For people who care about their food

Sarkies Corner buffet, Penang

Eastern & Oriental Hotel
10 Lebuh Farquhar
Georgetown
Penang

Façade of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in Georgetown, PenangWe’ve reviewed the E&O’s afternoon tea at the 1885 restaurant, but there are several other dining opportunities. Sarkies Corner, their coffee shop & bakery, also has a big dining hall where breakfast’s served, and in the evenings (1900-2230) it has a series of buffets, with a different theme for each day of the week. On most nights the price is RM58++ per person (10% service charge, 5% government tax); the price goes up to RM95++ for the “Wine and Dine” buffet on Fridays and Saturdays, but then again there’s free-flow wine and beer.

We like buffets as it gives us the chance to sample a wide variety of dishes rather than being presented with a plate with just one menu item on it. This is particularly important if, like me, you don’t eat much but like variety in your food. It’s great if you like trying new things too – you can take just one spoonful and then if you don’t like it, it’s no big deal.

We arrived in Penang on a Monday, which happens to be when Sarkies Corner has its East Meets West buffet, majoring on seafood.

We had our customary wander round the offerings to see whether there was enough that we fancied to justify going for it. There certainly was! We then baffled the staff by saying how good it looked – and then leaving… only to return ten minutes later when the thing was officially open. (“Oh, no problem,” a jolly chef told us when we explained that we’d thought we should wait until opening time.)

It was just as well that we didn’t leave it any longer to return! Within a quarter of an hour the room was buzzing with guests. One waiter explained that the former King had just visited, so they were very busy with people coming to eat “where the King’s eaten”. Many of them made a bee-line to the sashimi/sushi display and got stuck in to the fresh oysters.

We left them to it. After all, there was a wide range of good quality food to choose from at the other stations. Here’s a quick run-down of what was on offer:

  • Pasta: a good variety;
  • Grill: lamb chops, steak, chicken, king prawns, squid;
  • Western/Chinese mains: sweet & sour tofu, ostrich in black pepper sauce, beef in pepper sauce with potatoes and carrots, fried noodles, steamed rice, roast potatoes, stir-fried veg, rice with bits of fruit in, spinach cannelloni, Brussels sprouts;
  • Salad bar: various leaves, plus traffic-light peppers, black & green olives, cherry tomatoes, silverskin onions, half-a-dozen dressings;
  • Sushi/sashimi: fresh (raw) scallops, oysters, cooked prawns, nori rolls;
  • Duck island – Peking duck with the usual accoutrements;
  • Soup: seafood and hot & sour;
  • Bread, garlic bread & pizza;
  • Desserts: chocolate mousse, fruit bits in iced water, fruit salads, little fruit tartlets, Black Forest “cake”;
  • Cheese (but no biscuits): called a soft cheese platter, but only one soft (blue) one, the rest were hard Dutch type cheese, plus one holey cheese. Also walnuts, which was a nice touch, and you could also find grapes at another station.

Here’s what we had.

First visit to the stations

Mr Not Delia had some salad with smoked fish. There was a nice variety of leaves with traffic-light peppers, green and black olives, cherry tomatoes, balsamic vinegar & olive oil dressing, plus “smoked fish” – we weren’t sure exactly what fish it was, but it was tasty – and some Japanese smoked fish, possibly eel.

I had a DIY Caesar salad. Most of it was fine, but unfortunately I’d forgotten that with Malaysia being officially an Islamic country, the “bacon” bits were beef “bacon”. They didn’t taste very nice.

Second visit

Mr ND had a bowl of seafood soup. It smelt great, but tasted a bit on the bland side. This seems to be a common thing with buffet soups everywhere – the appetising aroma often belies a rather disappointing taste. But the garlic bread was pretty good.

I paid a visit to the sushi station, where I found what I think may possibly have been the best nori rolls I’ve ever had. I also picked up a little sashimi – some very tasty raw scallops! – and a couple of cooked prawns. These were also very good, though I was disappointed that I had to remove the intestinal thread myself; I always feel it’s something of a letdown when I’m being asked to eat prawn pooh with my meal.

Third visit

Mr ND went for an assortment from the Chinese-type mains. The ostrich in black pepper sauce with green peppers was tangy and tasty. He also took something nondescript-looking in sweet-and-sour sauce; it looked meaty, but turned out to be fried tofu. Mr ND normally dislikes tofu, but this was well textured and quite enjoyable – probably the best fried tofu he’s ever had. Unlike the fried noodles, which had a somewhat ashen taste to them. But hey, you can’t expect everything you try to be to your taste.

Meanwhile I went Western. The grill station gave me a lamb chop – already cooked, rather than cooked to order – which was OK but nothing special. However, I also took some of the so-called beef with pepper sauce, which was more like braising steak with carrots and tatties. Lovely! And a little spinach cannelloni took the place of veg very well.

Fourth visit

Mr ND being something of a glutton, he managed to squeeze in an additional main course visit. The grill station offered him a lamb chop, but he benefited from my experience and asked for one cooked to order (medium rare), which was brought to the table. It was perfectly cooked, though the lamb itself was a little disappointing. He also tried something which we suspect was coq au vin (the label was missing), and which was also pretty good.

Fifth visit

Mr ND went for a chocolate mousse, which was made with white and dark chocolate. Very chocolatey and very nice. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but even I was tempted to try a mini strawberry tart, and some of the so-called Black Forest cake, which wasn’t. Both were good. I steered clear of the artificial-looking cream, though!

Of course, we also needed something to drink with the meal. There was a wide range of wines on offer, but they had no less than five very reasonably priced house pouring wines at RM 95++ a bottle. We had a very respectable Chilean Sauv Blanc.

The staff were great, too. From start to finish, all of them looked as if they were enjoying themselves rather than just doing their job; despite the large and often noisy crowds, they all remained very friendly and always smiling.

We asked to move outside towards the end of the meal as we were getting a bit cold inside because of the fierce air conditioning (there was condensation on all the windows) plus the hubbub from the multitude of customers. “No problem!” we were told. They whisked us outside very straightforwardly to a table under a gazebo. (It was a temporary construction, and looked it, but if you’re expecting rain most nights – as you do mid-monsoon – then it’s very handy to keep the customers dry.)

Overall verdict: 4½ out of 5
We thought this was excellent value for money. There’s a great variety of good-quality food, with good service and good atmosphere. We’d highly recommend it and would definitely go back given the chance – as indeed we did on the following Wednesday (Chinese & Japanese) and Friday (Wine & Dine).
(On the subsequent visits we sat outside from the outset, which was much more pleasant – nice and warm, a lovely view of the ships on the Penang Strait, and I was able to smoke! The staff had to conjure up an extra table for us out of nowhere on the Friday night, when the buffet was heaving – but they did it very cheerfully and with no fuss. Full marks to them for that!)

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