Friday, August 20, 2010

Penang Coffee House, Hawthorn by Big Fil

I always like to either visit in a group or return to a place a few times before blogging about it. That gives me a chance to sample a few dishes and feels a bit fairer to the restaurant, that I don't dislike (or like) it based just on one poor dish or day in the kitchen. In the case of Penang Coffee House that made a big difference as my three visits differed quite in bit in the quality of the food and experience.

Penang Coffee House is one of those bright well lit places with white walls that appear clean and well managed but don't necessarily appear to have a lot of individual style. That’s not all bad, as fake or pretentious style is worse than no style at all, but means that it doesn't stand out from other similar places.

On my first visit I went for the Hokkien Mee and the Pulit Hitam. Both of these dishes are old Malaysian favourites for me and I had high hopes which were sadly disappointed.

Firstly, and one of my biggest restaurant hates ... they forgot my order. I thought the food was taking a bit long when I noticed that people who arrived after I ordered seemed to have their food already. Moments later the waiter came around apologising that there had been a mix-up in the kitchen and they were going to do my noodles as a priority. At this stage I was hoping for something good to help balance the situation but my noodles, when they arrived, came with a bit too much sauce, dominating the flavour of the noodles and an underwhelming amount of fishcake, prawns and calamari. A below average version of the dish.

The Pulit Hitam was also a little disappointing. A warm desert with black rice and coconut milk, it tasted over salty to me. Not to the extent of being unpleasant, just not tasting quite like it should.

As I was stuck in a comparatively dark corner table (the place was almost full) even my photos came out a bit dark, matching my mood as I left.

Second visit was completely different. It was early on a weeknight and I had my choice of tables. Deciding to go for the seafood laksa and the Ais Kacang the food and experience was much better.

Firstly the friendly waiter remembered me from a few days before and again apologised for the problem with my last visit. Secondly, the laksa was much better than the Hokkien Mee, generously full of calamari, prawns, noodles and other good things. The soup had one of the better basic flavours I've had in Melbourne but was slightly thin. Not a great laksa or the best I've had around town, but a good one.

The Ais Kacang was as good as the laksa. While I slightly prefer it with ice cream the Penang Coffee House version came topped with generous amounts of condensed milk and lots of raspberry flavouring. Bright and cheerful, a big contrast with the pulit hitam.

My third visit came somewhere between the other two. The roti paratha looked a little strange when it came out, almost like a fried bun, but that was because the roti had been rolled up slightly. The roti was flaky on the outside and soft in the middle and soaked up the delicious curry sauce very well. My only criticism was that the roti could have been stretched a bit thinner, but then again I would have happily eaten more.

The Hainanese chicken rice wasn't quite as good. Nothing particularly wrong with it - the chicken was silky, the rice tasted of chicken, the chilli sauce had a nice tang to it and I didn't get the msg overload you often get with the broth. There just wasn't anything which particularly stood out about it. It was more a dish that I'd happily order if I was in the neighbourhood and had a hankering for chicken rice, but I wouldn't cross several suburbs to try it.

A bit hit or miss. One good experience, one poor and one average. I did appreciate the way the waiter remembered me from the previous visit and the staff did seem very enthusiastic about their service and guests, even when the restaurant was very busy on a Sunday night. But I had the overall impression that its popularity is as much because of its status as a long time Melbourne institution as the quality of the food or its prices.

Food - 7
Service - 7
Ambience - 6.5
Price - 6.5

549 Burwood Road
Hawthorn VIC 3122
Tel: (03) 9819 2092

Penang Coffee House on Urbanspoon

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