For people who care about their food

Sarkies Corner Revisited, Penang

I last reviewed the dinner buffet at Sarkies Corner, E & O Hotel, in July 2008. Back in Penang this week, it once again seemed like a must-visit kind of place. I think of it as one of Penang’s best eateries. It was Monday and therefore their ‘East Meets West’ dinner buffet with a big emphasis on seafood, along with all the usual delicious offerings.

You can read my previous review here, with all the details of what’s on offer.

I gave it 4½ out of 5 then. Yeah, it was pretty darn good then and it hasn’t changed much.

I’m pleased to say we had a lovely evening out. Once again, we chose to sit outside. The ambience is lovely. The temperature is warm with a bit of very gentle sea breeze, and you can sit looking out onto the ships plying the Penang Strait. No wonder they’ve replaced their temporary roofing with a more permanent structure. Sarkies Corner is worth a visit, even if only for an outside table with a view. But there’s more…

As usual, the food on offer was great. A good variety of some top quality foods. The salmon sashimi was excellent and I took the opportunity to try some abalone salad – something I’ve never had before. Hmm, interesting, but I managed the spoonful which I’d put on my plate. I also tried a couple of other things I hadn’t had before so it was fun to be able to experiment in this way.

There were no fresh (raw) oysters on offer but I suspect that’s a seasonal thing, so no worries there. They had some very nice oysters with topping at the grill station, though.

Mr Not Delia suffered a minor disappointment with the roasted new potatoes, which were cold, despite being served in a chafing dish. Roast potatoes seem to be very problematic for caterers generally – it’s so easy for them to turn leathery instead of crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside as they should be. You’d have thought Mr Not would have learnt by now not to bother with them. Hope getting the better of experience once again, it seems…

I had a visit to the grill station and the grill chef was keen to ply me with just about everything he had on offer there – it was difficult to curb his exuberant attempts to force-feed me. I sought refuge by explaining that I was afraid of getting too fat. (Not actually true, but it just seemed easier that way. ­čÖé ) He responded to that with a big laugh, “Like me, you mean?” All in all a very pleasant experience interacting with jolly chefs in this way. It’s so much nicer than any kind of snootiness.

That’s one of the things I really like about the E & O – the staff are very friendly and neither you nor they seem to find the need to put on airs and graces, just because things are done ‘properly’.

Sure, this is one of the top luxury hotels in Asia and it has an incredibly interesting history, but it’s not snobby at all. It’s an extremely comfortable place to be.

The other staff were friendly and well informed too. I asked one junior chef about a couple of things and she had a good knowledge of the dishes. The chef at the grill station served me some beautiful-looking fish. “Is it mackerel?” I asked him, adding that it looked like mackerel. “No,” he replied, “it’s saba. But it’s one of the mackerel family.” Then he offered the accompanying sauce – only giving me a little bit at first with the warning, “It’s a little bit spicy.” I replied with, “I like spicy.” This met with a big grin and a generous helping of the sauce. Wow! It was to die for. (Maybe it was some kind of ponzu sauce – I must find out.)

The waiting staff on the outside terrace were also friendly and efficient. After the meal, when we were invited to fill in a comment card, I asked our waiter to tell us his name and I pointed to his name badge. (It’s the easiest way to make sure you get the spelling right.) “Trainee,” he replied. We laughed and said that he must have a real name. But all the same we were quite surprised that this very competent guy only had trainee status.

All in all, it was an extremely pleasant evening out and the value for money was excellent. We’ve had better buffets elsewhere – the Sunday brunch at the swanky Mantra restaurant (Pattaya, Thailand), for example. But you pay much, much more for that – more than double.

Our bill at Sarkies Corner for two, including a decent bottle of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, was just over MYR 260 (about £45). Absolutely worth every ringgit for a lovely evening out. Highly recommended still and still deserving of a high rating. 4 out of 5.

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