Real Penang, Solaris Dutamas

July 14, 2019

Real Penang lives up to its name in every respect: Run by Bukit Mertajam-born Steven Chong and his wife, Jocelyn, this restaurant promises recipes that generations of families know well and hold close to their hearts, particularly Penang Peranakans.

Real Penang is the realisation of a dream that Steven harboured throughout four decades of working in the corporate field - a man who loves cooking for his family and friends, he has long wanted to open his own restaurant. Now that they're retired and their children are completely grown, Steven and Jocelyn are pouring their passion into this labour of love.

Family breeds familiarity: Steven is a skilled cook in his own right - since he was 10, he remembers working in his parents' kitchen, learning everything from peeling onions to making curry pastes for their household meals. His childhood memories also include countless trips to the wet market, cementing his knowledge of how to pick prime produce.

While Real Penang offers a handful of hawker specialities linked to the northern island, such as char kuey teow and prawn mee, its top temptations are hearty classics that two or more persons can share. Everything we sampled was classified as a Small serving but could easily feed a few persons; Medium and Large portions are also available.

Start with a platter of cherished staples - jiu hu char and lo bak (RM20). The stir-fried jicama has a lovely depth of flavour, courtesy of dried scallops, while the five-spice pork rolls seem sufficiently fragrant and flavoursome to satisfy a Nyonya matriarch. Real Penang strives to make as much as possible from scratch in its own kitchen, including the crisp, not-too-thick pai tee shells and the accompanying sambal belacan.

Real Penang takes plenty of pride in its fish head curry (RM42), velvety and aromatic, with all the natural allure of lengkuas, lemongrass and garlic, beautifully spiced but not too fiery. The star is a sizably fleshy grouper head, moist and flaky (Steven personally purchases the fish at 3am from the Selayang market, securing the top-tier catch of the day), surrounded by okra, eggplant, tofu and more, a complete communal meal with steamed rice. Savour it with mui heong - fermented salted fish - for briny resonance that complements the curry.

Real Penang's tau eu bak - the beloved braised pork in soy sauce (RM22) - is as traditional as it gets, cooked to a preparation that was first perfected by Steven's great-grandmother a full century ago. Steven carefully chooses the cuts, marbled with extra fat, boiled whole for three to four hours, sliced into portions later to preserve the flavour. The result is a lusciously tender, clean-tasting braise, in thick chunks that you can sink your teeth into, certain to be polished clean off the platter, complete with a boiled egg and mushrooms.

Petai prawns (RM24) might be a familiar sight, but Real Penang springs a special surprise by mixing in crunchy pork lard for a crispy textural enhancement that also bolsters the overall dynamics of flavour, again the result of Steven's experimentation with recipes.

Alongside the a la carte menu, all-day set meals are ideal for busy-bee workers, with the likes of chicken rice, char siew rice, curry chicken rice, and rice with pork in special sauce, at only RM8.90 per plate, underscoring Real Penang's honest prices.

House-made cendol with Malacca-sourced palm sugar and freshly squeezed coconut milk is the perfect cooling conclusion to this meal, rich in santan but not sugar (RM4.80). And there's still much more to try for future visits, from kari kapitan to chicken pongteh, braised pork knuckle with sweet-sour-spicy sauce to mui choy kau yoke, dry-fried bak kut teh to spinach with three types of egg yolk.

All in all, Real Penang is a genuine hidden gem, not as noticeable as many of Publika's other restaurants but well worth the spotlight, with offerings of warmth, personality and heart. Many thanks to the team here for having us.

Real Penang

A2-1-6, Solaris Dutamas (Outside Publika), 50480 Kuala Lumpur. Daily 1130am-3pm, 6pm-10pm. Tel: 03-64115283

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