Saturday, 30 March 2013

Indie PG - Don't miss the last night!!

I attended the first night of Penang's first ever 'Indie PG' at Penang Pac last night and I have to say was blown away by the bands, their music and the musical ability.  Each of the 8 acts that performed between 6:30 pm and 11:00 pm had their own very unique style and sound and it was all their own music.  These musicians, from all over Malaysia, are really very talented and there was a great turn out at the event to show support for the acts, and in Malaysia young and up-coming musicians very much need our support.

Guitarist with 'Sedsuna'
Pictured above, one of my favourite bands on the night, 'Kiss Kill Mary' ramp up with their opening number.  KKM delivered a fantastic performance and, as the MC rightly said, the only complaint was that they stopped playing too soon.  This is the type of band I could listen to and watch all night.

Other favourites of the night for me were the 'Electric Minz Project', 'Double Click', 'Beat in the Street', 'Soundaholic' and 'Sedsuna' and I will certainly be on the lookout for future performances from these bands.  Although I had my favourites, all of the acts were superb and for the price of the ticket covering two days (just RM 30) it was a great night of entertainment.

If you missed IndiePG last night there is still a chance to see more great acts tonight (Sunday 30th March) as IndiePG enters its second day and last day. Workshops (which are also free) start from around 2pm with the live performances again from about 6:30pm so, come along to Penang Pac for a great night's entertainment and to show support for these talented musicians.

An initial upload of shots from the event can be found here.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Events: Soju Room - April's hottest DJ's

Soju Room continues to go from strength to strength as one of Penang's premiere night spots and the above 'flyer' provides details of some of the super-hot DJs that will be guesting at the club during April.

More details are available from Soju Room's Facebook Page and I hope to be able to shoot one or two of these guest appearances as part of the planned extended blog coverage of Penang's nightlife.

Keep watching this space :-)

Bagan Closing Down

Sadly, the relatively new Bagan in Macalister Mansion is closing down this month, the last day of trading in its current guise being 31 March.  I understand that this is largely to allow the prestigious venue of Macalister Mansion to focus on the core business of the hotel, restaurant and excellent cafe they have there.

While it is sad to see the passing of Bagan, for me the new venue never managed to capture the ambience and atmosphere of the original Bagan which was located in Jalan Bagan Jermal and up until it closed, was probably my favourite haunt in Penang, and likely one of my favourite clubs anywhere in the world.  It had just the right blend of lounge, bar, restaurant and patio seating with excellent live music and a great DJ.

The closure of Bagan is not all bad new however as it also brings some great news on the night-spot front in Penang, with what promises to be a very exciting new venue, the first of its type in Penang, planned by the owners of Macalister.  Bagan will also re-open as a different style of bar in the not too distant future, however, until official announcements are made my lips are sealed.

Keep watching this space for more updates.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Penang Districts (3): Tanjung Bungah

This is the third in a series of articles covering the various districts in Penang where many expatriates choose to buy or rent homes.  This article covers the main district of Tanjung Bungah which sits between Tg Tokong and Batu Ferringhi as you come out from Georgetown.

The Hillside commercial area
In contrast to the last two districts covered (Tg Tokong and Straits Quay), Tg Bungah differs somewhat  in that there is no discernible 'centre' or heart to it.  For most, I suspect if they had to choose a 'centre' they would say the shopping are which spreads out around the junction of Jalan Tanjung Bungah and Lebuh Lembah Permai One , the most noticeable landmark being the large Maybank branch on the corner.  For others it might be the area which is known as Hillside, a quaint little quarter which houses a few shops, a number of eateries (including the excellent 'Vintage Bulgaria' and the new Indian restaurant 'Passage thru India') and plays host to a small but very good street market selling mostly fruit and vegetables (with some excellent durian in the main season).  This area also has one of the best burger stalls in Penang, the cheese burgers with onion being particularly good.

The Maybank junction - Tg Bungah
Taking the 'heart' as being the former of the above, Tg Bungah is located along Jalan Tanjung Bungah (the continuation of Jalan Tanjung Tokong) and is approximately 10 km from Georgetown; 6.5 km from Gurney Drive; 4.8 km from Tanjung Tokong; 4.5 km from Straits Quay, 5.8 km from Batu Ferringhi and 25 km from Penang International Airport.

Tg Bungah is perhaps somewhat more easy to describe or depict than the last two districts covered given that there really is no major discernible centre.  Yes there are some retail outlets around the aforementioned Maybank but, in all honesty, none that I would need to venture to on a shopping spree unless I was already there for other things, banking or eating for instance, or unless I happened to live within walking distance.

