Are readers and most importantly, restaurateurs ready for some honest-to-goodness comments and 'tell it as it is' feedback from food critics? Granted, there have been some bouquets but notably there are more brickbats against those who have spoken up in the past. Vilified for being frank ... it has happened to a freelance food writer once. Let's just say nothing good came out of it as the daily she wrote for put paid to any future writings from her once the storm brewed over.
Another point to note is food reviews must be taken liberally with a pinch of salt. Of course restaurateurs and chefs would roll out the red carpet when they know food reviews are being done - it's akin to having the Queen over for tea, going for your first date or attending that crucial 'make or break' job interview. Wouldn't you spruce your home up, groom yourself from head to toe to impress and set out to make a good lasting impression? Sure you would - why should it be any different for eateries and the people who own, operate and serve in them? So I see no sense why people should complain that the media write only positive things in their reviews ... those stories are meant to be just that - a review that serves as a guide on what the outlet specialities are, the philosophy behind the outlet being in existence, what inspired the chef(s), etc. Conclusions on whether the food is good or not must ultimately be left to the consumers themselves - real diners who get to decide ultimately whether it's justified parting with their hard-earned moolah no matter how good or bad the food is as deemed by us reviewers. Remember, one man's meat is another man's poison.
OK, I'm not advocating bad food - there's nothing worse than paying for mediocre dishes that spoil your day and leave you feeling like a bear with a sore head. But I've come to realise there's just no accounting for taste. Otherwise tell me how come some 'not so great' food outlets continue to not only exist but expand all over the place and draw tons of customers? Heck, it's freedom of choice and their customers obviously feel they are getting something worthwhile whenever they eat there.
Having said that, here are some no holds barred comments on recent outlets I'd been to at my own expense:
AFTERNOON TEA AT MANDARIN ORIENTAL KL
Still one of the best places to escape from the city's madness. Its huge picture windows looking out to sprawling lawns and verdant landscaped gardens are indeed balm for the soul. However, the Lounge's latest Afternoon Tea menu left much to be desired. We reckon it's a mistake to tinker with classic stuff like cucumber sandwiches and normal egg sandwiches ... yes, we see the need to be creative but seriously, even I can't stand the current curried egg filling which my kid took an immediate dislike to. Thank goodness the scones remained rich and crumbly as we remember them to be.
The Asian set was no better. Since I didn't touch the offerings for these, I was told only the chicken satay came up to mark. Which was surprising cos the last time we went, nobody had anything negative to say about the Asian selection.
Fortunately service remains exemplary - in fact it was better than before as we found there were more staff compared to our last visit. The few girls on duty in the past used to rush around looking very harried and sometimes failed to see patrons signalling to them for assistance. Now we had no problems getting their attention.
MANDARIN PALACE AT FEDERAL HOTEL KUALA LUMPUR
This grand dame of a restaurant deserves better patronage on weekdays. Younger diners may find the gilded trimmings and opulent setting too overwhelming but we just discovered that all that truly glitters here are the outlet's dim sum gems.
While the who's who in KL are raving over the pricey roast pork in this particular Pudu coffeeshop, we prefer the Mandarin Palace's crispy, delectable version that comes in alternate layers of fat and lean meat. And I can't recall the last time I tasted such scrumptious char siew bao - the cottony soft steamed layer yielded a generous amount of mildly sweet, dark and richly flavoured barbecued pork. Yummy!
It was certainly a memorable lunch as we fondly reminisced over the delectable lor mai kai (steamed glutinous rice with mushroom and chicken), plump morsels of siew mai and har gow, baked chan pow (mini bread-like buns with char siew filling) and ooh...light as air and super eggy dan tart or baked egg tarts. Just thinking about them make my mouth water!
On the day we went for lunch, only two other tables were occupied so service was definitely NOT an issue. It's amazing that hordes of tourists trawling the shops along the Bukit Bintang thoroughfare outside the hotel had no idea such a historical and noteworthy eatery exists within.
For a 50 year old hotel that was completed in time to herald our country's first Merdeka celebrations, the Federal KL deserves better respect and greater patronage.
WILD RICE AT CITITEL MID VALLEY
Unknown to the scores of shoppers of this humongous mall, the adjacent hotel houses a trendy cafe that offers a surprisingly decent buffet breakfast upstairs. Its sleek and minimalist interior appeals greatly to us - we like the floor to ceiling glass facade that accords us a lovely view of its pool, the fitness centre nearby and an elevated dining platform which is bordered by a bank of tall, sinewy bamboo planter boxes.
The spread seems remarkably simple at first sight but we soon found some nuggets to relish. Soft boiled eggs with toast and local kopi o are nice additions to the international selection. I love the scrambled eggs and chicken sausages, muesli and pancakes but the nasi lemak falls a little short of expectations. Pass on the rather dry scones and sliced cakes. The remaining stuff are average tasting but decent enough to stomach at the price we're paying.
Service is better than average, if not better than some established hotels in the Golden Triangle. The staff whips away used and stained crockery quite fast so much so that it's better inform them if you have not finish your food, and intend to nip off to get something else from the buffet.
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There you have it. Three frank overviews of our most recent food jaunts. Keep the bouquets or brickbats coming.