Festive celebration at He Yuan

Two things bring me back to He Yuan Chinese Restaurant at Tanjong Puteri Golf Resort.

View of the golf course from the Tanjong Puteri Golf
Resort clubhouse 
Firstly, the desire to revisit this familiar restaurant not just for a preview of their festive menu but also to celebrate the resort’s 25th anniversary as it remains one of the preferred golf destinations in Johor.

Technically the resort has celebrated its Silver Jubilee last November but it’s still not too late to commemorate this important milestone with a pre-Lunar New Year feast.

Looking back, it’s almost exactly 10 years ago when I was a guest at the resort.

In my destination story South Port’s Green Spot published in Travel Times, [The New Straits Times 21 Jan 2007] I described He Yuan Chinese Restaurant as a fine dining option in the heart of the industrial zone.

A colourful pile of salad in the
He Yuan Special Salmon Yee Sang
So coming back to the resort and dining in He Yuan holds a special sentiment simply because it’s still here, continuing to please the palates of diners in and around this area with its menu of Sichuan, Cantonese and Teochew cuisine.

As we settle into a private dining room in the restaurant where two tables are set up, some of our media friends are saying that they have never dined in He Yuan before.

Our bi-lingual Chinese-English media friends are helping to translate the name of the restaurant into English for the benefit of the non-Chinese speaking group: They say Yuan may mean a pavilion or mansion while He, refers to Lotus and I believe, also sounds like the Mandarin version of Ho, the family name of the resort owners.

I notice several vacant seats at our tables – and we are not expecting any other media friends – so I privately wonder how we are to finish the food prepared for us!

I’m told that the resort’s Chief Executive Officer, Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli is here for a board meeting and my guess is, he may probably join us for lunch.

Harish Mustak raising his mug of
Coconut Splash
While I recently met him at the resort on a casual visit last August, I met him again last September for another matter at his office at Bukit Timbalan in his capacity as Johor Royal Court Council president.

When we are joined by several gentlemen, I need wonder no more. These board members introduce themselves as resort General Manager, Benjamin Tan and Food & Beverage Head, Terence Lim.

I soon learn that Datuk Rahim has another appointment and will not be joining us.

Another board member joins our table and introduces himself as Chong Hui. The name is familiar simply because I know another young man by the very same name with surname Lee but this gentleman is none other than Mr Ho – of the Ho family.

It is our privilege to dine together and the conversation continues in a convivial tone as Ho shares a bit more about the 25-year old resort and its future development to support loyal golfers, who keep coming back here.

He also tells us about the renovation and upgrading of the villas stage-by-stage and how most of the units are currently occupied by guests from Korea.

Serving bowls of Seafood and Fish Maw Soup
Then the season’s ubiquitous Yee Sang makes its appearance on a colourful platter of salad and I’m delighted to see a julienne of purple cabbage among other real vegetables in this dish.

I’m impressed with how the Malay serving staff moves with confidence and experience as she sprinkles the condiments and sauces onto the pile of salad before adding the slices of salmon for us to toss the He Yuan Special Salmon Yee Sang to greater prosperity.

A friend who’s also familiar with He Yuan, points to the toasted peanuts appetizer on the table and brings our attention to its uniqueness – with lightly toasted anchovies in it.

Chilli Prawns, large prawns in chilli gravy
And when I give it a try, it tastes so good that I cannot resist giving myself another generous helping!

The combination of toasted peanuts and anchovies is tasty but I have to refrain from having more and must consciously save some space for all the other festive dishes prepared in the Happiness Menu!

An item on the resort menu which I’m familiar with is their Coconut Splash, a drink which remains a popular choice with golfers.

This refreshing thirst-quencher comes in a jug-like tall mug filled with slices of young coconut flesh and cubes of grass jelly, and coconut juice flavoured with palm sugar [Gula Melaka].

Hearing about it is not enough so orders are taken from all who wish to have a taste of it. And very soon, huge mugs of Coconut Splash are served to our tables and received with exclamations of delight!

Auspicious serving of Ho See Fatt Choy
As I bring my focus back to the meal, I notice how their crockery – from saucers to serving plates – bear the resort logo. I remind myself that some 25 years ago, it was then the trend to have their resort identity proudly emblazoned on tableware…

Next I’m sipping a rich and comforting Seafood and Fish Maw Soup and discover ingredients like sea cucumber, dried cuttlefish and crab meat in the warm soup.

Over interesting conversation, we soon polish off the servings of Roasted Crispy Chicken dipped in the chef’s special sauce and Tiger Garoupa steamed in superior soy sauce.

Aware that dealing with Chilli Prawns, made with fried king prawns in a chilli gravy, means digging in with my fingers, I politely request for a set of fork and knife to help me peel the prawns in a more civilized manner.

Crispy fried Nian Gao or Chinese New Year sweet cake
Instead of providing just me with the set of fork and knife, the serving staff likewise, furnished each diner with a similar set of cutlery.

Since we are using cutlery to tackle the Chilli Prawns, there is no need for a finger bowl. But yet individual finger bowls arrive at the table, each floating with slices of fresh lemon and an orchid bloom!

I like how they anticipated that we may use our fingers on the prawns, so the staff decided to provide us with finger bowls – just in case!

Then it’s time for a taste of traditional Ho See Fatt Choy. I’m familiar with how this auspiciously named dish is a must-have in Lunar New Year banquets as its ingredients are not only of high value but also have auspicious meanings.

I can see the dried oysters [ho see] and the black moss [fatt choy] clearly among the slices of sea cucumber and mushrooms within the ring of broccoli florets.

A row of villas situated right smack in the middle
of the golf course in Tanjong Puteri Golf Resort
When the final dish of steamed Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf is served, I cannot resist drizzling on the braised sauce and ingredients of the Ho See Fatt Choy to complement just two spoons-full of rice. [P. S. That’s all the space I have left!]

Two desserts follow: Sweetened Red Bean Cream and slices of Crispy Fried Nian Gao or Chinese New Year Sweet Cake.

As I munch the sweet cake, I share with my non-Chinese friends that it’s also known as kueh bakul and continue by telling them the fascinating – and amusing – tradition of serving this sweet cake in traditional Chinese homes during the Lunar New Year.

We sip soothing Chinese tea that’s constantly topped up. From start to finish, one thing is for sure – the table service here is simply impeccable.

Having heard about the upgrading work in the resort villas, our hosts decide to arrange for the company vehicle to come around to take us to view a recently refurbished villa.

We are indeed a privileged group as the GM himself volunteers to drive us to the villa for a tour of the property!

Stretching our legs in a guided tour of the villa, is truly a fitting end to a delightful festive meal in the pleasant company of the resort board members at He Yuan.

Tanjong Puteri Golf Resort is located at Jalan Tanjong Puteri 1, Tanjong Puteri Resort, 81700 Pasir Gudang, Johor. Tel: +607 – 271 1888. Visit website: www.tpgr.com

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