Many of us who go to restaurants do so because of the ambience, yet we still desire high quality food that is reminiscent of great home cooking. On so many levels we have been left disappointed and vow never to return to certain places again.
Having done this on numerous occasions, I was so happy to have been invited to sample the cuisine at 32 @ The Mansion, a restaurant just a stones throw away from Penang’s famous E & O, housed in an exquisite Italianate style mansion with beach front access.
I have for some time been eager to visit there, if not for the food, just to check out the architecture of this magnificent property restored in the 1990’s. Armed with an open mind, an empty stomach, and more than a hint of curiosity, I made my way to what I can only describe as a very pleasant surprise.
Symmetry is so important to me in building design and aesthetics, and approaching the relocated front door., I couldn’t help but admire the design symmetry that encapsulated the restaurant entrance.
A small portico, with delicate designs above and surrounding, led into an impressive foyer with a hanging chandelier through from the floor above. This stood out as unique indeed. Whilst not in pristine condition, 32 the Mansion is a well-used, but cared for, property that retains the original design features from its construction era.
I too had done my research before coming here to eat. Mixed reviews, some claiming fine dining, others saying not – so I wasn’t really certain what to expect from the culinary side of things. Regardless, best to try for yourself and don’t weigh too heavily on others opinions. I can say however, I was pleasantly surprised, and to be more honest, overwhelmed with nostalgia, as our selected dishes arrived.
We were seated in the conservatory area, just next to the live Jazz band – Tonal Alchemy featuring Wilson Quah, who has regularly played at 32 at The Mansion for some time. They were brilliant by the way. Not too loud that they interrupted our talking; just soft enough that every table could be engaged in jovial banter at speaking volume, but still hear the beautiful tones as the musicians serenaded us with their great repertoire.
Quickly the restaurant filled up; we were there a little early so bided our time with several glasses of their house white – a Chilean Sauv Blanc, which really did set the mood for the night – home comfort with great food and entertaining company.
It definitely wasn’t fine dining, and frankly, I was really happy at that. It was well presented, it more than a touch of nostalgia. Flavours from growing up, that my mind had almost forgotten, brought little gastronomic tingles and memories flooding back.
Talking with Chef Lance, he was eager to dispel the myth of ‘Fine Dining’ surrounding 32 @ The Mansion. His concern was that the tag of ‘Fine Dining’ was probably stopping more people from dropping in to sample his superbly prepared offerings.
For those of you not familiar with Chef Lance, his last port of call was the group’s Bagan Restaurant. When Bagan was shut for relocation, Lance was asked to come over to 32 @ The Mansion and stamp his inimitable mark on their Flagship location. He reiterated that fine dining is not their goal, they want to prepare quality, home-styled cuisine, with an elegance in presentation, and just a touch of difference.
Bravo to Lance and his team, because that certainly did come through with the food, and it’s exactly why I will be coming back over and over.
Our dessert, a sticky toffee pudding, was to die for. This is admittedly one of my childhood favourites, which I thought had been thrust to the archives of my memory never to be enjoyed again. But to my delight, out came a delicious morsel of ginger cake (about the size of a very generous muffin), smothered in sticky liquid toffee, and French vanilla ice cream. This came at the end of the meal, but I tell you, if it was the only thing I ate that night, I’d still be in heaven.
Our main courses were equally spectacular. Steamed sea bass, accompanied by slightly crunchy steamed vegetables in a gentle oyster sauce was delicious.
Steamed to perfection, then lightly grilled, the sea bass flaked away in tender chunks, just right for any palette. I tell you I am not a fish lover, but even I appreciated this dish for its texture, taste, and balanced flavour.
Embedded in two different types of mushrooms, their subtle flavours heightened the combination to create a very alluring dish.
The other main course (ok, I’m a little greedy here as I really wanted some beef) was the beef ribs. I’m used to big bones and little meat, stewed or baked for far too long. Not from Lances’ kitchen though; this genius of the kitchen uses succulent Australian beef with ample meat both under and over a very clean cut rib bone. The size of a decent steak, these ribs were truly melt-in-your-mouth.
Served on a bed of freshly mashed potato, with a light gravy being optional for those who prefer (ok, I’m one who loves my gravy when it comes to mash), the meat just broke away from the bone with ease, offering a succulence seldom experienced.
This is definitely a personal favourite on my list from now on, and coupled with the sticky pudding, I plan to be a regular. Our starters were a little unexpected. Salad Caprese, basically mozzarella with beefsteak tomato, drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar was delicious, and a nice light way to get the evening started.
Also served were nachos – honestly, not what I imagined I would be getting at all. But, done with a twist, the nachos were served with melted cheese and subtle hints of chili on them, accompanied by two bowls of condiments – a chicken salsa type dish, full of flavour, yet using just sautéed minced chicken and very simple aromatic herbs; and guacamole, creamy in texture and in taste.
Top these off with Ciabatta bread, extra virgin olive oil, and home-made dukkah, we were seriously in for a taste exploration that brought in the nostalgia of great home cooking, but also added a twist of refined elegance. Now that’s what I came to enjoy, and folks, that’s why I will be back.
After dinner was a cigar on the outdoor balcony, overlooking the water, and just wiling the night away with a couple more glasses of wine and some great conversation.
So seriously, simply go there without preconceived ideas of what to expect and let the restaurants atmosphere and cuisine overtake your senses with memories of the ‘past’ for an evening, and simply enjoy – it truly is worth it.
Oh, I forgot to mention, its great value for money too. Affordable, great quality comfort food, served superbly in a slightly nostalgic atmosphere.
I’ll be back next week to try the business lunch set and then again the week after for¡ I’ll think of something!