By Helen Ong
In the UK, Friday nights is Curry Night. To celebrate the end of a hard week of work, Brits like to go down to the boozer for a pint or two of their favourite tipple, and thence to their local curry house for a Chicken Tikka Masala, a Madras or, if they’re feeling in a particularly masochistic mood, a Vindaloo or two. That sort of northern Indian cooking was something I really missed when I came back to live in Penang.
However, I’m delighted to say that this is no longer the case. Tucked away in the tourist belt of Batu Ferringhi, I found a little gem of an outlet that is guaranteed to satisfy my craving for such spicy dishes.
The beach-side Holiday Inn Resort’s pleasant ground floor Terrace Café is a great place to chill out even if you’re just looking to have a sundowner or two. Their ice-cold Holiday Inn Joy Cocktail, made with white rum and pineapple juice, is the perfect drink with which to watch the evening turn into dusk.
What makes this place really special though is that they do a full menu of appetising traditional Indian dishes not just from north but also south India. Chef Laxman from New Delhi, who has been with them for 12 years, is now joined by Chef Boojari, who, although he’s from Bangalore, used to work at the Holiday Inn in Singapore where he gained quite a reputation for his southern Indian cooking. Although each has his own speciality, both are adept at cooking all dishes on offer.
I was privileged to be given a tour of the back kitchens, where Boojari was skewering the marinated chicken pieces he was about to cook in the tandoor which was specially imported from India.
The chicken tikka skewers are put lengthways into the deep oven, where the dry heat is so intense that the meat is cooked in no time. They are a prerequisite for one of their most popular dishes, Chicken Tikka Masala.
Meanwhile, over at the other counter, Laxman is busy whipping up some of his northern Indian specialties for us to try. It took literally minutes, but with just a spoonful of this and a dollop of that, a quick flick of his wrist and “cor blimey”, he created several dishes which didn’t just look good; they were also very tasty.
“We have to be quick when orders come in, so we make up all the different pastes from scratch, then refrigerate them,” he explained. Even their yoghurts, used as a base in many of their gravies and raitas and for marinating some of the meats, are made in-house.
The aforementioned Chicken Tikka Masala was good, with a thick, strong gravy, and so was the Jhingga Masala, prawns in a spicy masala sauce. Those who prefer their dishes less spicy might prefer the vegetarian Dhal Makhani, lentils cooked in a thick, creamy sauce, or the dry cauliflower and potato Aloo Gobi Curry.
All this was accompanied by some Garlic and Cheese Naan bread, and a spoonful or two of long-grain saffron-coloured fragrant pilao rice. Sadly, I was just too stuffed to try their Chicken Makhani, aka Butter Chicken, which I have heard some describe as “amazing.” Next time!
The Holiday Inn Resort’s a la carte Indian food is available at the Terrace Café daily (except Fridays) from 11.30am–2.30pm for lunch, and from 6.30pm–10.30pm for dinner. Even better, if you’re not sure what to order, head there on Friday evenings between 7.30pm-10.30pm, where a full spread awaits your delectation in their popular “A Night in Mumbai” buffet, excellent value at just RM68++ per person (RM40++ for senior citizens).
For details or reservations, call The Terrace Café, Holiday Inn Resort Penang, Jalan Batu Ferringhi (Tel: +604-881-1601).