Restaurant Review: Arte
The words “French cuisine” and “Penang” rarely go hand in hand, but now there is a reason to reconsider this.
A cozy restaurant touting French cuisine with Asian influences opened quietly on Jalan Argyll in downtown Georgetown last year and has slowly and steadily been winning over picky Penang diners.
This restaurant is Arte and is the vision of Vincent Tai, a lover of fine art and fine food, who wanted to create a space where he could combine his two loves.
Vincent is also the curator of Daiichi Art Space, and his family has one of the largest private art collections in Malaysia, so to say he has been immersed in the art world all his life would be an understatement.
French food is notoriously difficult to do well, but as Vincent said, “I wanted to have paintings on the walls so people could experience fine art on a subconscious level whilst dining and the only type of food that I felt was suitable and would match the art was French cuisine.”
Normally this would be a difficult task to achieve, as finding a good French chef in Penang would be almost impossible, but Vincent managed to connect with 26 year-old Jay Teh, a young but very-talented chef from Johor Bahru who has spent the last few years working at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
Jay brings a youthful energy and exuberance to his cuisine and is not afraid to try new and interesting combinations to excite customers’ palates.
We like dishes that tease and excite the mind before they even reach the table and Jay’s Amuse Bouche did just that for us. The Truffle Panna Cotta w/ a Wild Mushroom Ball sounded intriguing and set the direction for what we were going to get for the rest of the meal.
The Spring Salad (RM18/USD4) was a very refreshing combination of a mesclun salad, citrus dressing and hollandaise sauce, and really whet our appetites but what amazed all of us at the table was the Caesar Salad (RM19/USD4.30).
The homemade dressing was top notch and the 62° slow-cooked egg was delicious but a special mention must be made of the Parmesan lace. This crispy concoction really took the salad to the next level and gave all of us cravings for days after this meal.
After the salads we were brought a duo of soups that won our hearts purely on presentation alone. If they tasted half as good as they looked, Arte would have two winners on their hands.
And they did.
The Wild Mushroom Soup (RM18/USD4) was creamy, rich and full of flavor and felt like we were drinking puréed mushrooms that were just plucked from a forest.
The Shellfish Bisque w/ Poached Flower Prawn (RM48/USD10.80) was unlike any other bisque we’ve had in Penang to date and dispels with the misconception that you can only make a good bisque with lobster.
Gloriously rich and layered with textures, this is a soup that makes you feel sorry for those with seafood allergies, as they will never be able to try something as delicious as this.
Our first starter was the Pan-Roasted Hokkaido Scallops w/ Sautéed Celery Root, Crispy Bacon and Caramelized Cipollini Onions (RM38/USD8.55), which didn’t disappoint.
Perfectly pan-roasted so that there was a bit of sear on the outside but still springy on the inside, we enjoyed this starter very much. And of course the generous addition of the Parmesan lace made it even better.
Next up was the Organic Egg w/ Salted Pork Belly (RM18/USD4). Served with truffle foam, sautéed fennel bulbs and oyster king mushrooms, we still can’t believe this cost only RM18!
We love a good lamb rack, but in Penang we usually shy away from lamb dishes as most restaurants serve lamb that is too gamey for our tastes, but Arte has reinvigorated our love for lamb with their Australian Lamb Rack (RM98/USD22).
Cooked to a perfect medium-rare with zero gamey taste, the flavor of the lamb is greatly enhanced by the rosemary sauce. The sweet potato purée is also a nice addition to the dish.
We actually went through a “crunch test” for the French Pork Belly (RM55/USD12.40). Vincent told us that their pork belly was so crunchy you could hear it from 10 feet away. So we tried, and yes indeed, the skin was so crunchy you could hear it from one end of the restaurant to the other.
Skin that was crispier than any Chinese-style roast pork and meat tender and succulent, the French Pork Belly made us temporarily re-examine our extreme affinity for Chinese roasted meat.
The acid test for us at most casual fine-dining or fine-dining restaurants is how they cook their steak so we were very much looking forward to the Angus Rib-Eye w/ Blue Cheese Sauce (RM135/USD29.70).
Again, this dish piqued our interest when we saw “blue cheese sauce” as an option. Wouldn’t it be too overpowering? Completely mask the beef taste? What would this combination be like? These questions and more ran through our heads and aroused our curiosity.
Well, we are pleased to report that blue cheese does indeed go well with a good steak if done properly! Arte also serves their steaks with a helping of bone marrow, which is an interesting accompaniment that not many chefs can pull off.
So if you are ever in the mood for a good steak, we would highly recommend the rib-eye at Arte.
Their Australian 150-Day Grain-Fed Striploin (not pictured here) is also very reasonably priced at RM79/USD17.80 and proves that you don’t need to pay exorbitant prices if you want a good steak in Penang.
To round off the meal, we were served a Chocolate Lava Cake w/ Homemade Macadamia Nut Ice Cream (RM25/USD5.60). Normally the cake is served with vanilla or citrus ice cream, but fortunately for us, Jay made this special flavor during our visit.
We can safely say that this is one of the best, if not THE best, lava cakes in Penang, and is worthy of a try. There’s not much else we can say except make sure you leave room for dessert if you visit Arte.
It is always exciting for us (and we think foodies everywhere) to make new discoveries and find interesting places that can deliver sensational culinary experiences to diners.
Arte is such a place and Droolworthy is beyond happy that such a high level of cuisine is available to locals at such a reasonable price. This really shows that you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to eat well, you just need to find restaurateurs and chefs who are extremely passionate about what they do, like Vincent and Jay.
P.S. a special mention MUST go to Seoh Hoon, who is by far the best hostess we have ever encountered in any restaurant in Malaysia.
P.P.S. Arte was recently selected by the French Government as the Penang representative for Gout De France 2017, a worldwide celebration of French cuisine – 2000 chefs from all five continents will cook their version of the ultimate French meal on March 21st, 2017, and Jay is one of them.
We would like to thank Vincent Tai, Jay Teh, Seoh Hoon and the whole team at Arte for taking such good care of us and Travel Lab during our visit and congratulations on being selected for Gout De France!
25, Jalan Argyll, Georgetown
10050 Penang, Malaysia
Tel: +604-251 9718
Closed on Mondays
Caesar Salad (RM19/USD)
Shellfish Bisque w/ Poached Flower Prawn (RM48/USD)
Organic Egg w/ Salted Pork Belly (RM18/USD)
Australian Lamb Rack (RM98/USD)
Angus Beef Rib-Eye w/ Blue Cheese Sauce (RM135/USD)