A sensationally divine 6-course dinner at Salsas Penang
Right off the bat, I have to tell you that I am going to be biased. David Kaw is a close friend of the family for ages and we are all huge fans of his culinary creations. Too many birthday dinners, wedding anniversaries and special occasions have been celebrated at Salsas Penang. And every time, David has taken great care of us making each event memorable.
One thing you will notice in the scrumptious delights served as Salsas is that the dishes have outstanding quality, mainly due to the freshest ingredients used and the man who knows how to prepare them beautifully.
I am an ardent fan of the Japanese TV series, Iron Chefs (1993-1999). In each episode, one of the iron chefs and a challenger will tackle one main ingredient and battle it out in the kitchen to see who emerges victorious. Like the Iron Chefs, David's creations do not overpower each main ingredient but rather, accentuate their delicate flavours. His dishes are elegant, visually appealing and above all, delectably delightful!
I gave David a budget and he worked out an impressive 6-course menu. The dinner, a celebration of friendship, was a mini-class reunion held on the sixth day of Chinese New Year in 2022. Due to the pandemic restriction, David closed the entire dining section just for the seven of us and all the courses were served individually.
We started the evening with a refreshing salad. Crunchy rocket and romaine lettuce leaves, Japanese cucumber and radish slices, roma tomatoes and raisins were tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. The salad was topped with some toasted almond slices. The sweet and juicy tomatoes balanced the flavours of the salad well.
Next was a trio of seafood offerings – a plump buttered oyster, char-grilled octopus slices with a capsicum salsa and a breaded homemade fish cake. The large Japanese oyster was deshelled and buttered gently, preserving its soft, rich creamy content. Topped with black caviar, this was a combination made in heaven. I have had oysters raw, stir-fried in an omelette, breaded and deep-fried till golden, baked with cheese and poached on a stew but never like this. The buttery finish showed how skilful David was at preparing the oyster. It was such a decadent indulgence that I will remember for a long time.
How you might ask, did David tenderise the octopus? Well, it was at least a 3-hour job for David before he smoked it with hickory chips, then grilling it in a flash over strong flames. So much tender loving care had been given in preparing this delicious offering.
On the platter was also a homemade golden fish cake topped with aioli and a dill sprig. The seafood platter was indeed a sublime mix of flavours, textures and aromas that only a well-trained chef can put together.
To accompany the seafood dishes, I brought along a bottle of Selbach Riesling Incline from Germany. The chilled white wine had a refreshing hint of green apple and lemon.
The seafood parade continued with a showstopper dish – a grilled giant river prawn from Thailand. The huge prawn put a big smile on my face. The aromatic flavours of grilled seafood filled the room, titillating the appetite. Little was needed to cook this fresh crustacean. David grilled it with lemon butter and some herbs. The firm, white flesh of the freshwater prawn had a delicate sweet flavour, close to that of a lobster. The real treasure was within the head – the orangey yellow blob of butter-looking cream was what eating the prawn was all about! The rich, umami flavour was out of this world.
The fourth course was a generous portion of seared halibut, topping some cauliflower gratin and drizzled over with dill oil. This imported Atlantic flatfish was caught from Icelandic waters. Its lean white and flaky flesh had a subtly sweet taste (of crab or clam). By the way this is one of the least fishy marine fish. David cooked it perfectly – the skin was crispy and the succulent flesh melted in every mouthful. Simply scrumptious!
The halibut has an average commercial catch weight of 25-30 lbs; nevertheless, it can weigh over 400 lbs and be up to six feet long. Halibut is one of my favourite fish to order. Although quite similar to cod, it is a slightly sweeter and less oily. Besides its rewarding flavours, this fish is highly nutritious packing in outstanding health benefits.
Next to arrive at the table was a serving of warm, comforting mushroom soup, drizzled with truffle oil. Unlike that straight out off a can, David's version was lighter, velvety smooth and aromatic. Using only porcini mushrooms, the colour of the soup was a lovely shade of apricot orange. Although I wish I had some crusty loaf to dunk into the soup, David knew that that would fill us up to the brim. Sans the distraction of the bread and butter, I was able to truly appreciate the delicate flavours of the nutty, earthy soup that warmed the cockles of my heart.
By the sixth and final course, most of us were stuffed to the gills. Having said that, I somehow mysteriously managed to tug in a combo of lamb rack and chicken roulade with a creamy spinach conchiglioni on the side.
The tender lamb rack was flavoured with rosemary while the chicken roulade was stuffed with a tarragon herb mix. It was a potpourri of scents that really brought to light David's sensitivity to preparing fine cuisine.
The vibrant pub vibe and eclectic decor of Salsas are welcoming. The service was excellent and my friends and I could let our hair down, enjoying a rambunctious evening of merrymaking and cheer.
Salsas started operations in 2002 at Kelawai Road; three years later opened a branch in Penang Road. In 2013, David consolidated its operations with a move to Gurney Paragon Mall. In 2018, Salsas relocated to Love Lane and in November 2022, the restaurant moved to 5, Penang Road (Hotel Continental).
On TripAdvisor, Salsas ranked No. 2 out of 935 restaurants in Penang (on 6 February 2022). David, a home-grown Penangite who cooks with heart and passion has managed to out-gun in ranking establishments in Penang that employ award-winning chefs from all around the globe.
Incidentally, Treffpunkt that ranked No. 1 on TripAdvisor out of 935 restaurants in Penang was also owned by David. Due to the pandemic situation, David decided to close Treffpunkt and focus his attention on Salsas.
Chef David (in white) with Adrian Cheah.
David is a self-taught chef, honing his culinary skills in Germany where as a young man, he first fell in love with the culinary arts. It has been a long journey since his days in Europe and I am so proud of the chef David has become today. Humble and always ready to learn something new, David's culinary prowess is astonishing.
I would highly recommend Salsas to anyone who appreciates good food. If you want to try something else beside tapas and pub grub from the standard menu, give David a budget and you might be in for a surprising treat. Best of all, here at Salsas, you do not have to pay an arm and a leg to enjoy good food.
5, Penang Road at Hotel Continental, 10000 George Town, Penang
T: +6019-457 4189
Open daily from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm and 6.30 pm to 10.30 pm except Saturday lunch
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
© All rights reserved
6 February 2022