Driving out through Tg Bungah
A few places are worthy of specific mention however. The first traffic light controlled junction before the Maybank branch has a road off to the left (as you travel out from Georgetown) which is confusingly called Jalan Tanjong Bungah (as opposed to Tanjung of the main road). At the end of this road there is the Tanjung Bungah bus depot (from where you can also catch buses) and, perhaps even more interestingly, a market area which hosts an excellent night market on Tuesday's and also the largest wet market daily from the early hours. The night market sells all manner of goods from food to toys to clothing, watches and electrical goods. Parking can be difficult after 6pm unless on a 'bike. The wet market is best visited before 9am to avoid the crowds and has an excellent array of foodstuffs on offer at great prices. This small street also houses the excellent 'Siang Pin' Chinese kopitiam, a great little store called Muthu (which sells all manner of foodstuffs including cheeses at WAY below supermarket prices) and a great noodle and chicken rice food court (full reviews of all to follow).

Further along and before the Maybank turn on the left there is the district post office, great if you have mail or parcels to post and you don't fancy the traffic in Georgetown.

Entering Tg Bungah from Tg Tokong
Other than that there is not really that much to Tanjung Bungah in all honesty.  There are more hotels out this way as you are venturing nearer to the more touristy area of Batu Ferringhi, popular with those seeking a more traditional beach holiday.  The most notable hotels include the Tanjung Bungah Beach Hotel (regular site offline as hotel is currently closed for renovation), Copthorne Orchid and the Flamingo.  All nice enough hotels and often offering a variety of buffet style promotional meals in the evenings, especially at weekends.  The area is also home to the excellent Indian restaurant Sri Ananda Bahwan (reviewed here).

There are a couple of small beach areas accessible via some of the cafes and eateries in Tg Bungah but in my view nothing particularly notable and not comparable to Batu Ferringhi (where even there, I find the beaches somewhat uninviting with an over abundance of seemingly uncontrolled jet-ski and para-gliding operators).

Cluster of new developments in Tg Bungah
Commercial developments aside by far the most dominant developments in this area are residential with an abundance of landed properties and condos alike.  In terms of condos, The Cove is a nice completed property on the sea-front with good sized apartments and pleasant views.  Skyhome is another coastal development, the properties generally having larger floor-areas.  Then situated alongside Persiaran Tanjung Bungah there are a number of new and recently completed projects including Bolton's 'Surin'. Some of these projects still have units available, the only concern being the high density of dwellings in the area given the numbers of new builds there.  Near to this area there are also older condo units such as 'Straits Regency', 'Twin Towers' and 'Coastal Towers', some of which now suffer from obscured views due to the new developments being erected between them and their previous sea-view (an issue to be mindful of - what is being built now and what can be built where, after you buy!).

Landed properties at Hillside
Another very pleasant area in my view is Hillside, which contains a vast spread of older landed properties alongside newer landed developments such as those by Boon Siew which centre around Permai 32 Village.  A very popular condo in this area is Hunza's 'Alila Horizon' where units are often in high demand, soon to be supplemented by Alila Horizon 2.  The Alila development also has landed properties - Alila Homes.

In all honesty there are far too many developments in Tg Bungah to even hope to list, let alone photograph, them all but this article I hope provides something by way of an insight into the area as a whole.  Not much by way of a commercial centre but some great little finds tucked away alongside, of course, a pretty vast array of domestic residential properties, witness to Tg Bungah's high popularity amongst buyers, or rather, maybe it was land availability for developers.  Further details of the various developments can be found by searching some of the Penang property sites such as Property Guru and Apartment Penang.

That then is Tanjung Bungah.  Related district articles can be found here: Tanjung Tokong and Straits Quay.

Property Registration: Indah Water and Penang Municipal Council

Administrative articles are often dull but, like many uninteresting things in life, the issues have to be attended to and it's often easier to tackle things like this in different countries if you have an idea what to do in advance.  This article covers the two administrative issues of registering property ownership with your local council (here in Penang it's Majis Perbandran Pulau Pinang or MPPP), responsible for issuing an 'Annual Assessment' (a local tax on your property), and Indah Water, responsible for sewerage services. While this article is really Penang specific, the principles will apply wherever you are in Malaysia.

In some cases, when you purchase a new apartment (e.g. not sub-sale from a previous owner) most of the registrations that you need with various utilities and such like will be done for you.  It will of course be up to you to arrange services such as telephone, internet and satellite TV.  Even when buying sub-sale it may well be that your agent (if you used one), depending on how professional and helpful they are, will arrange connection to mains electricity (TNB) and mains water (PBA).  Two services that are easy to overlook however are the local council and Indah Water.  The amount of your council 'Assessment' will vary with the value of the property and AFAIK the invoices in all cases are issued twice a year with payment deadlines being 28 February and 31 August.  Indah's sewerage services are generally priced the same at around RM 8 per month, again, invoices mostly being issued twice a year.

