Monday, August 27, 2012

Alu Alu Restaurant

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.

Meal 1:

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, RM16 12. It tasted decent, not oily or loaded with msg but seriously, RM16 12 for this little portion?

The lunch for 4 was RM106. Pretty stiff I'd say, for 4 small simple dishes.

Meal 2:

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.

Meal 3:

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. 


The Yum List said...

That must be frustrating to not have restaurants that you love in your hometown. Maybe it's time you opened your own? :-)

Anonymous said...


I'm the supplier of all farmed fish to Alu Alu cafe. Just wanted to let you know that our fishes are not fed any chemical or growth hormones. Its purely fed FISH that we get from SAFMA. Please check out our website for more information.

We also do home deliveries whereby we clean,scale and gut the fish for you and send it straight to your doorstep!

Thank you for visiting Alu Alu cafe and your kind review.


``Felicia Kok. said...

Selamat Hari Raya!
Do visit me for pre-loved and new items for sale!

Anonymous said...

Sad ....we used to have such nice chinese food during those heydays when there were proper chinese chefs from HK working in the hotels.. Don't think we can get them coming to cook in KK so readily.

Nowadays, I turn to cooking blogs like yours and you tube and do my own home cooking. I also refer to reviews from local bloggers and try out new eateries.

Not sure if you have tried this restaurant in 1Borneo. Would be good to get your review. I have tried it but have not much idea or taste of authentic Sichuan cooking.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your statement on the food scene in KK. Yes many older establishments may not be as great as they used to be, yet they have stood the test of time and age and still have their loyal patrons. On the other hand as of late there have been so many new food outlets popping up in kk (some very well received, some not). Point is, i believe the local food scene is still great and rapidly growing with a better coverage of both the traditional Eastern, Western and even Fusion cuisine. I have no problems taking guests around to eat (more often not enough time to show everything we got). Perhaps you need to go out and explore a lil bit more and checkout our local media to update yourself :)


Fooman said...

Yeah, dining in KK can be a mixed bag when it comes to restaurants. I find that consistency over the long run can be a challenge for many places. The coffee shops tend to do better in that regard.

There are a few places I usually bring out of town guests to.

Will try Alu Alu this week.

terri@adailyobsession said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
terri@adailyobsession said...

Yumlist: there's so much to do when you hv a restaurant. It'd be hard if the cook also has to be the owner-manager. Too much work. maybe if i am younger. no, not even when i'm younger! i prefer to eat n critic haha.

Ec: frm what i know, like farmed chicken, farmed fish are raised on fish meal in pellets form esp when young, and if the population density is high, a lot of antibiotics are needed to keep the fish from getting various diseases. Let's hope this is not the case with the fish in alu alu. i do eat farmed fish in restaurants. it's hard to get wild fish now. prawns from the high seas are even harder to get. most prawns we get are farmed:(
You r welcome, n thnx for your info:) i like the KISS cooking style but not the stingy portion...

Foodilover: yeah, those who hv been to those old kk chinese restaurants know what i'm talking about. places like nam hing, winner hotel (not the winner now, no!), borneo hotel et al. those tt came later, king hu, n even supertanker, or the new ones like fisherman's n so on hv changed their cooks so many times tt the food they serve now is a shadow of what used to be served. *sigh* so yes, cook at home bc really, more n more of my friends are telling me tt even their kids, who used to love eating out, now prefer home cooked food!
i've seen the add for liya early this year. they do sichuan hot pot right? i MUST go there soon, thnx for reminding!

