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Mar 13, 2006 10:58 PM

Langkawi, Malaysian in San Mateo

  • k

We went to Langkawi tonight. It's new, Malaysian, in the Marina Plaza, where Banyan Gardens was.
They are still getting it together -- opened Friday. Just taking cash now because they are having trouble with the credit card machinery.
It was good but not great. They were nice.
We had:
Lo bak -- good except the pickled ginger had an off flaver.
Hokkien Mee -- yellow noodles in a brown sauce with a very few vegetables, a few shrimp and calimari pieces. I think there was part of a scallop too. Tasty. Not spectacular.
Rendang lamb -- very good flavor, cut with a fork. A bit chewy, but I like it that way.
steamed rice -- What can I say?
Mango with sticky rice for dessert -- "a six on a scale of ten" Joyce says. It's a favorite of ours, so we may be overcritical.
"jasmine tea" -- I put the quotes because it didn't taste anything like jasmine tea. It had a strange flavor, like the water was bad (I thought it was metallic, Joyce thought it tasted like iodine), but it wasn't the water, because the water in the glasses tasted fine.
$42.55 before tip
Not bad, but we hope they improve because they seemed very nice, and we can walk there.

[anyone who was on my email list previously please email me -- my computer crashed and I lost everything.]

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  1. We just went to the Langkawi for lunch - it took over the previous Malaysian restaurant, Banyan Garden which was OK, adequate, but nothing to write home about. (It was supposedly run by the Marina folks (Indonesian Chinese?) and their authenticity left something to be desired)

    Instead we found that not only did it have a name change but it was a different restaurant under new management. The owner, a Mr. Yong, is from Ipoh and his family does the cooking.

    The difference when you have a native Malaysian doing the cooking is palpable - I don't want to sound prejudiced, but this is the truth - for example, the food standard at Shiok and Straits Cafe have plummeted ever since they handed over cooking duties to Hispanic cooks.

    We started with the satay, chicken and beef - roasted to perfection, slightly charred but succulent when you bite into it. The satay sauce is a little thin but the meat is so good it doesn't need the sauce to enhance it. No ketupat (rice cake) - but these are hard to make! Only the now defunct Raffles Cafe in Fremont had them - just weaving the bundles together using coconut leaves is a dying art!

    We followed this with a scrambled-egg chow fun (wat-tan-hor-fun) and it was as close to the genuine thing from SE Asia. The noodle was nicely charred with the 'breath of the wok' but still crunchy - and the egg sauce slathered over everything was very tasty - just enough garlic, but not overdone.

    The char kuay teow was good - it's different from Penang or Singaporean kuay teow, but still very good. My wife had this - so I really couldn't comment as I had a couple of bites off it.

    Langkawi was a pleasant surprise and we will go back again to check out other items on the menu. It's been a good couple of months since they started and they seem to have gotten their act together. We went there on a Monday and the restaurant was about 90% filled.

    I'm from SE Asia and I can say that the Langkawi is nearly as good as the Banana Leaf in Milpitas, maybe not as versatile. Just chat up Mr. Yong and tell him you are a fan of Malaysian food!

    3 Replies
    1. re: sanjuro333

      Agreed. Once a kitchen decides it's more important to hire an inexpensive cook than a good one, the quality often declines. Genuine SE Asian cooking is still practically unknown in the US, so most cooks have no idea what it's supposed to taste like. Then again, most customers have no idea either. So I suppose it doesn't really matter who's doing the cooking if most of your customers don't know what to expect either.

      My wife is Malaysian, and I lived in SE Asia for 10 years. Malay food is not difficult to make, but the cook has to know what it's supposed to taste like and what the traditional ingredients are. If not, then it's what we call "silly food".

      1. re: sanjuro333

        >the food standard at Shiok and Straits Cafe have plummeted ever since they handed over cooking duties to Hispanic cooks<

        That may explain my several-years-ago very good experiences at Straits in SF, with a Malasian-born-and-bred person along who also thought it was very good, and the pretty poor recs Straits has received on this forum.