When you purchase your property it may be that your lawyer will register the change of ownership with these two services on your behalf, often though this does not happen.  It should not be an issue however as even if the change has not been registered you will still receive the bills.  The staff at both agencies are very helpful however and it's easy enough to check whether your ownership has been registered, and indeed what payments are outstanding or when they are next due, at the email addresses in the following links:

MPPP E-mail

Indah Water E-mail

If your ownership of the property has not been registered it can be amended very easily. In both cases all you will need is a copy of your 'Sales and Purchase Agreement' (SPA).

The MPPP main office in Penang is situated at Komtar in Georgetown.  To change your details here you take your SPA together with some form of ID (passport or driving licence) to the reception area that is between the two rooms of counters in the MPPP offices on the ground floor.  Go to the security desk and tell them you need to register a change of ownership.  Once you hand over your ID you will be given a pass which will allow you to take the lift to the 12th floor.  Here you will find the registration office and the very helpful staff there will assist you to complete the required single form (which is in Bahasa Malay).  Once you hand over your SPA, that's it, no ID is required.  In due course you will receive a notification that you have been registered as the new owner.  If there is any outstanding amount to be paid in terms of the assessment you can pay it by going back to the ground floor and taking a ticket for the payment counters which are to the right of the central reception desks.  Once paid you will be issued with a receipt.  I would suggest avoiding paying close to the payment deadlines as it gets very busy at these times.  You can pay any bill due and also in advance if you wish.  I pay for a whole year, one less thing to worry about.  MPPP also have an office at PISA but I'm not sure if you can change your registration details here or if it's merely a payment office.
Indah Water - Georgetown

Indah Water in Penang is located in Victoria Street in Georgetown, adjacent to the Pos Laju parcel handling centre.  The process here is even easier.  Merely go into the office to the desks on the right and the staff will take your copy SPA and update the system.  Any bills due can be settled at the cash desk to the left in the office and again, you can make advance payments.  A receipt will be issued once you have paid and the change in ownership will be picked up with the next billing cycle.

That's it, done.  Quite simple really, more so if you know what to expect in advance, and two more admin jobs off the list of things to do.

The Original Thai Food - Old City Food Court, Tg Tokong (Top Pick)

Regular readers will know that I am very partial to Thai food and it's pleasing to see that Penang has an increasing number of Thai F&B outlets, albeit some much better than others.  But that's the same everywhere, there's good and bad Chinese and Indian food here, just as there is good and bad French food in France. For me, eateries here tend to be one of three types: restaurants (mid or high-end); kopitam or coffee shop style; and food courts and hawkers.  Clearly you don't always want to go to a restaurant and it's good to see that Thai food is also readily available in many of the food courts.  By far my favourite in this regard is 'The Original Thai Food' (TOTF) which is in the Old City Food Court at Prima Tanjung in Jalan Fettes, Tg Tokong.

Old City is quite a large food court but is easy to miss if you don't know it's there, being situated between (and behind) the two raised promenades of shops that make up Prima Tanjung.  There is quite a lot of parking around but the area does get very busy at lunch time and in the evenings, both because of the food court and the many eateries and food stalls around.  Parking is very cheap at around 30 sen for 30 minutes and if the parking is really full you can easily park at Island Plaza (or even Precinct 10) across the road and walk over.
One of my readers, Kumar, also advises that You can also park your car in the basement carpark under Prima Tanjung. They charge by the hour on weekdays and on a 'per entry' basis at the weekend.

Chicken with cashew nuts
The food at TOTF is really very good and is all cooked fresh to order.  As a result there may be a wait at busy times but even at it's most busy I've rarely waited longer than 10 minutes or so, time to drink some refreshing 'ambla' (sour plum drink), one of the many juices, teas and coffees available, or even a beer (or two, or more).  Drinks are very reasonably priced with an 'ambla' costing RM 2.20 and a large beer about RM 13.  Of the dishes at TOTF one of my favourites is chicken with cashew nuts (gai phad met ma-maung), a stir fry dish using dried chills in a thick, rich and spicy sauce.

Another favourite is stir fry pork mince with basil (phad kra pao gai).

The seafood tom yam is also excellent, as is the pork salad (lap moo).  I have tried many other dishes there and never been disappointed.  Most of the dishes are priced at around RM 5-6 which is very good value and the friendly staff will also happily prepare your food to take away if you don't wish to eat at the food court.

Old City of course also offers a wide variety of other eateries and for those in search of porridge you can do no better than 'May's Porridge' stall which is opposite TOTF and is next to another excellent Thai stall which sells delicious pad thai.  The clay pot noodle stall next to May's Porridge is also very good'.

