This was my second visit to Tian Lai 天来 Seafood in Gelang Patah. Tian Lai was the last (and eighth stop) of our whole day food trail which started since 6:30am.
David, who was visiting from the USA wanted to have crabs. I decided on Tian Lai 天来 because of their consistency. My last visit was over a year ago and I have been hearing consistently good feedback about Tian Lai.
When we arrived at Tian Lai, it seemed that not much have changed at this old restaurant. Parking is street side and a challenge, perhaps because it was a Friday evening.
The restaurant was brightly lit, with an indoor section, outdoor section and also an air conditioned section. Ambiance was rustic kampong style, except for the beer posters, décor was non existent but the whole place is very clean and well kept.
Service was like your typical zhi char 煮炒 restaurant in Singapore or Malaysia. The busy staff were alert and responsive. They were quite patient while we took a bit of time to decide what to eat.
Price of crab is, of course, seasonal. Tonight, it was RM100 per kilo. Each crab was around 1 kg in weight. The crabs were local i.e. from the mangroves around Johor. Many people actually prefer Johor crabs, considering them sweeter than the Sarawak/ Sabah or Sri Lankan variety.
We ordered a 1 kilo crab and asked for it to be cooked in black pepper style. We also ordered sambal kangkung.
Both our sambal kangkung and black pepper crab came together piping hot after about 15 minutes, despite the crowd.
The sambal kangkung was very well executed. The greens were well cleaned - there was not a trace of sand or dirt, whatsoever. The greens were fresh and crunchy, it's colours still vibrant - cooked just nice with a slight spring remaining. The savoury, spicy sambal was very mild. The flavour of the kangkung was complemented rather than overpowered by the sambal. This humble dish was very well done by Tian Lai.
We ordered only one crab because we were already quite full from the day's food trail. David and Karen were also down to their last couple of hundred ringgit and they would not let me chip in to help pay for the dinner.
The crab arrived in a not very pretty heap. The chef had cooked the chopped up crab and dumped it all unceremoniously in a topsy turvy pile without any garnishing or arrangements on a well used plastic plate.
But, the moment our taste buds met the black pepper sauce we were wowed by it's slightly spicy and buttery taste. The juicy crab meat was refreshing and sweet. The crab was literally finger licking good.
Midway through the black pepper crab, I suggested that we get another kilo, this time cooked in chili crab style. The agreement was unanimous and in an instant.
Again, the chili crab came in an unphotogenic heap bathed in an uninviting looking orangey brownish colour gravy.
The large meaty claw of our chili crab (though the flesh wasn't fully filled out).
The crab was again juicy, refreshing and cooked just right. The chili gravy was savoury, slightly sweet, tangy and only mildly spicy.
We wiped the gravy with the buns and I actually ate several spoonfuls of the gravy by itself.
When the bill came, we were happy that it was well within our estimated budget. Our total bill with drinks came to RM175.
I had another pleasing experience at Tian Lai 天来.
My third visit turned out a little differently - not as delicious and more expensive <- click
Restaurant name: Tian Lai 天来 Seafood Garden
Address: 158, Jalan Leong Bee, Gelang Patah, Johor Bahru, Johor
GPS: 1.447316, 103.588199
Hours: 12:00 noon to 11:00pm (Closed on alternate Mondays)
Date visited: 7 Oct 2012, 17 Jan 2014
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