Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chinese Restaurant At Winner Hotel

Winner Hotel's Chinese restaurant is one of the oldest restaurants in town. Even after bigger and fancier hotels came up, those who preferred taste over ambience would still chose Winner's Chinese restaurant for wedding banquets. But over time the place became really shabby and small compared to TABH, Pan Pacific and Magellan Sutera, which are now the top places for wedding banquets. With the preference for ambience and grandeur first and food last, wedding banquets are terrible gastronomic experiences, and I have not heard of one good wedding banquet dinner in any of these fancy hotels. People just accept the fact that hotels can't do good banquet dinners, with their constraints such as no pork allowed, no msg and no big burning burners and woks and lack of good Chinese chefs. Not only that, with wedding banquets now at 100 tables compared to the modest 20-30 tables in my time, if you arrived late, you don't even get to meet the bride and groom. You are treated to a boring slide show of their youthful days before they met each other, then the mandatory picture of their university graduation, then pictures taken during their courtship and finally, if you are still watching, pictures of their wedding. You make small talk with people you don't know sitting at your table and maybe you can catch a glimpse (if you haven't yet escaped through the side doors) of the couple with their parents on the stage far away doing a general toast and wave to the crowd like the Queen or the Pontiff on special days.

Of all the restaurants for wedding banquets, the best in KK was the now extinct Borneo Hotel, out in the second beach of Tanjung Aru. Borneo Hotel banquet food is legendary in this town. Even at 40 tables, the hotel's restaurant turned out exceptional dishes like deep fried stuffed crab claws, seafood gratin in crab shells, crispy fried chicken, abalone kailan and many more. What a pity this generation is growing up eating substandard banquet dinners. When I was a kid, I looked forward to those dinners because wedding banquets were special occasions thrown by parents to to fete their friends to the best money can buy. In those days, sharks fins were real and the ingredients were of top quality.

The Chinese restaurant in Winner Hotel has recently re-opened after renovation, and I was told that the food is very good. I agree with A, who directed me to Winner, that it is impossible to find a restaurant that serves Chinese-Cantonese food like the old days and Winner is probably the only one left. So with a lot of expectation, 12 of us dined at Winner last night.

I shall call this dinner The Good, The So-So and The Ugly.

The Good


This came steaming hot and the fish maw was flavorful while the soup was not too starchy. Like my FIL said, it was the best fish maw soup so far.


Crispy skin chicken. I could hear the crunch when Wey bit into the skin. Also, unlike many places where the chicken is precooked and re-fried, this was not so the meat was moist and tasty.


This was my favorite of the night, steamed white pomfret Teochew style. Although the pomfret was from the freezer not the tank, it didn't have that frozen smell and taste. The tomatoes, tamarind seeds, ja cai and all made the sauce slightly tangy and sweet while the fish was tender and smooth. Very well done.


Sabah veg with garlic, done nicely leaving the veg crunchy and delicious. As L's mom pointed out, this is a dish that can never be replicated at home, simple as it looks. I agree. Unless you have an inferno for a burner, you will end up with a plate of wet and soft stalks.

The So-So


The hot and cold platter was made up of good and bad appetisers. The jellyfish was good, not overly soaked with bicarb or whatever, the processed fish and prawn fingers were okay, I'm not sure about the duck, the salad prawns was tasteless except for the mayo and the sharks' fins scrambled egg was heavy and wet, ugh.


I am often wary of ordering braised pork leg because I have not eaten any that comes near to my MIL's. Again, I was disappointed. The leg was done soft and tender, which was good, but the taste was somehow 'just almost there'. It was like they either didn't use enough soy sauce or didn't sear it at the beginning. Wey, for whom I ordered this dish, was the first to eat it and he whispered to me, "There's a plastic flavor!" I took a bite and knew what he meant. It was really the flavor of Chinese rose wine, a wine that is so highly scented it can spoil a dish if you use more than say a teaspoon. I once stewed pork belly with an overdose of Chinese rice wine, and Wey made me promise to never cook that dish again. The rose wine Winner had used was lighter in flavor, but still, it was there and I think they should have used Shaoxin wine instead.


