Neighbourwood – intriguingly inventive in serving European cuisine with an Asian twist
When the MICHELIN Guide Kuala Lumpur and Penang 2023 was launched, Neighbourwood was listed as one of the Bib Gourmand establishments, along with 16 others in Penang. Located a stone's throw away from the iconic Minor Basilica of St. Anne in Bukit Mertajam, Neighbourwood serves delectable European dishes with an Asian flare including char-grilled choices.
The listing in the guide piqued my interest. Thus, when Ms Cindy Lee, a good friend of mine who has dined at Neighbourwood on countless occasions, suggested that my family and I make a trip over from the island to Bukit Mertajam, I was just happy to do so. She organised an exclusive dinner and left it to Chef Sean Khaw to arrange a memorable evening. We also had the pleasure of Ms Dorothy Wang with us that evening.
We brought along two bottles of award-winning Voché Reserva (Mundus Vini 2019 Gold Medal and Berliner Wein Trophy 2019 Gold Medal) to accompany the meal. This delicious Spanish red wine releases its titillating aromas when ample time is given for it to breathe. The well-structured wine has velvety tannins with a long aftertaste reminiscent of ripe fruit, licorice and spicy hints. It was such a faithful companion to have it with us along our culinary adventure at Neighbourwood.
To start off the meal in an unforgettable way, we had a parade of not one or two but six appetisers! Petit cupcake-shaped croissants, warm and flaky on the outside, were soft and buttery on the inside. These little "jewels" were the ideal way to whet our appetite.
Next was a thin crispy biscuit-like base spread with anchovy cream and topped with spring onion, tobiko and dill. It was another beautifully presented creation that was gone too soon.
The next item to arrive at the table was a popular favourite, cold capellini perfumed with the unmistakable aroma of truffles, topped with spring onions and tobiko. I love truffles because of its unique ability to amplify and intensify the flavours of a dish. The distinct umami flavour was simply exquisite!
The tender chicken wingettes, marinated with a variety of spices including Jamaican peppers, were grilled to perfection. The aromatic and smoky flavours hit our senses as we enjoyed them all too much.
After the wingettes, we had a zesty fennel and orange salad. Surprisingly, lying silently at the bottom of the bowl were freshly cured salmon pieces, waiting to be discovered. The delicate flavours and sweet orange made this a wonderfully refreshing salad.
A deshelled tiger prawn, with its head and tail intact, was grilled over flaming charcoal. The dish was served with asparagus and an apple mustard sauce. The succulent prawn had a distinct smoky aroma and was well complemented by the lovely sauce. This dish concluded a truly satisfying procession of appetisers and shared items that we gleefully tucked away.
By then, although we were already quite full, the tempting main course was not to be missed! Grilled buttery cod marinated with miso topped a bed of al dente riso cooked with mushrooms. Wilted baby spinach added a splash of green to the plate.
Riso, which is commonly used in soups and salads, had been creatively used by Chef Sean in this dish. At first glance, I had the impression that it was a risotto and was glad I was mistaken. A thick, creamy and heavy risotto would have made this dish very rich and unforgivably hearty.
To balance the richness of the cod, an offering of balsamic eggplant with pork belly was served on the side. This truly illustrates that Chef Sean had carefully thought through to curate an enticing menu for the evening. He was also gracious to drop by the table to introduce every dish.
By then, although we were bursting at the seams, we had somehow saved some room for desserts. We each had a unique milk tart dusted with cinnamon powder. The buttery shell held an almost custard-life filling which was as light as clouds. This was the first for me!
Freshly baked citrus madeleines were served with a dollop of chantilly cream. I took one bite into a warm piece and it hit all the right notes, stretching a huge smile on my face. It was just too good to describe in words. You will just have to make your way to Neighbourwood to truly taste "happiness".
The theatre-style kitchen enables diners the privilege to see first hand how their meals are prepared. The sights, sounds and aromas, wafting from the kitchen, add a dynamic chemistry to the vibrant dining experience. To boot, the attentive staff are also warm and friendly.
Along with his dedicated team, the young and highly talented Chef Sean outdid themselves. His stints at two Michelin-star restaurants in Singapore have gone a long way to sharpen his culinary skills. With over a decade of experience in the culinary world, he is poised to shine even brighter. Having a glass of wine with him, I soon realise that this humble man cooks with pure passion, a vital ingredient for success and longevity in business. I look forward to my next visit to sample more of his creations.
To keep things anew, special items are added to the menu from time to time.
As you are leaving, consider buying a loaf of sourdough bread or other baked items that are all prepared in-house.
PS: A big thank you to Dato' Sri Dr. Ooi and Ms Cindy for the memorable dinner.
3427, Jalan Kulim, Taman Bukit Mas, 14000 Bukit Mertajam, Penang.
Tel: +6012-903 0862
Open: 11:30 am - 3:00 pm, 6:00 pm - 10:30 pm except Tuesdays and Wednesdays
Written and photographed by Adrian Cheah
© All rights reserved
17 February 2023