Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sake Room of Seberang Jaya

"Nouvelle Cuisine, roughly translated, means: I can't believe I paid ninety-six dollars and I'm still hungry."

Mike Kalin

This is suppose to be a review of Sake Room, a Japanese restaurant which I had on my exhaustively researched hit "eat" list back when I was in the Pulau Pinang mainland doing my orthopaedic elective but first, an anecdote! I direct your attention to this photograph,

Phoebe versus inebriation.

This rosy cheeked lass is the result of an alchemical experiment combining the girlfriend with an indeterminate volume of Japanese rice wine. That's my girl, alright; she would light up redder than Chinese New Year if she had so much as a few small sips of an alcopop. It's what we medical types refer to as the alcohol flush reaction or the Asian Flush - because we orientals are total weaksauce lightweights when it comes to liquoring our gills. About a third of all Chinese, Japanese and Koreans displays this syndrome; a club which I am happy to report does not include my membership.

We headed thereafter to the Sunway Carnival Mall which was pretty much just across the road from Sake Room because Phoebs needed to shop for a new pair of glasses. At the optometrist's, a Chinese sales clerk who was so Chinese that he probably just swam here across the South China Sea that very morning came up to Phoebe and went, "You duink be-er arh?" quite loudly

Oh boy, you should have seen how credulous he looked with his eyes magnified several times through his thick spectacles. Phoebs, made even redder by the embarrassment, was like 'No-lah, no-lah' as she tried to escape the clerk and the shop. I nearly cracked a rib laughing.


Right, let's get down to business here.

Sake Room
Welcome to Sake Room, Sushi & Lounge.

I would like to have dined here a couple more times to develop a more well-rounded impression before writing a review, but time and money are luxuries I had in short supply back when I was semi-vacationing in Seberang Perai. Anyway, allow me to introduce to you the cause of Phoebe's little comedic moment with the sales clerk,

Strawberry Infused Sake
Strawberry-infused sake.

It cost a figure somewhere between RM 30 to RM 40 - the memory bank's a little short on specifics right now. It came in this funky glass bottle which has a little hollow bubble projecting into it from the exterior to allow the ice in the bucket to chill the sake quicker without diluting the content (if anyone knows what this species of glassware is called, please give me an education). Phoebs and I actually wanted to try the pineapple-infused version but unfortunately, we only had the choice of having either strawberry or plum that day.

It's great that a waitress came periodically to fill our glasses. Just thought I should mention the great service.

Sake Glass
And they serve it in little clinkers like this one.

My experiences with sake is admittedly infrequent but I thought the infusion was quite drinkable, if a bit cloying (I had my heart set on the pineapple one, you see). It's produced using a super special secret house recipe and it takes about 2 weeks to produce 3 litres of the liquor. The taste is faintly reminiscent of strawberry-flavoured cough syrups so I'm sure this won't go down well with most people. As an apéritif though, it worked great and totally primed my stomach for the main,

Kabayaki Bento
Bento, bento!

You'll find it listed under bento sets section of the menu as "unagi kabayaki & chicken wasabi pepper" and it'll set you back at RM 40. I'm sure what they meant was "wasabi pepper chicken" and the term "unagi kabayaki" always appeared a little redundant to me since kabayaki is already colloquially used to refer to dishes which have unagi in them. And since we're on the subject of redundancy; bento sets. Also, I like menus which give colourful and meaningful descriptions of food items - particularly in specialty restaurants serving food that have weird foreign names - and Sake Room's catalogue is a little short on details. I'm a Japanese food veteran so I already have a working glossary of edible Nipponese words in my head but your everyday diner might find the gibberish somewhat intimidating.

The eel was competently assembled - crisp on the outside, and tender on the inside - and the unagi tare used to flavour it struck what I thought was a good balance between savoury and sweet. It's not the best I've had but after eating nothing but bad incarnations of this dish for months, this was almost a godsend. The peppery wasabi-accented chicken was the more outstanding component of this bento, if you ask me, but I chalk this up to my personal addiction to all things flavoured green and mean. The generous sprinkling of black and white sesame seeds certainly helped too - but you haven't heard the last of them yet.