Old City is open daily from around mid-morning until 9pm but closes all day every second Saturday and TOTF is very well worth a visit there.  Such is the quality of the food there that I'm happy to to award TOTF with a 'Top Pick'

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Cant' find a battery?

One of the things I have at times found frustrating when shopping, at least in Penang, is the (thankfully rare) occasion that I need what might be deemed to be non-standard battery.  Go into any of the large supermarkets here and you can get any battery you like - provided it's 'AA' or 'AAA'.  The battery section is awash with them, different makes, different pack sizes, even re-chargeable versions, but everything is 'AA' or 'AAA'.

Many supermarkets the world over are the same, but often they will also stock some of the slightly less obscure batteries as well and if not, a stroll to a general electrical retailer will often yield results.  Here in  Penang I often use Thye Huat (see article here) if I'm in the Komtar area (which often I'm not) or maybe an electrical outlet such as the one in Prima Tanjung, Tanjung Tokong (which incidentally I find excellent for all sorts of electrical goods ranging from full size white goods (appliances) down to small electrical connectors and obscure bulbs).  You may also find that your battery is stocked by one of the camera shops if it is of the type used in the photography field but these stores sometimes sell them at premium prices.  But even with these different store options, at times sourcing some batteries can be elusive.

On a couple of occasions I have faced difficulty finding batteries (such as the excellent rechargeable Sanyo Eneloops) I have used either 'Superbuy' (see article here) or another store I have found recently, 'Battery Online'.

Battery Online stocks a very wide range of even the most obscure batteries at very reasonable prices.  Their online ordering system is efficient with a range of payment options including the popular 'CIMB Clicks' and 'Maybank2U' direct payment services which I generally prefer more than filling in credit card details online.  The costs for postage are very reasonable also with parcels delivered by courier within a few days provided goods are in stock.  I also found the communications from them very good.

Battery Online is another useful addition to my useful resource bookmarks and definitely worth a try if you are having trouble finding the right battery for whatever.

Apple Online Store - Malaysia

I have to say that wherever possible, and particularly when buying high value goods, I prefer to buy products from a physical store as opposed to online, unless I am dealing with a very well respected online trader (e.g. Amazon in the UK and US or maybe Superbuy here in Malaysia).  This is mainly because you get to inspect the goods before taking them and, if there is a problem with it, you have somewhere local to return it to for remedy.

At the moment there are no official Apple Stores in Malaysia and as a result you are obliged to buy from either authorised premium re-sellers (such as 'Switch') or unauthorised re-sellers.  A potential problem for me with the latter is if you have warranty problems (e.g. who will be carrying out the work if faults arise), there is also the issue as to where the goods are sourced from.  My preference therefore is to use the authorised re-sellers and 'Switch' tends to stock quite a wide range of Apple products.  The problem is their stock can still be somewhat limited and if you want something which is  not standard spec, or one of the less popular items (e.g. an Airport Extreme Base Station), you will likely find that the re-sellers do not stock them.

Fortunately all is not lost as Malaysia is now also serviced by an Apple Online Store, the goods being provided to the region via Apple's Singapore hub.  I have used the online store on two occasions now and have found the service to be very good.  If the goods are in stock they will generally arrive by courier within 3-4 working days and, as is common with Apple, orders over a certain amount get free postage and packing, in this case the threshold RM 250.  If the goods are not in stock they will be sent as soon as they arrive and you will be notified of the anticipated delivery date.  The communication from the Online Store is very efficient, they will even send you an SMS when your goods have dispatched.  You cal also follow the progress of your order via the online tracking system.  If you have cause to call the Apple Store I found the staff to be be very friendly and efficient.

So, if you are looking for your latest Apple fix and the re-sellers cannot oblige, the online store is there as a further option and, in my experience, can be used with confidence.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Book Sale: Penang Times Square (22 - 31 March)

I have been notified by 'BookXcess', a business that specialises in selling remainder and over-print books, that they will be holding one of their 'Big Bad Wolf' (BBW) book-sales in Penang Times Square, Georgetown from Friday 22 until Sunday 31 March (inclusive).  The sale will run each day from 9am - 9pm.

Most of their sales are held in the Klang Valley and the company estimated that their 2012 BBW Sales pulled in an estimated crowd of 500,000.  They have a Facebook Page which contains more details about their events and the company in general and also contains pictures from some of their previous events.

Might be worth a look if you are after a few books to add to your collection.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Furniture Shop: Unicane - Jalan Terengannu, Georgetown (Top Pick)

When I first moved to Penang I spent a long time pondering precisely what style of furniture I would have once I finally moved to my permanent residence.  Would I go minimalist?  Colonial? Chinese Classical?  Burmese?  It was actually quite difficult to decide and it was also difficult to find shops and stores which offered a wide enough range of sufficient quality to allow a decision to be arrived at.

