Lotuss Nyonya Kitchen – where maximalist style meets maximum flavours
A rendezvous with friends should always set the stage for a fun-filled outing. However, as true-blue Penangites, our palates demand nothing less than something seriously ho-chiak (delicious in Hokkien), the kind that commands attention above all else. This must be closely followed by the thrifty wisdom of value for money. Moreover, if an attractive ambience is coupled with warm friendly service, the escapade would indeed be a memorable one. Lotuss Nyonya Kitchen, located in the heart of George Town, seems to have it all.
Situated along Jalan Burmah, this double-storey shophouse is decorated to the hilt with an eclectic mix of objet d'art including taxidermied peacocks, vintage chandeliers, a huge renaissance painting and even a Queen Victoria bust. Every corner of this restaurant offers an opportunity for an interesting photograph. If you are a shutterbug, be sure to bring along your camera when dining here.
Intrigued by the decor, my friends and I were eager to give it a go. We were pleasantly surprised with the delectable flavours of the Nyonya dishes that matched our expectations. One remarkable detail that struck me was the presentation of each dish, steam rising and aromas wafting, as they arrived at the table piping hot. The chef certainly understands that serving hot food is crucial to guarantee a memorable dining experience. A good friend of mine, a seasoned chef with years of experience, once told me that 30 percent of the aroma vital to whet the appetite is lost when food is served at room temperature. He also pointed out that one should experience food not only through our sense of taste but also with our sight, smell, hearing and touch as well.
Being a party of six, we could only order a handful of dishes to share and would definitely return to sample the others on the menu.
When the lor bak arrived, the wonderful 5-spice aroma first hit our senses, beckoning us not to waste a second more. The crispy exterior which encased tender well-marinated pork created a good textural contrast. I could not help but notice that the filling of the lor bak was not as "compact" as in conventional recipes. When making lor bak, my Mum would use strips of lean pork but here, the chef could have opted to roughly mince it. I loved the light "fluffier" feel the dish conveyed. Topping it with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds was a lovely touch.
Of course a Nyonya meal would not be complete without some classic jiu hu char – julienned bangkwang (jicama), carrots, cabbage and onions cooked with a mix of mushrooms and dried cuttlefish. It was topped with golden deep-fried shallots that was indeed brilliant, providing a smoky aroma to the dish.
To enjoy the jiu hu char, I ordered a plate of fresh, crispy coral lettuce to wrap it up. The sambal belacan was a knockout – super spicy the way I like it. When it comes to a good sambal belacan, it should not be apologetic, "dumb down" for the faint-hearted. It should be omnipotent and courageous! Using only a little, it was enough to set my mouth ablaze. I wish the restaurant would consider making some extras for takeaways as I would be an instant loyal customer.
To balance the spiciness of the dishes on the table, I order the caramelised tau eu bak. Using pork belly (Chinese call it five layers of heaven), the aromatic dish was spiced with cinnamon, star anise and garlic. Typically when cooking this dish at home, I would opt for pig trotters, but now, I might consider pork belly as well. I wish there was more gravy to the dish as it was just that good.
Stir-fried sambal petai with succulent prawns was another exciting dish we had. The combination of the petai (stink beans) with the medium-size prawns was an intriguing juxtaposition of flavours and textures. If you are a petai fan, be sure to add this to your list of dishes to order at Lotuss Nyonya Kitchen.
The crispy kunyit and serai fried chicken must be an in-house specialty. Setting itself apart from the traditional inchi kabin or belacan fried chicken, the marinated chicken pieces with turmeric and lemongrass were coated with some batter before being deep fried. In this manner, the bite-size chicken pieces were kept moist and tender.
At Lotuss Nyonya Kitchen, the dessert offerings are not fixed items on the menu. They could also include Chinese or local desserts, not necessarily exclusive to Nyonya cuisine. On that particular day, muah chee, filled with a red bean paste, coated with crushed groundnuts and toasted sesame seeds, was available. Generously sized, marble-like treats were wonderfully soft and kiew (slightly chewy in Hokkien). The silky smooth filling struck a good balance with just the right amount of sweetness.
My heartfelt gratitude extends to the manager, who kindly provided two complimentary bowls of warm red bean soup with glutinous rice balls. They were a great way to conclude the truly satisfying meal.
Of course after dinner with filled tummies and big happy smiles, we roamed the maximalist-style interior to snap some memorable shots.
Lotuss Nyonya Kitchen
48, Jalan Burma, 10050 George Town, Penang
T: +6016-422 7377
Open: 11.30 am – 10.30 pm except Mondays and Tuesdays
This place was formerly the elegantly decorated La Maison d’Antiques that served all-day breakfast. Andy See Thoe, the owner of La Maison d’Antiques, relocated to Bangkok, bringing along with him all its furnishings and art pieces.
The owner of Flower Mulan Nyonya Cafe in Pulau Tikus decided to extend business operations to 48, Jalan Burma, making this its second outlet.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
© All rights reserved
1 September 2023