Friday, November 22, 2019

Congkak KL, Jalan Beremi

A visit to Congkak is like taking a step back in time: P. Ramlee and Saloma's 1965 ballad Saat Yang Bahagia plays soothingly on the speakers, while portraits of placid kampung landscapes line the walls. Congkak playing boards take centre stage across the restaurant, inspiring a nostalgic sense of community and heritage.

True to Congkak's pledge of "keeping tradition alive," the menu is chock-full of cherished Nusantara classics that have nourished generations of families across Malaysia and Indonesia through countless village feasts and celebrations - from pecel kuah kacang to urap campur, daging salai percik to itik goreng berempah, pepes ikan to labu masak lemak.

Barely a five-minute stroll from Bukit Bintang, on a street of decades-old shop-houses, Congkak is our best bet for a confidently executed taste of this region's time-honoured recipes, served in a comfortable and convenient city-centre setting.

Similar to its namesake game, Congkak is an experience that should be shared - the star attraction is the ravishingly assembled Nasi Ambeng platters, fit for a kenduri. Customers can choose from portions for one (RM20), two to three persons (RM60), four to six (RM120) or six to eight (RM175 nett).

Our platter, meant for four to six, would be easily fulfilling for the maximum number. It's vibrantly appetising, layered with a treasure trove of at least 15 separate specialities (most of which would be a standout on their own), surrounding a fragrant heap of steamed white rice.

Congkak's kitchen brigade personally sourced many recipes from their hometowns, ensuring an admirable authenticity of flavours and textures. Take a deep breath, loosen your belt, and dive in - from warmly tender begedil to crunchy keropok belindo; ikan masin that's beautifully briny; sambal belacan and sambal jawa that pack an invigorating punch; acar jelatah, acar rampai and serunding kelapa that act as uplifting accompaniments, balanced with kerabu sayur and terung sambal.

Customers have plenty of choices for meat and fish as part of the platter set - pick from rendang tok or daging masak kicap, tilapia sambal ijau or ikan kembung goreng belado, gulai ayam or ayam goreng belado. With a spread this vast, we'd typically forgive a few misses, but everything we had was a hit, lively with rich, vivid dynamics that speak of painstaking cooking - the beef for the rendang tok, for example, was slow-braised to a caramelised, smoky succulence, while the tilapia proved moist and flaky, brightened by the fiery spark of green chillies.

Prepared with fresh, hearty and soulful produce, this is the ideal platter for patrons who believe that variety truly is the spice of life.

Beyond the platter, the a la carte menu is well worth exploring for temptations like tauhu telur, peaking with fried egg and tofu, blending the most enjoyable characteristics of both ingredients, crisp to the bite and comfortingly soft to the chew, standing proud beneath the weight of beansprouts, rounded out with a sweet-and-sour peanut sauce that makes this marvellously moreish (RM25).

If you love satay, bookmark Congkak for your next sampling of skewers: The chicken satay is genuinely great, made from the juiciest poultry parts, with a marinade of herbs and spices that's instantly captivating, charcoal-grilled to sultry perfection, kept naturally warm at the table (RM22). This could lay claim to being some of the most satisfying satay in downtown KL, completed with peanut sauce that we'd happily savour on its own.

For carnivorous cravings, the rusuk panggang masak hitam is also irresistible - again, charcoal-grilled with a plethora of spices, its deep and dark soy glaze concealing the primal pleasure of Australian beef short ribs, full-bodied enough to sink the heftiest of teeth into (RM68).

We've scarcely scraped the surface of Congkak's repertoire, but our stomachs were bursting by now. Still, we had to make space for the soto ayam Medan (RM22; a light yellow, mildly tangy chicken broth that would be popular from Sumatra to Selangor, brimming with shredded chicken, vermicelli, rice cakes, fried potatoes, grounded roast peanuts and shallots) and the gulai pucuk paku (RM15; a gorgeous representative of the jungle's bounty, featuring young fern shoots aromatically cooked with coconut milk and lemongrass).

All in all, Congkak feels like a restaurant that many customers might keep returning to over the years, each time rediscovering their old favourites and potentially finding a few new ones. Many thanks to the team here for having us.

Congkak KL
24, Jalan Beremi, Off Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50200 Kuala Lumpur. Open Sun-Thurs, 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat, 11am-11pm. Tel: 03-2110-6005

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

La Colmena, Barcelona

La Colmena prides itself on being one of Barcelona's oldest cake shops, with a generations-old history dating back to 1849. Nearly two centuries later, it still attracts swarms of patrons, seeking to placate their sweet tooth with cream-stuffed chocolate cones, pine nut pastries, and a parade of other sugary pleasures.