Maybe because I like my lotus leaf rice simple, with just the flavor of the lotus leaf infused in good rice, I didn't like Winner's version which had peas, carrots, corn niblets (that trio of frozen veg which spells cheap ingredients), Chinese sausages, ham and I don't know what else. It was like a bad fried rice in lotus leaf.

I really feel that the next dish is at the borderline, between so-so and ugly.


I was looking forward to taro ring with mixed veg, one of my favorite dishes and something I've tried cooking recently without satisfactory results. Winner's taro ring is just as bad as mine, edible but not impressive. A good taro ring should be light, lacy and crispy outside and the mash inside should be soft and tasty. Winner's taro ring has a tasty mash (but would've been better if the ring was thicker so that it'll taste 'meatier') but the exterior was not lacy and crunchy. What made the dish taste even worse was the mixed veg inside, a lapchap mix of baby corn, celery, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, chicken all cut too fine and made too jook (overwhelming in taste) by the addition of 5 spice powder and too much cornstarch.

The Ugly



The much awaited 8-jewel duck. This was a dish I hated as a child, but have grown to appreciate with time. I can do a pretty mean version, but the last time I did one was 15 years ago. The duck has to be deboned, seared and then steamed until even the bones are soft.

What was wrong with this dish? First of all, I will remember when I next cook this to turn the bird upside so that when diners dig into it, they will end up with a spoonful of duck skin, meat and some 'jewels'. This was served with the breast facing down, I think, so the first round for all of us was just skin and jewels. Because it wasn't particularly tasty, or because we were too full by then, nobody went for a second helping. The jewels in the duck were also not my kind of jewels. I didn't count the number of jewels, most of which were lotus seeds, cashew nuts (instead of chestnuts) and pork. I sure didn't taste any Chinese ham. But what really put us off was the ducky smell. I know it wouldn't be a duck without that smell, but it was quite strong and offensive. It reminded me of my goose down pillows which gave me horrible nights of imsomnia until I threw them away.

The total bill came to RM367/US$100 only, which was very cheap since the meal was for 12 diners. Winner doesn't add any tax or charge so rush there before they do. I will be back, but I will stick to certain dishes only.

Winner Hotel
Level 1
Kampung Air
Tel: (088) 243 224


Johnathan Oh said...

Wedding banquets in hotels are a definite no-no to me and my spouse! We made it a point to have ours in a restaurant, which receives good feedback such as "I like your wedding banquet best because the food is really good!". I am glad that people who are invited (had no choice) to my banquet and endure those long 2.5hrs can at least take joy in the food. I don't understand ppl that placed ambience over food quality... not to qualify ambience as it has to be of a certain standard, but to totally take it as a MUST-HAVE is truly inconsiderate.

lilblackdots said...

wow!that's very cheap n yummy..thanks for the review terri, i remember for my wedding banquet, most of the guests i don't know coz all were my parents friends!it was like my parents reunion dinner or

Precious Pea said...

I know what you mean and the hotels here charge exorbitant price for simply banquet dinner. I was told some hotels in kl city charging more than 2k per table serving what used to be the cheapest package.

I had plastic taste char siu this morning...too much rose wine! Hehehe.

masing-masing bah tu... said...

Any ideas on how to entertain the guests besides those "boring" slides? I enjoy reading about food, restaurants, prices but please don't mention about how people nowadays entertain their wedding guests with "boring" slides. You can never satisfy everyone in a wedding banquet. And its surely impossible to catch up a chat with everyone present, don't expect to be treated. Be thankful because the couple and their parents thought about you and invited you to share the joy of their life. While I enjoy reading your food blog, please don't criticise about the norm practice of entertaining wedding guest. Keep it within the exorbitant price of the hotel restaurants and not the hard work and $$$ of the people who put it up. Cheers!

