A wonderful way to enjoy the bounty of Penang’s local flavors and seafood is at Gēn 根, a fine dining restaurant at Lebuh Presgrave. Conveniently located along one of Penang’s bustling roads, the restaurant spearheaded by Chef Johnson Wong continues to steadily keep regulars satisfied with its fare.
Recently, Johnson brings a Tasting Menu of beloved dishes featuring the island’s flavors. The 7-course tasting menu includes many surprises in between, which ended us having 13 servings. The one page menu featuring just the ingredients name presented a medley of local flavors, with a lot to do with fermenting, pickling and slow cooking.
Johnson utilizes Malaysian ingredients and transforms them into palate tantalizing dishes offering a tasting of local flavors. “We try to use ingredients closes to us and our menu features abundance of local fresh seafood as Penang is surrounded by sea,” said Johnson. “We try to make everything in-house. If we can’t, we will find the best available in Penang.”
The evening started modestly with the serving of petite squares of charcoal mantou buns (to be picked up with the fingers) with a sweetcorn cream topped with chili powder. The cream imparts smoke flavor, sweetness of corn and hint of spiciness.
This is followed by three starters. There is the deep-fried doughstick (youtiao) with shrimp paste (hae ko) and jicama (yam bean), a bite of chicken wing with curry and romaine lettuce, alongside the papaya with chopped white prawn and fermented chili. The deep-fried doughstick is a delightful munchy.
Charcoal Mantou, Sweetcorn
Doughstick, Shrimp Paste, Jicama
Next course is a pretty dish with servings of raw local tuna, pickled longan, local herbs and kaffir lime leaves. The freshness from the fish, refreshing scents of herbs, together with acidity of calamansi granita and calamansi coconut sauce whets the palate nicely although we had a fish skin to pick which we weren’t expecting.
Tuna, Kaffir Lime, Longan
Our next dish is the Leek, Minced Pork, Dried Shrimp. The dish is an inspiration of the Yong Tau Foo (vegetable with stuffing) and Johnson serves it with dry shrimp, black moss and an egg yolk sauce that lent the dish creaminess.
Leek, Minced Pork, Dried Shrimp
We were next treated to the Squid, Salted Duck Egg, Bitter Gourd, followed by the Belimbi, Pomelo, Lemongrass. The latter is a refreshment to the course with coconut panna cotta lifted with tanginess and acidic flavors of belimbing (baby star fruit), pomelo, lemongrass oil, and kaffir leaves.
The next courses are the Flower Crab, Beansprout, Peanut, and the Stingray, Ginger Flower, Stinky Bean (locally known as petai). For the former, it is actually a flower crab wanton while the latter is essentially the classic Malaysian ikan panggang (grilled fish), a popular street food.
Squid, Salted Duck Egg, Bitter Gourd
Then, it follows with the Duck, Old Cucumber, Herbal. This modern take on the classic old cucumber soup have grilled duck breast, dried enoki mushroom, slices of old cucumber and black garlic powder, with warm herbal chicken soup poured around it. The taste and texture are just immensely pleasing. A soul-warming dish!
Duck, Old Cucumber, Herbal
For a touch of sweetness, we were served with desserts derived from the memories of Johnson’s childhood. The first of his beloved dessert showcased the versatility of the pineapple fruit. The dish is a twist on the traditional dessert which calls for pineapple with soy sauce and chili. Johnson opted to have the dessert made from soy chili jelly, pineapple gelato, and pineapple chips. Pickled pineapple juice with coriander is then poured over the dessert served in a glass bowl. With a sweet spicy combination, it is an exciting dish.
My Childhood Memory Part 1
The second is one described by Johnson as his everyday dessert. It has guava pickled with sour plum served with guava sorbet and accompanied by toppings of meringue lime and white chocolate.
My Childhood Memory Part 2
The course mellows out to finish in a Tuak Sorbet with Gula Melaka Syrup, Coconut Flakes, and Rose Rice Cake. To get the perfect taste, we were instructed to blend in the ingredients together. It is somehow more flavorful, balanced by a delicate sweetness and texture. All well ends well with a cup of Nutmeg Tea.
Tuak, Nutmeg, Gula Melaka
Gēn has price this Tasting Menu well and you can savor all the above specialties for only RM250+. You can enjoy them with wine to pair.
The restaurant is open daily except for Mondays, from 6pm till 11pm. Drop by and let yourself be surprised. Reservations can be made via their number at 012-578 3323.
68A Lebuh Presgrave
10300 George Town