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Beauty In The Pot, The Gardens Mall

Serving the Chinese culinary equivalent of a tale as old as time, Beauty In The Pot promises the traditional pleasures of hotpot cooking in a cool, contemporary setting. True to its name, this is soul-warming fare that's wholesomely crafted to benefit inner beauty, but Beauty In The Pot's newest branch in The Gardens Mall is also lovely to look at, luminous in white marble and cherry blossom shades.

Newly launched on 8 November, this is the first Klang Valley outpost for Paradise Group's Beauty In The Pot, which enjoyed its Malaysian debut in SkyAvenue Genting Highlands in 2018 following stellar success in Singapore.

Be their guest and put their service to the test: Beauty In The Pot is spacious enough for 280 patrons, with private rooms that can seat 12 to 24 diners. There's even a small play area near the entrance.

Hot stuff: Beauty In The Pot's menu makes it clear that this is no ordinary hotpot hangout - the restaurant serves six soup bases, of which we tried four, each one thoughtfully and uniquely designed with ingredients that promote vitality.

The ideal introduction is the Signature Beauty Collagen Broth, the flagship scallop-and-pork-bone soup, painstakingly prepared over at least six hours every day. This complex, textured broth is rich with collagen, the coveted protein that's popularly consumed for skin health and heart health - this is one of those cases where you'll be eating something delicious that's also nutritious for your body.

The Signature Spicy Nourishing Soup is also invigorating, with its medley of Chinese herbs, including a whole ginseng - it's irresistible for spice seekers, though its comforting, curative heat, born of classic Oriental medicine, is distinctively different from typical mala soups elsewhere.

The Cooling Coconut Broth is as soothing as its description suggests, derived from a mix that includes fresh coconut water, chicken, chicken feet and snow fungus - delectably delicate, reliably rejuvenating.

The Vitamin C Tomato Sweet Corn Soup is for folks who crave a natural sweetness, with corn buoyed by the tomato's pure, clean tang - the antioxidant-loaded soup among this bevy of broths.

The remaining two broths on the menu are the Herbal Drunken Chicken Broth, made by simmering kampung chicken over a small fire for at least two hours, and the Longevity Wild Mushroom Broth, the earthy, vegetarian-friendly choice.

Broth prices range from RM27.90 to RM42.90 for an entire pot, while a quartet clocks in at between RM8.90 to RM12.90 for each individual broth.

With broths these excellent, you'll want impeccable ingredients to cook in them. From land to sea, the quality of Beauty In The Pot's components is undeniable - savour the best of both worlds with the meat platter (RM109.90; sliced pork belly, Spanish iberico pork, U.S. marbled beef cubes, sliced Australian beef) and the seafood platter (RM159.90; a ravishingly presented ensemble of 300-500 grams of live crabs, sea prawns, scallops, red clams and squid ring), packed with luscious protein for prime indulgence.

For a full-fledged feast with your loved ones, there's much more to keep the meal and the mood merry - the ebiko prawn paste is hand-shaped out of pure, premium and pristine prawn meat, crowned with roe for bursts of Japanese-inspired vibrancy (RM36.90); the fried beancurd skin is impressively crisp, requiring scarcely three seconds of cooking (RM10); the pomfret is Malaysian fish at its freshest, fleshiest and finest (RM68); the live drunken tiger prawns are a decadent delight (RM29.50); and the house-made fish tofu is a well-balanced blend of yellowtail fish, soybeans and egg white (RM3.90 per piece). Each of these is worth recommending, so it's easy to imagine returning here multiple times to explore the selection.

For a RM6.90 surcharge, patrons can acquire access to more than 20 condiments and sauces. We especially appreciate the compilation of recommended sauce mixes, like the crispy garlic spicy dip, the sesame oil dip, and the crispy soybean dip.

Beauty In The Pot is now in its soft-launch stage, with its official opening slated for 25 November, when the 'You Are My Queen' five-day promotion will also begin. Every group that includes at least one Queen (a woman aged 18 or above) will receive a discount on all food ordered. One Queen secures you a 10% discount, two will get you 20%, and so on, all the way up to a maximum 50%. This promotion is valid from 25 to 29 November at Beauty In The Pot, The Gardens Mall, applicable only to food items.

This will be followed by other promotions, like the Special Flash Makeup and Beauty Collage Ice Cream giveaway (29 November to 1 December), Pink is the New Black giveaway (2 to 6 December), and a collaboration for makeup with Urban Decay plus the beauty collagen ice cream in collaboration with Creme De La Creme (7 to 8 December). It's going to be a busy several weeks ahead for Beauty In The Pot!

Many thanks to Beauty In The Pot for having us here.

Beauty In The Pot
T-201B, 3rd Floor, The Gardens Mall, Mid Valley City, 59200 Kuala Lumpur.
Until 24 Nov: Open Mon-Sun, 11am-1230am. After 25 Nov: Open Mon-Sun, 11am-2am. Tel: 03-2202-1599

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