The bento also included a good half-cup serving of yasai itame (essentially sauteed cabbage), a gyoza, some appetising tsukemono (mostly gari), lots of edamame, a hearty bowl of miso soup and a serving of sticky Japanese short-grain rice. Supposedly, the set also comes with some tamago but it was strangely absent from mine. I did not pursue the matter because I'm not that big a fan of the sweetened omelette (plus, I was already feeling kind of stuffed). Heck, I'm not even that big a fan of eggs in general. Aside from that, they also seemed to have completely forgotten about my dessert which was part of the deal. This, I could not let slip. More on this later.

It is a pretty filling combo and is worth every penny I paid, I can tell you. Folks who constantly complain that Japanese food portions are too small take note.

Udon, udon!

Phoebs ordered "tempura udon" from their noodle menu and thankfully, it wasn't what I thought it meant (battered and deep fried Japanese wheat noodle, anyone?). It actually consists two separate dishes. The first, in the above photograph, is a bowl of udon garnished with katsuobushi (bonito flakes), nori, a cap of mushroom and a pair of naruto kamaboko slices (those white fishcakes with pink spirals on them). It wasn't bad but it won't exactly blow your mind either.

The second is this; all of five glorious, golden ebi tempura,

Ebi Tempura
They feel the need to throw a dash of sesame seeds on this too, for some reason.

Say what you will about Sake Room but they aren't the stingy fucks most Japanese restaurateurs are. What their shrimps lacked in girth and length they made up with sheer number. However, they do not have that light, unique fluffiness which characterises your regular tempura dishes - not that that's a bad thing because the prawn to batter ratio here is definitely higher. As a rule, I rarely order tempura stuff anyway when I go to Japanese restaurants because I consider the process to be ruinous to the original flavour of whatever food it is that's involved. And most of the time, all one can taste is the batter anyway.

The udon bowl and the ebi tempura totalled RM 20.

Phoebs and I also shared this weird looking makizushi,

As you can probably tell, the pieces are ginormous.

This form of rolled and cut sushi is also called makimono, a term which Sake Room favoured. Simply called the "crispy roll", it's part of the restaurant's designer makimono line and it'll will cost you RM 18. It is also delicious - if you're an idiot.

Oh, it was probably enough to fill a guy like me up on its own and if you're not a fusspot, you'd probably consider it a pretty decent, righteous, churchgoing and god-fearing sushi. Its blurb claims that it contains unagi, asparagus, avocado and cream cheese (and if you look at the picture, there's also all that tobiko - flying fish roe - which they have neglected to mention in their menu) and the whole roll was deep fried tempura-style. It's just one of those things which sounds good on paper but when executed...

My assessment of it is this: you're not going to taste much more than the cream cheese, the batter and the copious amount of rice in it. The cream cheese in particular was overpowering, as much as I love the stuff under different circumstances. The unagi and the tobiko? I swear you won't even know they are there.

I notice that a unwarrantably large proportion of their designer makizushis also contain cream cheese in them, no doubt pandering to the majority of people's partiality to it. While I can't say outright that the rest also sucked testicles, I would advice people to stay clear of them - or at least tell them to ease up on the dairy and rice.

On the plus side, the maki came with a side of gari (that pink pickled ginger thing) which I love. In Japanese restaurants which allow their customers a bottomless unrestricted supply, I can literally just sit there and munch disturbingly large quantities of it while I am between orders. The quality of their wasabi was also good, and the accompanying hot sauce was top notch; prudently spicy, faintly sour and fragrant because of the sesame seeds - which also peppered the plate, if you notice.

What's up with this place's obsession with sesame seeds anyway? There's such thing as too much of a good thing, you know. Case in point,

Green Tea Ice Cream
At this point I was like "Not again!"

This is the dessert which was suppose to come with my bento set meal that totally slipped their minds. It's hard to tell but it's apparently green tea ice-cream, served tastefully in a cocktail glass. I was informed that it was homemade and that they ground premium green tea leaves in their blend. I'm no expert on the art of ice-cream making, but I presume that it's probably easier to fine-tune the flavour if one uses matcha (finely-milled Japanese green tea) to make it. That's what Starbucks use in their Green Tea Frappuccinos, if I'm not mistaken.

