In Johor Bahru, we can find little chef owned restaurants that serve premium dishes, expertly executed, provide comfortable environment and charge reasonable prices. These restaurants' main clientele are families and are located in residential areas. Zhen Wei 珍味阁海鲜 in Setia Indah is near to Jusco Tebrau shopping centre and Austin Heights Golf and Country Club.
Owner chef Ah Xiong 阿雄 started his culinary career as a kitchen help in KL from his early teens. Now 33, Ah Xiong was the sous chef at New Lucky before striking out on his own by opening Zhen Wei 珍味阁.
Ah Xiong 阿雄 was brought up in the old school of cooking and still insists on making his own sauces and dishes from scratch instead of resorting conveniently to industrial compounds and ready made pre-mixes.
Ah Xiong started us off with one of his signature appetisers. Admittedly not for everyone, I love this Fresh Clams with Sauce (RM15 nett).
It's a shallow mound of crunchy pink fresh blood cockles laid on a bed of fried shredded ginger and slathered with a chilled savoury sweet sauce. A squeeze of fresh lime gives it a tangy zest. The cockles were very well cleaned and all we tasted was the fresh si ham's unique flavour.
Fried Cuttlefish (RM20 nett). Skilfully browned to taste like grilled cuttlefish but moist, with it's natural flavours in the juicy spongy white flesh intact.
Ah Xiong's house made savoury spicy sambal chili and his sour salty plum sauce were also excellent. I normally do not use dips as I like to taste the seafood's natural flavours but Ah Xiong's sauces do add a nice little kick to the dish.
Zhen Wei is well known for their Giant Grouper fish 龍躉 dishes. Giant Grouper is cooked many ways, Ah Xiong let us try the fish braised in a fermented tofu sauce served in a claypot (RM48 nett). (Next time, I want to try a steamed Giant Grouper dish.)
Eating Giant Grouper is mainly about the thick spongy gelatinous skin. Looks a bit like sea cucumber but Giant Grouper absorbs flavours a bit better and is lighter, softer (not mashy) to the bite. The layered savoury flavours come from the fermented tofu based braising sauce.
Visiting a seafood restaurant must of course taste their crab dishes ;-D Zhen Wei gets their crabs live from Indonesia.
We had our crab done with salted egg yolk, the most popular flavour at the moment (besides black pepper). This crab weighed in at 750 grams and the dish cost RM110 nett.
The salted egg yolk sauce was smooth and well balanced between sweet and savoury. The crab tasted like it was still alive with flavours of the sea still in it's juicy bouncy ivory white flesh.
The salted egg yolk sauce was so good, we mopped it all up with fried buns.
Ah Xiong is proud of his char kway teow 鲜蚶炒果条. Fried in lard so it has lots of wok hei 鑊氣 and it is garnished with fresh blood cockles (si ham) done pink. This well executed fried kway teow in an air con restaurant at street hawker price (RM8 nett) - get your lardy CKT with pink si ham fix here.
->> Good food and cosy family friendly ambiance at reasonable prices at Zhen Wei seafood.
Disclosure: This is an invited food tasting.
Restaurant name: Restoran Zhen Wei 珍味阁海鲜
Address: 23-25, Jalan Setia 10/10, Taman Setia Indah, Johor Bahru
GPS: 1.571643, 103.766638 / 1°34'17.9"N 103°45'59.9"E
Tel: 016 7109 085
Hours: 2:00pm to 12:00 midnight (Mon to Fri) / (Opens at 1:00pm on weekends)
Date visited: 16 Mar 2016
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