After much pondering I decided to rule out several options.  Burmese, I didn't care too much for the all the dark woods and very bulky nature of some of the examples of furniture I saw.  Classical or Traditional Chinese, not much good quality available and it can look quite cheap and tacky if it's not done well.  Most of my friends here are locals and they grew up with this stuff and as such are pretty sick of it so this was an additional turn-off given that my friends visit often.  Modern / Minimalist also didn't appeal, I really didn't want one of the ubiquitous 'L Shaped' corner units that often make up the centre-piece seating arrangement in many condos.  They often look OK but personally I think are very impractical once you have more than a couple of people visit as the seats in the corner of the unit are largely unusable, knees knocking together and all that.  It's all down to personal taste of course and everyone will have different views.  There's no right and wrong.

For me then it pretty much came down to Colonial.  But while I chose Colonial I decided I wanted that as more of a general theme, the style of furniture that one would associate with the Colonial times, rather than exact reproductions.  I chose that style because it just seemed to fit well with Penang and of course because the design and materials would tend to better survive the distinct climate of the tropics (hot and humid) while at the same time being comfortable to sit and relax on.

Having decided, one of the problems I faced was finding somewhere that sold what I was after and as my searched progressed I was very grateful to my good friends, and intrepid furniture hunters, Jonathan and Sandy for pointing me in the direction of a fantastic shop called Unicane which supplies rattan and cane furniture, the vast majority of which is made on the premises.  Situated on Jalan Terengannu (not far from Penang Free School in Green Lane) the shop is a gold mine for the rattan / cane enthusiast.

The owner Mr Wong Kok Sun and his staff are very helpful and on the first of my many visits to the shop they were happy, indeed proud, to show me the workshops and the furniture which was under construction. Interestingly they also also provide a repair service and at the time there were several items of furniture there which people had had for many many years which Unicane were repairing for them.  They also showed me a repaired item which after they had worked on it looked as good as new.

What is nice about Unicane is that the furniture, despite being quite reasonably priced, is of very high quality.  And being made on the premises much of it can be tailored to suit your exact needs.  In terms of general options, their 'suites' come with either a standard back height or a higher back which will likely be more comfortable for taller folk.  The furniture can also be finished in a variety of colours (stains) which maintain the traditional look of the cane or rattan.  You can also choose the fabric for the cushions and also the density, medium or firm etc.  Prices are very reasonable, as an example, their very popular Bali Suite (pictured left) will set you back around RM 3,000 for a sofa, two armchairs, two foot-stools and a coffee table.

Unicane offers a very wide range of furniture including dining suites, bedroom furniture, tables and patio / balcony furniture, much of it on display at the showroom.  They also have large catalogues of previously 'made-to-order' items which can be reproduced or tailored to match your needs.  As an example a purpose built TV / Hi-Fi unit with glass top, central drawers and, glass fronted AV component shelves at each end will cost around RM 2,000.  They also stock a wide range of matching rattan / cane accessories together with general furnishing items.

I have to say I really like the furniture Unicane produces and the combination of the service, staff and prices really rounds the package off.  If that style of furniture is what you are after Unicane is well worth a visit.  They can be contacted on +60 4 281 3382 and their website (see above link) contains even more details of their products.  Unicane certainly warrants a 'Top Pick' from me.

Hennessy Artistry 2013 - Are You Ready?

Undoubtedly one of the hottest party events in Penang and KL, tickets for Hennessy Artistry 2013 are certain to be much in demand.  Keep watching this space for details of the Penang event - coming soon!!!

Event: Foam Party - Hard Rock Hotel, Batu Ferringhi (6 April)

The Hard Rock Hotel in Penang (one of my favourite F&B outlets) will be hosting one of their very popular foam parties on Saturday 6 April.  The event runs from 7:30pm until 11pm for adults and is priced at just RM 30 per ticket for a great night of fun.  There is also a special 2 hours of foam fun for kids from 5pm until 7pm at RM 20 per ticket.

Hard Rock events are always something special and this will be no different with the very talented DJ Faith guesting at the event from 9pm until close and there will also be a 'Foam Babes' contest.  If all goes to plan I shall be covering this event and will post an album of pictures on the Pick of Penang Facebook Page with a link from here.

Friday, 8 March 2013

IndiPG: The first Independent Musician event in Penang

Penang will soon play host to what I am sure will be an excellent two day extravaganza at the end of this month (March), Penang's first ever independent musician event, featuring musicians from several states and which focusses entirely on their own music. No 'cover' versions here!!