anon: which old establishment is still good? seriously, i'd like to know bc i cant think of any! last month i brought some hk relatives to a seafood restaurant in inanam n it was awful, embarrassing! then another time, it was another seafood restaurant with yet another relative frm HK n he said "pity, kk has fresh seafood but no good cooks!" recently i was at a seafood rest. in asiacity n a couple of ppl frm china (didnt know them) asked me why the seafood prices are the same as in china; they thought the prices'll be lower since we export seafood.
i dont eat out as much anymore but i still do so at least a few times a week. fyi, i was one of 3 judges for the KK Food Festival in March this year (didnt annonce it here bc i wanted anonymity:)) and had to eat thru 30 restaurants in 2 weeks. yes, there are some good restaurants out there but just a handful. the good ones are the western n fusion ones (i did say in this post tt i'm lamenting about the chinese restaurants)n some young ppl who hv trained overseas r back to bring up the standards, so yay. but chinese restauarnts? i dont' mean chinese restaurants in hotels (too pricey for me) or those small cafe type restaurants. i mean sit down, sort of banquet dinner resturants. which are the ones you like?

fooman: see comment above n answer me fooman. i really want to know:)

terri@adailyobsession said...

the other thing i've noticed about kk restaurants is the chefs/cooks in western food restaurants r more passionate about their cooking. why is that?

Anonymous said...

Terri: Our fishes are not fed any antibiotics as our farm is placed in brackish water (sea meet river) conditions having constant change of sea water. We grade our fish regularly and seperate them according to sizes to avoid over-crowding hence we rarely get hit by diseases. Our farm has also been awarded the GOOD AQUACULTURE PRACTICE CERTIFICATE by the Department of Fisheries and I believe we're the only one in Sabah that has been given this cert.

I must point out that the fishes you get in Alu Alu Cafe might just be the closest you'll get to wild caught fish. We do not rare prawns due to the fact that we cant get them 'organically' cultured.

Thank you for your time.

EC - dedicated farmer with passion

Winston said...

Oh!!! Some hits and misses there but would still definitely love to try next time I'm back. And I totally share the same sentiments with you about food scene in KK. The number of times I've gotten disappointed or lost faith in places I once had such high hopes for is unbearable. Never sure where to eat anymore! But, then again, each time I'm back it's less about the food and more about the quality time with friends and family so I never mind as much anymore. Hope all is well on your end!! =)

Yolly said...

Terri, I totally agreed with you. Used to eat in the old establishment when we were young. Nowaday, look at the cook, I once ordered preserved veg with braised pork. Informed the manager , but insisted that was the real thing, even after asking the cook. That dish is a Hakka dish but some other Chinese telling the true blood that she was wrong. I wanted to bring the real thing to the restaurant but stopped by my hubby.

Anonymous said...

I come back to KK every few years and on my recent visit early this year, I found everything disappointing , so different than before. One more reason not to come back.

Fooman said...

Yeah, I think KK has fresh ingredients, but chinese restaurant cooking tends to be 'rough' when compared to KL, HK, etc.

Here are a few places I bring out of town guests. Not all Chinese restaurant banquet style though.

King Hu is good for fast, tasty meals on the way to the airport.

Dowish restaurant in Penampang for sea food. It has the occasional miss but I order selective dishes and keep the captain under control from not foisting high value dishes on us.

The Taiwan Porridge place in Beverly is a requested repeat for my out of town friends.

Menggatal Ngiu Chap in Menggatal or Inanam.

Fish noodles in Damai or Hill top. The new one in Towering was pretty good but seems perpetually closed now.

Super Tanker is an oldie but food there is still good.

Had a few good dinners at Makanan Sedap in hilltop a couple months ago.

For western, there's Little Italy & Chubs.

For dessert, its Party Play, but I think you need to see which outlet Dominic is paying attention to at the moment.

For something different, Moon Bell.

Fook Yuen for bread in Damai.

Shan Fu in Sembulan is a greasy joint but I like the Tuaran Mien, Wong Chau Kai and soups there.

And yes, Larry & Vince Farmstay has great food, provided you get past the mozzies. Hahah

Fooman said...

