CRC Restaurant – a culinary icon among Penangites
In the 1900s, a group of Chinese sports enthusiasts established the Penang Chinese Recreation Club, a heritage clubhouse. Located at its premises in Victoria Green are two dining outlets – CRC Restaurant and CRC Victoria Cafe. Situated across the road from CRC is the "new" CRC Chinese Restaurant, sharing the same building as the North Malaya Cheah Si Chong Soo. Today, both the "old" and "new" CRC Restaurants are popular choices among Penangites for family meals, birthday celebrations as well as wedding and corporate dinners.
Now, let us explore the "old" CRC Restaurant, one of my favourite Chinese restaurants on the island. Here are some of the dishes my friends and I would not miss.
The crispy crab cake balls are served on the side with a thick, syrupy plum sauce. These golden orbs encase a tender interior, a blend of ingredients that complements the sweetness of the crab meat. If you prefer a more fiery dipping sauce, ask for some Thai chilli sauce.
One favourite of mine at CRC Restaurant is the tender spare ribs dish – coated with a delightful sweet and sour sauce. These well-marinated pieces are first deep-fried to achieve a crispy surface while retaining a succulent interior. They are then stir-fried with the sauce to create a glossy finish. Spare ribs, known for their meatiness and generous marbling of fat, are an ideal cut for this dish. I recommend laying your chopsticks down and indulging in a finger-licking-good experience.
The symphony of textures and tastes in the stir-fried mixed vegetables with broccoli, baby sweetcorn, a variety of mushrooms, slices of lotus root and macadamia nuts is another delightful offering. The toasted macadamia nuts, as requested, add a rich, buttery flavour, elevating this dish further. Inspired by this rewarding taste, I have incorporated macadamia nuts into my home cooking as well in dishes such as stir-fried kailan or mixed vegetables.
The roasted chicken, accompanied by crispy prawn crackers, is served with a side of mixed salt. The crispy skin and tender flesh illustrate the skill of the chefs here. If you are dining with a smaller group and would like to savour a variety of dishes, consider ordering half a bird.
To add a Chinese comfort food into our array of dishes, we would always opt for the classic tofu topped with minced pork, prawns and oyster sauce. This uncomplicated protein-rich dish – a staple in Asian cuisine – is truly heart warming.
For a spicy dish to titillate the taste buds, we unanimously went for the steamed fish topped with a savoury Nyonya sauce. In choosing a red snapper for its lean, moist flesh and distinctive sweet flavour, it complemented the curry sauce brilliantly. The result is delectably scrumptious, especially enjoyed with steamed white rice. I particularly enjoyed the fish belly because of its smooth, delicate texture and the "lemak" goodness it imparted, adding an extra layer of richness to every bite.
The crispy pork knuckle, smothered with a glossy and savoury brown sauce, mushrooms and snow peas, is a hearty selection. The crackling skin and tender flesh that fall off the bone, coupled with its gelatinous texture, are heavenly. The hock must have been stewed for hours before being deep fried for that crispy finish. Rich and comforting, its flavour is unbeatable.
To conclude the meal, we each had a bowl of chilled, creamy honeydew smoothie with sago. You can also request the syrup to be served separately, allowing you the option to adjust the sweetness of your dessert as you desire. We, however, instructed that the dessert be less sweet and it turned out to be perfect.
With so much to indulge in, my friends and I were overfilled with delight. Although the restaurant was packed, the food arrived promptly, uncompromised in quality and taste. The attentive service made the dining experience even more memorable. It is worth noting that certain dishes have to be pre-ordered. Additionally, it is advisable to make reservations in advance to secure your table.
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
© All rights reserved
18 October 2023
CRC Restaurant at Chinese Recreation Club
2, 3 & 5, Jalan Padang Victoria, George Town, Penang
T: +604-228 9787 / 228 3787
Open daily: 12.00 noon – 2.30 pm, 6.00 pm – 10.00 pm
Price list: crab cake balls (7 pcs – RM38.50), spareribs (6 pcs – RM 48), mixed vegetable (RM30), roasted chicken (half bird – RM35), tofu (small – RM20), steamed fish (RM95), crispy pork knuckle (RM105), honeydew sago (RM15); not inclusive of the service charge and taxes.
The Queen Victoria Memorial Statue
In 1929, Eastbourne, the dilapidated clubhouse bungalow was demolished and replaced with a grand Victorian-styled clubhouse that stands proudly today. Completed in 1931, it was funded by the fundraising efforts of President Lim Lean Teng which raised $100,000. The marble plague in the centre of the old clubhouse lists the names of the generous donors. The building stands majestically, overlooking the spiralling Victoria Green field. Over the years, the building has undergone major beautification projects.
Nestled at the corner of Victoria Green, where Burmah Road and Pangkor Road intersect, the Queen Victoria Memorial Statue proudly resides. Erected in solid bronze, this statue (holding an orb and sceptre, primary symbols of her sovereignty) commemorates the passing of late British monarch on 22 January 1901. Commissioned and imported from England, the statue bore a price tag of $10,000 Straits Dollars. Poignantly seated on a pedestal donated by Khoo Sian Ewe, J.P. (a prominent leader within the Chinese community), it is surrounded by four lions, each with a Union Jack shield.
The life-like representation of Queen Victoria witnessed its unveiling to the public on 23 April 1930 by Sir Cecil Clementi, the then Governor of the Straits Settlements, accompanied by Lady Clementi. At the ceremony, the address in Mandarin was delivered by Mr Lim Seng Hooi. The address stated that the statue and Victoria Green were to commemorate the love the late Queen had shown for her Chinese subjects during her reign. The delay of its debut, some three decades later after the death of Queen Victoria, is another interesting story in itself.
During World War II, as far as I know, it was the Japanese who set up a proper radio station in Penang. A crucial part of delivering their messages was the use of Penang's local radio transmitter ZHJ, which was initially taken over in situ at the premises in Perak Road but was soon moved to CRC. During the war, around 70 people would staff this radio station and many local musicians from ZHJ were kept on, including Ahmad Merican.
Pages from Pulau Pinang magazine (Vol 2 No 5).
In this tumultuous period, the club records, books, papers and photographs were burnt in a bonfire, while CRC's entire perimeter fencing was stripped off as scrap metal for the Japanese war effort. Remarkably, the Queen's statue escaped destruction. Instead, it found itself encased in a four-sided signboard for the Japanese Broadcasting Station, erected by a contractor engaged by the Chief of the Military Propaganda Bureau, Penang Branch, Ishikawa Tatsuzo. The shields held by the four lions were then covered with Japanese emblems in lieu of the Union Jack and a Japanese flag fluttered atop the monument. This was highlighted by Lim Lin Lee in a story published in the Pulau Pinang magazine (Vol 2 No 5). Ishikawa wrote that he saved the statue because he realised that it had far too much historical and artistic value to be shipped to Japan for recycling into bullets. Concealed from view, Queen Victoria's statue endured the war's tumultuous era.
The next time you dine at CRC Restaurant, take a moment to ponder that it was a Japanese officer's covert act that saved the statue of Queen Victoria from oblivion.