The event is being held in conjunction with (and at) Penang PAC (Straits Quay), and my good friend, and excellent guitarist, Kelvyn Yeang has been heavily involved with the organisation.  In addition to live performances from the artists there will be a series of workshops aimed at promoting independent music and, in particular, improving your skills as an artist.

Just one of the workshops to be held is 'When Dream & Day Unite!'

Conducted by Darren Teh from 'An Honest Mistake', Darren will be giving some insights on the challenges faced by a musician or a band and how to be triumphant over them.  This workshop is highly recommended to newbies to the music industry and even to parents with children who are keen on music as profession. And of course, once you have your ticket(s), all of these workshops are free!

Held on both Friday 29 and Saturday 30 March, tickets are priced at just RM35 for adults and RM25 for students and are valid for both days! The Facebook Page for the event can be found here and this will be updated as time goes on with more specific detail about the event.

With bands from Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Kedah IndiPG will feature:

1. Color Noise - Alternative Rock - Penang
2. Beat In The Street - Acoustic- Penang
3. Ocean Of Fire - Creative Instrumental Rock - Penang
4. Gand - Post Rock - Penang
5. Uglymen - Chinese Rock - Alor Setar
6. Soundaholic - Metal - Penang
7. Double Click - Emo Rock - Penang
8. Damn Dirty Apes - Space Rock - Penang
9. Emilia - Singer/Songwriter - Kuala Lumpur
10. An Honest Mistake - Alternative Rock - Kuala Lumpur
11. Kiss Kill Mary - Rock - Kuala Lumpur
12. Andy Ngew - Fingerstyle Solo Acoustic Guitar - Kuala Lumpur
13. Beatburns - Rock - Kuala Lumpur
14. Nick Davis - Dance Rock Electronic - Kuala Lumpur
15. Joe Loy - Singer/Songwriter - Kuala Lumpur
16. The Electric Min'z Project - Psychadelic Indie Rock- Kuala Lumpur
17. Sedsuna - Kuala Lumpur

If you are a professional or budding musician, or merely have an interest in music and / or wish to support the Malaysian independent music scene this will be a great event to attend I'm sure.

Details of other events forthcoming at Penang PAC can be found here.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Restaurant: 'Five27' - Straits Quay, Seri Tanjung Pinang (Top Pick)

Pick of Penang was delighted to be invited recently to the media celebration launch party for the excellent new bistro style restaurant 'Five27' at Straits Quay in Seri Tanjung Pinang.

Five27 is definitely a novelty in Penang in that it is a Nordic style restaurant and as far as I know, the first in Penang.  But while Nordic is a novelty cuisine in Penang it is not the novelty factor upon which Five27 plans to stake its reputation.  Rather it plans to earn a great reputation for great food at great prices in a sophisticated bistro environment where diners can take their fill from the extensive menu, dining inside or al fresco, and after sit back and take in a few cocktails outside, basking in the evening warmth next to the stunning marina which is at the heart of Straits Quay.

The restaurant is tastefully designed and appointed with just the right balance of light and is immediately inviting, the atmosphere finished off with examples of nordic style contemporary art adorning the walls.

While this event was billed as a media launch the restaurant has been open around a month or so and is already proving very popular.  Guests were invited to sample the food and some of the beverages available at the restaurant and to gain a better understanding of the concept of Five27 (the names derives from the longtitude line upon which Five 27 sits) from its French owner and Executive Chef Nizar Achmad.  The restaurant is a joint venture and one of the other partners has a history of involvement with restaurants associated with fine dining in Penang.  The ingredients to success it seems are there.

Nizar Achmad who is also the General Manager of Five27, is the backbone of the experience. Having spent 14 years establishing and mastering his unique culinary skills in Sweden, Chef Nizar has cooked for a list of high-profile patrons which includes the likes of stars, royalty, and Nobel Prize winners. Now he is here in Penang for us all to enjoy. 

Nordic cuisine has always been renowned for being healthy, yet it has not evolved extensively from its traditional techniques and style. With globalisation accelerating the evolution of culinary arts, it was just a matter of time before someone did something about revolutionising Nordic cuisine. Over the past few years, some of the most talented and extraordinary Nordic chefs in the world have begun experimenting with natural ingredients from the Nordic region to establish a new culinary standard for the cuisine. The emphasis is on fresh and organic natural ingredients, health, taste, presentation, and innovation. Today, New Nordic cuisine has already attracted global attention and recognition, putting the exciting culinary movement in a league of its own.  Indeed, the restaurant voted 'Best in the World' for the last three years running is the Nordic Michelin '2 star' restaurant 'Noma' in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Chanterelle soup and breads baked on the premises

Some of the dishes prepared for the event can be seen below.  To the left is s hot of the wonderful mushroom soup on offer, a welcome change from the, sadly, somewhat ubiquitous packet mushroom soup many restaurants offer.

