Which makes it great for us food lovers, of course. Each new restaurant that opens up potentially brings new flavors and pushes the standard of food gradually upwards. But on the flip side, this also means that restaurants that don't adapt risk getting left behind.
Case in point for me personally - five years or so ago I thought Secret Recipe's Lamb Shank was absolutely delicious, eating it sometimes twice or three times a month. But nowadays I've found it just mediocre-tasting at best.
It's with this thought in mind, then, as I find myself with the family hunting down a 'famous & delicious steamed fish head' somewhere in Jalan Raja Laut. It was one of my dad's personal favorite makan places back when he was working in Kay-El. He hasn't been back here for over 10 years, though, so we'll see if the restaurant has managed to stay relevant.
Initial signs are encouraging - the restaurant is full house! So many people can't be wrong ... right? Anyway, being a Chinese style restaurant, we go for a bunch of dishes, starting with Potato Leaves for the night's quota of veg.
Ong Lai's take on the Kung Pao chicken is delicious, with just the right amount of spicy 'kick' from the dried chilli.
The ku lou yuk (sweet and sour pork) follows, and is also pretty nice.
It goes a bit downhill from there, though. I forget the name of this dish - it's some sort of soupy noodles with 4 large prawns. Unfortunately the prawns aren't that fresh, and the souped-up noodles are plain and bland.
On to the main reason we're here though - for the fish heads! The restaurant only serves one kind of fish, but with four different styles - clear, ginger, assam, and ... erm ... there was one more cooking style that I forget. Oops :). The ginger style below is, to put it nicely, not the most appetizing fish head that I've had. Perhaps it's also because I don't really like ginger, so to have a dish just *swimming* in the stuff turns me off even before I start.
The 'clear' style is much easier on the taste buds. But it's also somewhat plain. And the meat of the fish is of the 'mushy' variety which I absolutely dislike. Give me some firmly flake'able fish (like cod or salmon) please.
Oh, I might as well also touch on the hokkien mee. It's the wrong type of noodle. And tastes a bit rubbish, too.
So the overall verdict? For me, the food was below mediocre, and I couldn't understand why there were so many people. The only reason I can think of is that they come from the nearby housing areas and are too lazy to drive elsewhere for better food.
And my dad's verdict? I didn't have to ask - the look of utter disappointment on his face said it all. Whether the standard of food at the restaurant dropped, or whether my dad's tastes have evolved over time, who knows?
Restoran Ong Lai is in the back alley on Lorong Tiong Nam 3 along Jalan Raja Laut. Our dinner cost about MYR200 including drinks - which isn't too bad for an 8-person family.