Gonna bring my parents to Alu Alu tonight. Any place you go to 3 times in 10 days can't be bad. Haha

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri, what you wrote is so true of KK restaurants. I, like you, also find it hard to choose where to eat nowadays. Just the other day, we were up late just trying to figure out where to take our guests for dinner the next day. After much thought, we end up in Equatorial Restaurant in Tanjung Aru Plaza. We have not been there for quite sometime for the same quality down, small portion, poor service but that day, we had some good food. Maybe they have a new cook? I will always try to choose a restaurant that have a reasonably clean kitchen..clean chopping board, and those that dont serve my food on plastics, whatever its grade.

Please let me ask a question to EC about the farmed if the fish are not fed antibiotics, what exactly do you feed them with? I mean what exactly are those pellets made of? Also, do you check the brackish water(sea meet river)? Many rivers that run into the sea are so dirty and polluted!
Hope you dont mind me asking. Thanks very much!

Tina U.

Anonymous said...

Terri, when I read your comments about the Thai restaurant that you went to in S'pore they charge so much for the claypot mung bean noodle with crab...I want to relate to you what I experienced in a chinese restaurant here.
We went to the chinese restaurant in D'junction near to Lido, in Penampang. There were 5 of us and we ordered, fish bladder soup-taste of aji and the fried fish bladder was hard and smelt of 'old' oil, half steamed farm-reared chicken which was skinny, prawns which was small and tasteless, 2 pcs of steamed cod-fish-thinly sliced-not much aroma of the fish and 2 type of veges with no dessert. When the bill came, it amounted to about RM550+. As usual I checked the details of the bill..RM70 for the soup, around RM 70 also for the chicken and prawn and now hear this... RM280 for the 2 thin slices of cod-fish which was stated 1kg! My goodness, how can 2 thin slices of this fish weighed 1 kg? I called the waiter and asked...he said..let me check and came back with a new bill of RM450+ saying that they weighed the fish wrongly and the new weight is 700gms. I called the captain and she went into the kitchen to check and came out telling us thats the correct weight. I just cant believe that the fish weighed 700gms! We end up paying as we didnt have a choice. What a rip-off! As I looked around us, there were only 3 other tables that were occupied. So different from what it was used to be.
Lessons: Never order cod-fish in any restaurant. If you want to, ask them how much and tell them how many gms you want.
Hope to be wiser next time.

Tina U.

Fooman said...

Ate at Alu Alu last night. Had the fish head yam clay pot which was pretty good. Yes the portions are small and its pricier but the ingredients were fresh and the cooking more refined than your typical place.

Time for more food exploration

Anonymous said...

Tina: Our fishes are not fed pellets. We feed them feeder fish (eg: basung) that we get from the markets. So we feed them pure fish. No made up pellets or anything artificial.

Our farm is located in Kg. Serusop, Tuaran. Marine fish such as groupers and snappers need to be cultured in very clean and constant water change in order to survive. In addition to that, I do not feed any of my fishes antibiotics therefore making my farm's water even cleaner than first thought.

Please check out our website and order now for a fresh fish right at your doorstep!

EC - dedicated farmer with passion

Anonymous said...

I like that dedicated farmer. =)

Anonymous said...

Hi EC, thanks for your reply and kind explaination. So happy to find a man who cares for consumers more than his pocket. Keep up your good job and passion.I will go soonest and eat your fish in Alu Alu one of these days. Thanks again.
Tina U.

terri@adailyobsession said...

winston: i am good; how r u? i think many of us have this nostalgic longing for food we ate growing up so we long for it esp when we are away frm home. but yes, it's friends n family tt makes kk food bearable:D

yolly: haha i can see you telling the guy off. i think since u travel so much, it's even more obvious to you how bad the food is here now.

fooman: king hu--their dishes r not like b4 n i hate the chipped soup bowls. their goutie r half their previous size n sometimes taste of rancid lard. but i do still go there, it's till better than most places.

i used to love moon bell but i suspect the chef has left bc the dishes dont look or taste the same n their portions have shrunk to half the size before, esp the windstorm chicken:(

i ate at chubbs once, and tt was it for me. the steak n was so tenderized it had no flavor. typical local version of western food, looks like it but not it.

not been to dowish in years so i'll give it a try soon.

agree with you about party play.