I think this can rightly be described as one of Five27s signature dishes.  A delicious cured salmon with a Dijon mustard based dressing.

These superb meatballs were just one of the dishes on offer.

A delightful Nordic take on lasagne, full of flavour and one of my favourites of the day.

beautiful braised lamb dish that was also full of flavour.

Diners can round off their meal with a variety of deserts including moist and sumptuous cakes such as this one, again, freshly baked on the premises

Overall I found Five27 very impressive indeed and a welcome arrival at Straits Quay where at times the F&B outlets can be quite lacklustre.  The attention to detail at Five27 extends far beyond the quality of the food and beverages, providing diners and cocktail aficionados with the perfect place to spend quality time with their friends and family. A lunchtime menu if offered for just RM 35 including soup, main course, desert and coffee/tea which, considering the standard of the food on offer here is amazing good value.  The evening 'a la carte' menu is equally good value with many mouthwatering dishes which, if you taste in food is somewhat localised and conservative, I really hope people will expand their horizons to try.

Five 27 is a superb restaurant IMHO and deserves to do well.  On the basis of what I tried when I visited I am happy to award Five27 a 'Top Pick' and certainly plan to return in future.

NB: Five27 has now relocated to new premises giving more spacious surroundings at 357 Chulia Street, Georgetown.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Which GPS / Satellite Navigation Unit?

Of late I've had several enquiries about GPS Satellite Navigation (SatNav) units both in terms of what is considered to be a good buy and whether imported units will work here in Malaysia. So I thought it might be useful to consolidate the replies into one short post here in case others are pondering the same issues.

Personally I prefer Garmin units, I always have, but in Asia that preference is also dictated by the ease of availability.  Of the big branded GPS systems Garmin is the one I have found most widely available in SE Asia and well supported with software and map updates.

In terms of imported units, yes it will work.  A GPS is a fairly generic device and they will largely work anywhere BUT, and it's quite a big but, Garmin, like many other companies is a global company but is region specific.  Essentially that means that if you buy a GPS unit in the USA it will be USA compatible unit, here in Malaysia it will be Malaysia / Singapore specific while those from Europe will be European specific in terms of their operating system (OS).  In practical terms that translates into which of the more advanced features you will and will not be able to use.

The more advanced Garmin units offer two very useful functions 'Junction View' and 'Lane Assist'.  Basically, the former is a photographic rendition of a junction and signage as you approach it and the latter provides directional arrows telling you which lane you should be in at major junctions and on highways.  Now, these functions (and in particular 'Junction View') generally ONLY work on the device when it is used within it's own purchase region.  That is something to bear in mind if those facilities are important to you.  I have a UK sourced Garmin 3790T on which I have installed the City Navigator SE Maps.  They work, and are quite good, but no Junction view, it's just basic navigation.  Many units also offer 3D and 'Built Up Area' views which show a semi accurate picture of the area you are driving through, useful in cities.  Again, they only work on units with the OS for your region and the OS cannot be changed.

Another thing to consider is maps.  In some cases units are supplied with free lifetime updates for maps and Garmin updates them up to 4 times a year.  The City Navigator SE Asia map I have was a $99 download and is already out of date.  Once updated, after a year or two it will likely be out of date again.  So, the slightly more expensive units that come bundled with free lifetime updates can save you quite a lot in the long term.

A further consideration is which maps?  I use mostly Garmin maps but even they vary from region to region.  I travel a fair bit in Thailand and in Thailand by far the most useful map is the ESRI (now named Thai Street Map, or TSM) which is supplied by default on Thailand purchased Garmin GPS units.  This map I have to say is much better than the Garmin City Navigator SE Asia map and, at around 450 baht for the CD or SD card version, is a lot cheaper and cheaper to keep updated.  Many people also use maps which are available from or via the 'Malsing Maps' GPS portal which, as it happens, also has an excellent GPS Internet forum which offers a mine of information about all things GPS and even specific units here in Malaysia and Singapore.

The Garmin 3790 I have performs well and the SE Asia City Navigator maps are OK, but lack accuracy, detail and currency at times.  Given that I largely only drive in Malaysia and Thailand, at least for now, I'm not really looking to keep updating the SE Asia map each time it gets released at $90+.  It would however be useful to have constantly updated Malaysian maps, junction view and lane assist working and the most detailed map of Thailand available and to hand.