Anonymous said...

i like this place. my family always come to winner for nearly every function. mother's day, father's day, birthdays whatsoevers. we liked it. the food and price is just decent enough.

terri@adailyobsession said...

johnathan: hear hear. i esp hate those wedding dinners of 100 tables tt not only serve the worst food but also take up 3.5 hours of my time.

lilblackdots:yes, wedding banquets r for parents. i rember my wedding banquet n how my dad threw my first batch of invites into the trash bc we fought over who to invite. he had old fashioned ideas n wanted to write 'mr & mrs wong & family'. Now each family on ave is about 5, so can you imagine how much we'd have to pay??

but i do understand tt parents take the occasion with a lot of 'face' n they should be given due respect after raising their kids n enduring them for over 20 years!

pp: wah, tt's expensive. it's ok if the food's good but most times the hotels give the teeniest amount of yukky food. u come home n have to eat maggi ya.

masing masing: if banquets r kept smaller, then there can be pre-dinner drinks where ppl can mill arnd n chat b4 the's one idea.

hey, my wedding dinner was boring too but i'm not going to say nice things about stupid practices. if it's bad it's bad. u obviously r new to this blog bc u shd know by now, i call a spade a spade, not a cangkul. there r lots of other blogs tt can give u restaurant reviews w/o any opinion on other things but this one is frm an opinionated lady. u know where to find the sugar-coated blogs. cheers!

mummy.t said...

Reading your blog makes my day :)It makes me happy n i usually can learn something new from it, be it a recipe, an advice, a lesson abt life etc. Cheers, Terri :)

Jo said...

Good as always!:) I will definitely check out some of the places you mentioned when I go back this Summer.

zurin said...

I totally agree bout weddings these days....they have become a complete pain in the....put us all together with people we dont know and u get double dose. n the food is never the highlight n always the worst part of everything n do all that in the searing heat of the midday sun and its hell.. LOLOLOL

btw Terri,

when u take all those pics of the food at restaurants do u have to ask permission first or do you just do it? Im always afraid of being told off if I take pics.

zurin said...

PS: My wedding was probably a pain in well, come to think of it. slides though thnak God!

Anonymous said...

I'd rather look at slides than make small talk with unknown people in the same table!

Angie R said...

The crispy chicken really looks yummy, and the Sabah veg with garlic too! I wonder where I can find this authentic Malaysian food in Singapore!

Terri you blog here is one of the best food blog. :-) Angie

Anonymous said...

Thanks again Terri for sharing another review and in short trying out so many dishes for us. Save us a lot of head scratchings over what to eat in this particular restaurant. One of the most daunting task is going through the menu and trying to suss out what are the right dishes to eat in a particular place. Now that you have summed it up so nicely, we can just sit down and order right away.

My friend took me there once. I didn't know they have set lunches for weekdays. It's quite good value for a simple lunch. Not sure if this offer is still valid after the recent renovation.

(As for wedding dinners, ditto the feeling is mutual). I'll rather save the money and go for a nice honeymoon. Saves a lot of hassle.

Anyway, keep cooking, keep reviewing and don't stop blogging.


Anonymous said...

Another great review.. "Keepin' in Reall!!" :)

Big Boys Oven said...

well hotel's banquet can be expensive due to setting and not the food, I prefer restaurant as they are affordable and food can be fantastic!

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JACQ said...

I missed Borneo Hotel too! That was my favourite restaurant when I was a child lol!

I've yet to eat here at this restaurant. It's been such a long since I was there last. Thanks for reminding me of this place Terri :)

Anonymous said...



terri@adailyobsession said...

mummy t: cheers, n have a fun happy day!
p.s. giving advice is a sign of old age *sigh*

jo: oh dear, there's nothing much to eat in kk except for ngew chap!

zurin: i think we shd get together over coffee! i don't ask, but i've been told off once in singapore; he said i shd've asked him. in china too, in a hotel restaurant the lady told me not to take photos . pfttt! i find tt if i whip out the big cam, ppl get nervous so a small digital cam is best in those situations:(

anon: hm, i know. some ppl will only give a monoword n the conversation goes nowhere.

angie r: thanx, u made my day.

n: but ppl tell me i'm too picky so many u need to give some allowance...on the other hand, i'd love for ppl to be more picky n discriminating about what they eat esp outside since hygiene, quality n expenses must be considered.agree?

anon: thanx, will always keep it 'real'!

bbo: high 5, sunny!

vincent: thanx

jacq: during borneo hotel days, u weren't old enough to chew!

anon:this looks like a spam?

Superman said...

That's really cheap and nice food. How's the hotel? Plan to stay there when I visit KK in Jun 09.

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