taiwan porridge, yes, menggatal ngiu chap yes, fook yuen yes but only the one in damai's really good..count me out on supertanker. make tt me n yi. then again we hv avaoided the place for years. maybe time to try it again. but if you had to bring visitors for dinner, where would you go? we used to go to promenade's chinese restaurant but we go so often we got sick of the food.

tina: oh equatorial's quality has dropped like years ago. we nvr go there anymore. what a rip off on the cod fish! sounds like they fleeced you guys by inflating the weight esp since they changed the weight when you complained. i think it's not just cod fish but for any item, ask. even in front of visitors, i ask. smtimes we dont ask bc we dont want to appear too concerned about the price but have you noticed how waiters always ask you if you want the most expensive items--lobsters, tiger prawns--in front of your guests, making it hard for you to ask for smthing cheaper? i dont fall for tt, i ignore their lobsters n order within my budget. someone i know ate a rm3000 fish in a seafood restaurant near the old wharf years ago. it was a 'mouse grouper'. they argued until police were called in. in the end, the price of the fish was reduced to rm1000. what a shock. so two things we must do 1) ask b4 ordering 2) check the bill. i always do both but tt time in singapore, i thought how much can crabs cost right. well now i know. i comfort myself tt they didnt seve us alaskan king crabs or some fancy crabs tt cost much more!

Anonymous said...

Hi Terri,
We did ask how much for the cod-fish and was told RM28 per 100gm and we thought 2 slices would not be that heavy..maybe 300 to 400gms. We ordered that bc wanted dad to have it as it was quite delicious the last time we had it somewhere else.
Thanks for the good advice.
Btw, tonight, we(5 of us), went to Equatorial again and oh I wish I didnt. The food different from the last time we were there. We ordered yam ring this time but it was oily and soggy and cost me RM45for a small one like the size of a small soup bowl. The pork ribs were too sweet, the ginger fish was fish taste, the claypot tofu, mixed vege..nothing special. Sigh...enough for a long time to come!
Also this afternoon, we went to Alu Alu for lunch and ordered the fish head/yam claypot and organic vege. I asked for a mix of fish slices and head. It was yummy but the fish pieces were coated with too much cornstarch and fried, we hardly could taste the sweetness of their so-called 'organic' fish..what a waste. Also the yam was cut into such a small cubes that we could hardly taste its flavor. Anyway, next time, I think we will order the same thing without the cornstarch and bigger yam size. Agreed with you about the vege.
Enjoying your blog as usual.
Tina U.

Fooman said...

My parents like to take friends to King Hu. I also bring friends there on the way or from their flights.

Was at Moon Bell a few weeks ago. Food was still good but yeah, portions are on small side.

For seafood I bring friends to Dowish. I don't seem to go for seafood unless friends are in town. There are several 'safe' dishes I order which I know will keep people happy. 'Sapak' Clam soup, Asam steamed fish- great with man tou, steam prawns, Tung Fung loh, Crab steamed with coconut water, deep fried kangkung, claypot crab rice, mantis prawn (which is $$$$$ these days), coconut pudding. Fish steaming ability has varied :(

Also used to bring people to Equatorial but last visit was meh.

Makanan Sedap has potential as a place to bring guests. Ate there a few times. Lamb, and Yam Ring was quite good.

Taiwan Porridge place is more down scale but I get repeat requests from friends when they're in town.

Chubs has expanded their menu. They should just stick with their original menu or chicken, lamb, pork.

Ellen@katomcom said...

Great, now I am hungry ;-)

The fish looks delicious. I could eat some of that right now.

I don't understand why the quality of the food would slip. Perhaps chefs really are cutting corners to save money, as you have said. It's not good. The fact that both the quality and the quantity of the noodles that are being served has dropped serves to confirm this. Usually a bowl of noodles is one of the cheapest things you can get when you go out to eat.

I hope that Alu Alu will maintain the quality of their dishes so that customers can continue to speak well of them.

Restaurants in delhi said...

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