hotels & Resorts Ltd), the whole Penang Nyonya-hawker food concept and its original offerings were then designed by a Penang husband-and-wife team of Yeoh Teng Chye and Mary Yeoh. The Yeohs, no relation to Yeoh Cheng Kung, were later sent to the hotel group’s new acquisition, the Gloucester Hotel in London in 1993 to create the menu and helm the kitchen of Bugis Street, the hotel’s new Singapore food concept restaurant.
The Yeohs never returned to Singapore - after they left Bugis Street, they stayed on in London and ran Nonya at Notting Hill for a while, before settling on Sedap at Old Street, near the Barbican. They have retired since.
But back in Singapore, the Princess Terrace continued to offer the ever-popular Penang buffet - I’d been a regular there for more than 30 years now, and can vouch that the concept: i.e., number of dishes offered, the arrangement of the dishes at the buffet table, and even the taste of those dishes had hardly changed in the last three decades!
Appetisers included: Nasi kunyit (glutinous rice tinged yellow with turmeric), Nyonya chicken curry, chicken satay and otak-otak.
The nasi kunyit here did not have the coconut milk-rich flavour which characterise this dish in Penang. And the chicken curry here tasted blander than the versions one finds in Penang. But overall, the offerings here are still the best one can find in Singapore.
Otak-otak unwrapped. I used to think this was the most authentic Penang-style otak-otak to be found in Singapore. But now, coming back to Singapore from 5 years’ residence in Penang, I realised how “different” the taste profile was here - firstly, the all-important “daun kadok” (wild betel leaf) was missing from this Singapore-made version.
“Too tor th’ng” - peppery pig’s stomach soup with gingko nuts. This is one of my all-time favourite Penang soup. It’s done very, very well here, and I’d be happy to come here and just have this soup as a whole meal. This evening’s version could do with a bit more pepper, though.
Nasi lemak bungkus - not coconut milk-rich (“lemak”) enough. It is an inherent issue in Singapore as, unlike in Penang or elsewhere in Malaysia, fresh coconut milk is very hard to come by here.
Penang char koay teow - the version here was mass-produced. I’d not recommend it.
Penang assam laksa - they’ve got the flavours down pat, but the versions in Penang tend to have sharper, cleaner flavours, and with fresher vegetables and herbs.
Ark tui mee suah (duck drumstick in herbal broth, with rice vermiceli) - loved this dish. Still, it’s lighter in flavour than the full-on herbal taste of the Penang ones in Penang.
Penang Hokkien prawn mee - this is simply called “Hokkien mee” in Penang. The rendition here is one of the very best in Singapore. But compared to the actual ones in Penang, this was blander, and actually closer in taste to Singapore prawn noodle soup.
Kueh pai tie - crisp pastry shells filled with stewed jicama & shrimps. In Penang, these were actually known as “Singapore Top Hats” back in the 1960s/70s - as the first versions were probably introduced to Penang from Singapore. But Penang’s “kueh pai tie” has since eclipsed Singapore’s in terms of taste, and even finesse in presentation.
The version here at the Princess Terrace was very good, with perfectly crisp pastry shells and tasty filling.
Penang rojak - Penang’s version of the fruit rojak is quite close to the Singapore one: cut, fresh cucumber, pineapple, jicama, with the option of rose apple, green/unripe mango and crisp Chinese crullers (“youtiao”). The dressing is an unctuous blend of fermented shrimp paste, dark sweet soya sauce, sugar, tamarind, and crushed peanuts.
Princess Terrace’s selection of Penang-Nyonya kuehs is legendary for the past 50 years here. Today, their selection is still the best in Singapore. No comparison to the ones in Penang, though - Singapore’s Nyonya kuehs suffer from a lack of fresh ingredients: coconut milk, pandan leaves, even good quality Gula Melaka.
Tau hway - this is soybean curd, called “tauhu hwa” in Penang. The version here was excellent, as good, if not better than most I find in Penang itself.
Apom berkuah - this doesn’t actually exist in Penang: small crumpets eaten with a caramelised banana, coconut milk-enriched sauce. Penang has “serabai” - crumpets with a brown caramel-coconut milk sauce, but no bananas. I much prefer the Singapore version, and I suspect so do the majority of Singaporeans: which is probably why we find “apom berkuah” instead “serabai” in a Penang-themed buffet here.
There are a number of popular dishes which I did not sample this particular evening: “belacan fried chicken”, “nasi ulam”, “ais kachang”, and many more.
I simply love the fact that some things here never change - which was what Princess Terrace does so well. Whether you came here in 1983, 1993, 2003, 2013 or 2023, you know exactly where to find each dish on the buffet tables.
403 Havelock Rd, 1st floor Copthorne Kings Hotel, Singapore 169632
Tel: +65 6733 0011
Operating hours: 12 noon to 2.30pm, 3pm to 5pm, 6pm to 10pm daily