Garmin Nuvi 3560 LM
On that basis, these days I'd recommend the Garmin 3560 LM unit which has a slim profile and a wide 5.3" screen and all the bells and whistles of an advanced device including voice prompts, voice activation / search, bluetooth, updates via connected mobile phone etc etc. Full details can be found here. It retails at around RM 1,100, comes loaded with the Garmin City Navigator Malaysia / Singapore and 'Malsing' maps (I believe Garmin has an agreement with Malsing here) and has the free for life map updates. All I would do extra with this unit is buy the ESRI Thailand Map on SD when I visited Thailand and insert the SD into the slot, switching maps when crossing the border.  Another unit can be had for about half the price of the 3560 and that is the 2465 LM, there are of course many others.  It has less functionality of course but will certainly do the job and also has free for life map updates.  The Garmin site does offer a very useful comparison facility where you can check out up to three units at any one time side-by-sdie.  

I know some people like to use their GPS enabled smart-phones for navigation but my experience has been mixed.  Briefly, there are paid and free options.  Of the free ones I have tried Google Maps for iPhone is next to useless here.  It's turn-by-turn navigation is still in beta and Malaysia is not a supported country.  Thanks - delete.  Apple's own 'Maps' app is now much improved and does support Malaysia and it works OK, the problem with these free aps is that the navigation is less sophisticated, no lane support and less speedy recalculations if you make a wrong turn.  The other problem is that the two aps mentioned require a live data connection to access the maps, this maybe fine if you are travelling only in the country where you have your contract data service, but travelling cross border into another and needing to use roaming data rates - no thank you very much!  To get round this there are also paid options such as the 'Tom Tom SE Asia' ap (a bit pricey at around $49) and this benefits from having many of the features more readily associated with their dedicated units.  Overall though I find these aps less effective than dedicated devices, there often being problems with the GPS signal (as a visit to the device or ap associated chat forums will show).  Also, despite being a market leader the Tom Tom ap receives some mediocre reviews, such as this one here, with Navigon (another paid ap) being more highly rated.  The big problem here though is that the aps need to support mapping in SE Asia and Navigon doesn't.  So, for now, I stick with dedicated devices.

The one thing I do dislike about Garmin devices (and I hate it with a vengeance) is their route planning software for PC/Mac, 'Basecamp' an ap that allows you to plan your own route and transfer it to your GPS.  Rarely needed but it can be useful at times.  Problem is, it is absolutely awful, quite simply the worst mapping ap I have EVER used.  Google Maps makes entering a route and dragging it round to more suit your wishes an absolute doodle, a real breeze.  Garmin manages to turn such simplicity into a major chore, the software being counter-intuitive and laggy.  It really is so bad that I vouched not to use it again unless it is given a major overhaul.  Total garbage.  For the majority however, advanced route plotting, or amendment, will not be an issue so this piece of junk can thankfully be overlooked.

So, in a nutshell, I'd still recommend Garmin, I'd buy local, either from a shop or a reliable online retailer such as Superbuy and I'd source the ESRI Thailand maps in Thailand to load on SD.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Restaurant: Sebai Sebai - Lintang Batu, Green Lane (Top Pick)

One of my absolute favourite cuisines in the World alongside Chinese and Indian is Thai.  While Penang is well blessed with many excellent Chinese and Indian restaurants, Thai restaurants are thinner on the ground albeit numbers are growing.  I am thus indebted to my long-standing chums Xixi and William for taking me to the Sebai Sebai Thai restaurant which is now my favourite regular Thai restaurant here, along with the 'Thai Original' stall in the Prima Tanjung 'Old City' food court at Tg Tokong (review to follow).

Now I must apologise in advance for the quality of the pictures in this article. It's because whenever I go to Sebai Sebai I have the best intentions to grab some decent pics for an article but I always get carried away with the company and the food to such an extent that pics really are an afterthought.  I will try to get some better shots on repeat visits :-)

Traditional Thai starter - miang kam

Sebai Sebai is situated in Lintang Batu in the Green Lane part of Georgetown and is essentially not far from the Petronas station in Green Lane (you turn left just past the Petronas as you head out of Georgetown towards Penang Bridge).  Their Facebook Page can be found here.

Sea-food tom yam

Sebai Sebai has a very extensive menu and and some of the dishes I have particularly enjoyed there are the tom yam seafood,  prawn noodle salad, pandan chicken, mince beef (or chicken) with basil, green curry and the shrimp cakes.  All delicious and very reasonably priced.

L-R: Beef with basil, noodle salad and clay pot noodle prawns

The service is very good but expect a bit of a wait as everything is prepared fresh from scratch.  There are ample tables both inside (air con) and out but the restaurant is rightly very popular and it can be advisable to book, especially at weekends and holidays.  They serve a wide variety of soft drinks and beers and the bill for 4 with several beers, soft drinks and way more than enough food would be around RM 200.

Sebai Sebai really is a great restaurant and it easily earns a  'Top Pick' from me.  Well worth a visit!!