I bring this up because the Sake Room's green tea ice-cream is tasteless. That inherent blandness is compounded by the obnoxious presence of yet more sesame seeds dumped onto it like it's going out of fashion. Come to think of it, it makes for a pretty decent sesame ice-cream because that's the only damn thing I could taste. However, as a green tea ice-cream, it's an utter and complete failure. Looks outstanding though.

By the way, I absolutely love kurogoma (black sesame) ice-cream and I inquire about its availability in every Japanese restaurant I visit, but I'm afraid it's none too common in Malaysia.

Sake Room Outside
How it looks like on the outside.

I won't say that this review is my definitive word on Sake Room since I've visited it only once. My overall impression is that this place was slightly overrated by some blogs (and grossly overrated by others) but it's still better than either Sushi King or Sakae Sushi. Price-wise, it won't break you and their servings are very generous. I personally like the sombre and laid back lighting they employ since it also doubles up as a lounge. It's a great place for conversations over a drink with one's friends or a lover. As for the taste, they generally float above the average depth of the pool but the kitchen crew seems to have a tendency to go overboard with the sesame seeds and cream cheese. It makes me think that they are trying to conceal or make up for some shortcomings in either their ingredients or cooking skills - not that that's necessarily the case, of course.

Also, free Wi-Fi.

I'd definitely return if I have the chance, if only to give it a fairer shake of an appraisal. And to get my hands on some pineapple-infused sake if it's the last thing I do!

Sake Bottles
Namesakes. Now don't any of you come and ask me what a na-me-sa-ke is.

You can find Sake Room in a southerly direction from the Sunway Carnival Mall in Seberang Jaya, just opposite the road from a Billion Supermarket and two doors away from the Roxbury Bistro & Pub. And if that's not specific enough for you,

No 17, Jalan Todak 3,
Pusat Seberang Jaya,
Seberang Jaya,
13700 Penang

The not terribly precise GPS coordinates as determined using Google Earth are 5°23'47.12"N, 100°23'49.69"E. To contact them, dial +604-3992717 or +6012-5201212 (ask for a Melissa Liew, who is also the creative force behind the establishment). They are open for business from 11:00 am till late from Tuesday to Saturday. They switch to a more bar-like or cocktail lounge atmosphere after 10:00 pm on these days, whatever that means. On Sundays, it's 3:00 pm to midnight. They are presumably closed on Monday, since I can't get any info on their hours for that day 4:00 pm till late every day of the week. While they probably have no chance at a halal license since they serve alcoholic beverages, it is useful to know that they don't use any pork products whatsoever in the premises.


For the sake of sake,
k0k s3n w4i


Phoebs said...

i actually like this place :D must go back for more sake

xRaafikx said...

nice meal. should try one day. :D

mg said...

omg i absolutely love black sesame ice cream as well!! together with matcha ice cream. yumzzzz. i should eat more of those here while i still can. =S

Jen said...

Phoebs' face just completely distracted me from the whole post. We could start a club.

k0k s3n w4i said...

Phoebs: tell me if the pineapple sake's any good T_T

xRaafikx: if you're in the state, why not, yeah?

mg: why, you have good kurogoma aisu kurimu in new zealand? you have me green with envy -.-

Jen: you turn red easily when you drink too? then you might want to keep an eye out for my next or next next post. i have bad news for you.

Sake Room : Sushi n Lounge said...

Dear Mr. Kok,

Thanks for the entertaining review of Sake Room...def had a good laugh. On behalf of our crew at Sake Room, I'd like to thank you for your support and we hope to see you and Phoebs in the near future. Hopefully, we can find sweet pineapples...soon...and when we do, it's on the house for ya. And yes, we will take note on the sesame seeds, too. =)

Just FYI, we are opened everyday from 4pm till late.

Warmest regards,
Melissa Liew
Creative Force

k0k s3n w4i said...

Melissa: actually, the sesame seeds weren't intrusive at all in the other dishes - but they were definitely overpowering in the case of the green tea ice-cream. but overall, it was a good dinner we had in your establishment. and thanks for your offer of pineapple sake. phoebs and i certainly can't wait to sample it.

p.s. i got the business hours from sake room's listing at wok.com.my and i wasn't aware of the fact that the info there is now outdated. thanks for the heads up :)

Glo-w~* said...

perhaps they should rename to sesame room? OPEN SESAME!