        1. re: Mick Ruthven

          When Chris Yeo was at the helm of the kitchen some 10 years ago at the SF straits, the food was brilliant. Since the Palo Alto restaurant opened, he did work a few times in that kitchen then left as the Burlingame, Santanna Row, and Sino opened. I still wonder if he works in any of those kitchens, or spends most of his time at Sino. I dare say that he's probably more into the business side than cooking nowadays, and perhaps working on the next venture, much like a startup CEO.

          Langkawi sounds like it has some potential, I hope to check it out sometime soon.

      2. Actually, I had a different experience in Langkawi. My wife and I loved the Hainanese chicken rice served at Banyan Garden, but when that restaurant was taken over and changed to Langkawi, we had the most horrible Hainanese chicken rice (very small chicken pieces, overcooked chicken, and the rice was quite tasteless) plus another Westernized vegetable dish that put us off Langkawi altogether. Langkawi appeared to us like a very mediocre family-run business. Sorry, I just cannot recommend Langkawi to any friend.

        5 Replies
        1. re: robleong

          Sorry you had a bad experience rob, but you should give the other dishes a chance. Hainanese chicken rice is not really a Malaysian dish, as it is a Singaporean dish, and most of the Malaysian restaurants in the Bay Area don't do it justice.

          You might want to try the Prima Restaurant in San Jose ( for more Singaporean-style food that is genuine (and better than Shiok or Straits Cafe).

          For a good and easy chicken rice recipe, check out

          1. re: sanjuro333

            Hey thanks for the tip on Prima and the link to the Hainanese chicken rice recipe. It sounds very similar to Violet Oon's recipe on the FoodTV website. I do agree with Rob on the chicken rice at Langkawi but wouldnt rule it out based on one or two dishes. I thought the Char Kueh Teow was very good as well. I am not sure it is fair to say that Hainanese chicken rice is not a Malaysian dish and by extension only a Singaporean will get it right. I've had my fair share of excellent chicken rice in KL & Ipoh. You are certainly right that it is difficult to find really good chicken rice here in the Bay Area (can't wait for Old Town Singapore Cafe to open in November!) I remember the best version I had in terms of both chicken and rice was Raffles Cafe in Fremont. I was quite crestfallen when they closed and has apparently not reopened. Hey, Rob - I promise one of these days we will get together and have a chicken rice cooking session! In the meantime, I have to make a few dry runs and try to get it perfect.

            1. re: dolcetto

              Ha! I've been back to Langkawi a few months ago, and yes, the other dishes weren't nearly as bad, but still weren't quite up to par. The satay chicken I had consisted of strung-out slivers of chicken compared to chunks of chicken meat in other Malaysian restaurants. I guess you won't see me in Langkawi very much. Dolcetto, have you perfected your Hainanese Chicken rice yet? If so, call me over! ;)

              1. re: robleong

                Hey Rob - let's see. A year and a half later, I still don't have it quite right yet. Yimster claims to have done it to perfection so I will have to invite him over one of these days and have a chicken cook-off...and you'll be the judge of course.

          2. re: robleong

            I'm with you on this one. Langkawi was acceptable a while back when they first opened, but our last experience was mediocre (other than the satay skewers which I felt were authentic tasting). When we tried to request dark meat (or at least thigh) for the chicken for the Hainan Chicken Rice and for some reason ended up with fewer pieces. The chicken rice receipe tasted nothing like what I had in Singapore or even some of the best in Hong Kong.

            I'd say something is very different about this chicken dish in the Bay Area. I find that most Malaysian and Singaporean/Malaysian restaurants here love to drown the chicken in soy sauce, whereas in Singapore and Hong Kong (as well as local HK style cafe places) use a poached chicken that resembles yellow steamed chicken, with chili and a prepped soy based sauce on the side. The idea is that the chicken already has a lot of good flavor by itself and should stay yellow and tender from the poach (or steam). The rice should be a nice golden yellow and not brown (like at Langkawi). Cantonese preps of HCR come with a bowl of (old fire/slow cooked) soup of the day, which is a nice touch for Cantonese food fans.

          3. link

            Langkawi Malaysia Cuisine
            2946 S Norfolk St, San Mateo, CA 94403