This trip home to Penang was timed to celebrate my mum’s birthday. I asked my brother to choose and book a restaurant before we left Hobart. He chose a place called “Lau EE”, which is literally translated as “old lady” if you pronounce it in the local dialect, Hokkien. It is a home-style restaurant at residential house – a husband and wife team. The husband, Steven Lau, is the host and his wife, the cook. The restaurant is located near Penang Hill. It has been a few years since I have been to this part of George Town.
The food was more Thai style, than Chinese. The dishes we had were a bit spicy, tangy, sourish, salty and sweet. Lots of chili padi (bird eye chili), corianders and garlic were used in the dishes. We ordered a mushroom and shark fin soups, two types of king prawn dishes – one cooked in tom yum paste and the other in carnation milk, crab claws with glass noodles slowly stewed in a claypot, stir-fry Kai Lan and garlic chicken. It was popular and busy but not overly crowded. There are several small rooms in the big single storey bungalow house. The entrance has two 100-years old Chinese antique armchairs. The centre part of the house has an enclosed water feature with a large Chinese urn water fountain, a fish pond with water plants and colourful carps.
The food tasted homecooked with natural flavours from fresh corianders – leaves, stems and roots – all parts were used in the various dishes. There were lots of finely sliced garlic cloves and whole cloves in almost all the dishes except the tom yum flavoured king prawns and shark fins soup, and lots of finely chopped chili padi that gave me quite a kicked!
The bill came to MYR$368 included 2 bowls of rice, 4 beers, 5 Chinese tea and water and 3 bowl of desserts. Even though we found this meal very expensive for Chinese/Thai food in Penang, I rounded the bill to MYR$380 and paid by credit card. The owner, Steven told me it is not customary for them to take tips. Neither do they charge for their services. He was the only one serving the tables. I felt a bit embarrassed. My partner, mum and sister all thought it was an expensive meal for a homestyle type restaurant. I told mum that it doesn’t matter as it was her birthday and that it was worth it.
The house sign with a live gecko. Since we arrived in our family apartment in Penang, my partner asked about having a live gecko! There were a few geckos at this restaurant’s house. We should have captured one to take home to the apartment.
The mushroom and shark fin soup. It was stewed in a claypot. The mushrooms were chewy, firm and strong in flavour. I was told the mushroom was first fried then added in the soup. The soup was a bit too thick and starchy. The shark fins were finely shredded, not chunky. The coriander leaves added into the hot soup gave the dish a nice aromatic flavour. The flavour was probably more towards a southern Thai style, then a traditional Chinese style.
My brother told me this was one of their chef’s specialty – crab claws stewed with glass noodle and lots of whole garlic cloves at the bottom and coriander roots. It was nice with lots of crab claws and garlicky in flavour. Another southern Thai dish.
King prawns marinated with carnation milk and sauteed with lots of sliced garlic and coriander stems. Packed with richness and sweet flavour. Lots of garlic that added a great pungent after taste in the sauce. The back of the prawn shelf was sliced but not deveined. I would have preferred the prawn deveined and sliced a bit deeper in the back for that lovely butterflied prawn look.
The tom yum flavoured king prawn. Nice and aromatic. Not spicy at all.
My brother told me this is another of the house specialty – garlic chicken. The chicken was roasted and diced in fine bite pieces. It was then stir fried with lots of garlic slices, chopped chili padi and topped with lots of coriander leaves. It was sourish and vinegary at the same time. This dish had a lot of different flavours. I had a few kicked in this dish when I accidentally bit on the finely chopped green chili padi. At one point, I had to gargle down lots of warm Chinese tea!
My brother likes the place and food. My partner and I thought it was over priced. I like the different style of food, which is more towards a southern Thai style cuisine. The host, Steven, was nice, friendly and hospitable. It was indeed a nice change from other eating places in Penang.