If you've noticed, I haven't been posting reviews on restaurants in KK for some time now. The reason I've not bothered to do restaurant reviews of my own hometown is because I've noticed something tragic about the restaurants, especially Chinese restaurants. Food in KK in the past year or two has gotten so bad that I go into panic mode when I have visitors from out of town. While the lunchtime fare of noodles is still pretty good (albeit a big drop in portion and quality), I can't think of a single restaurant for evening meals that even rates a 7 out of 10 now. Don't even mention the seafood restaurant that I wrote highly of years ago. The food was great and the restaurant in Bundusan is probably still worth a visit but the one in Asia City is barely edible, with every dish tasting bland and same.
What has happened to food in KK? Why is the food mediocre and pricey? While it can't be denied that food prices have risen and are still rising drastically, restaurants always pass the increased costs to customers AND reduce the quantity and quality of their dishes, thus making more profit than BEFORE the oil price hikes. It's all about profit, that's one damn reason. There's no real passion in cooking for most Chinese restaurants here.
The second reason is that while your bowl of lunchtime ngiu chap noodles is cooked by the restaurant/stall owner or with the assistance of a hired hand, your fish slices in butter for dinner are now cooked by Timorese/Indonesians whose training is limited to firing up the wok and throwing in copious amounts of oil and msg. If you don't believe me, take a peek into the kitchens of any restaurant be it seafood or Beaufort restaurants. Where have the Chinese cooks gone? I think they have gone back to Hong Kong or KL, or to their Creator.
What a surprise it is then when I keep hearing good things about a new restaurant called Alu Alu in the row of shops near Jesselton Point, the place where you can hop onto a speedboat and head for the lovely islands 15 minutes away from the city. I was invited to Alu Alu's food tasting dinner last month but decided to forgo it so that I can remain unbiased.
I first went to Alu Alu about 10 days ago and since then, I've been back two more times. Small meals each time, but enough to get a general taste of the menu. I like the way the dishes are cooked, home style and simple, with little oil and msg.
Fish balls and tang hoon soup, RM16, was enough for 1/2 bowl each for 4 ladies on a diet. The fish balls didn't have much fish flavor but were tender, smooth and springy. The tang hoon was just enough to give each of us one chopstick-not-so-ful.
Fish slices in butter and milk. They didn't have the ordinary grouper, which would have cost us RM20 only, so we had to go for the coral trout, which was RM32. Let me count...11 small pieces of fish, nearly RM3 each mouthful/piece. Tasted pretty good, would've been better if there was less sugar. I've noticed that there's sugar in most of AluAlu's dishes. I hope that should mean they are not putting much msg.
Fish head with Chinese herb and yam (taro), RM32. I love this, it was yum.
Organic veg, RM
The lunch for 4 was RM106. Pretty stiff I'd say, for 4 small simple dishes.
The fish head taro claypot again and it was yum, again.
My boss used to tell me "Terri, a woman should have some meat on, better to cuddle with." I was once like this kampung chicken, lean and boney. Kampung chickens are for soups, period. Give me a fat corn fed chicken if it's to be steamed with herbs. RM45 for half a small dry chicken.
Fish fillet with shredded potato and chili. Not that it tasted bad, but to order lutun (king grouper) slices and have it deep fried? VMS, we should've known better than that. Underneath all the shredded potato, it could've been any fish. RM45 for 9 pieces. Yes, I counted. RM5 per mouthful/piece.
The other dish we had was stir fried veggies, bringing the bill to a grand RM167 for 4 dishes only. We all enjoyed the meal but the meagre portions left us running to another restaurant to fill up on cakes.
Tom yam soup with tang hoon, RM10. The tom yam soup was too sweetish and lacked tom yam flavor. That's all the tang hoon in the soup. Someone I met at a dinner recently said the same thing I'm going to say about the noodles in AluAlu: Will it break the restaurant to just give a little bit more noodles? That amount is ridiculous.
A bland bowl of 3 fish balls, 2 pieces of fish slices with taro, Chinese herbs and fresh milk--some kind of experimental dish that just doesn't do credit to a cook who cooked that claypot. RM10.
Mango pudding. It was made with either mango cordial or from the box but what do I expect for RM3?
Overall, the food's good (but pricey considering the small portions) and 'healthy' with noticeably less oil than most restaurants. The menu is very limited. There are only fish dishes and that lean chicken and some organic veggies so I think this is good for simple family meals. Definitely not where you'd have a birthday celebration, or some big do, unless you are all fish eaters. Also, I find it ironic that the restaurant stresses on serving healthy food (such as organic veggies) when all the fish they serve is farmed. Farmed fish are fed fish food and antibiotics, according to my friend who knows about marine fish farming and avoids all farmed fish like the plague. The other irony is, farmed fish should cost less than fish from the wild but in Asia the demand for live fish, kept in chemicals-laden tanks, is more important than where the fish grew up in or what it ate.
Now that I've been to Alu Alu 3 times, I know what to order the next time I go there. I'd avoid their fish fillet dishes (pricey), their noodles (bleh and meagre) and their soups (bleh and meagre) and just order their claypots/braised fish dishes (yummy!), of which I've only tried one but am quite sure that the other claypot dishes are just as good. If I'm feeling splashy, I might even order a steamed fish. I have a feeling the cook's Chinese and knows the cuisine. He just needs to be less stingy.
p.s. I just found the receipt in my bag and realized they charged us for TWO portions of veggies. It wasn't any bigger than the single portion I had on my first meal there or I would've noticed. Whadde.