The husband and I popped over to Johor Bahru City Square for a day out of which we seemed to be doing much more often this year than before. It was just one of those moments when we ran out of ideas on where to go in Singapore that would spur us on to cross the causeway to catch a movie at half the price of Singapore’s and indulge in some cheap & good food. Due to the declining Ringgit against the Singapore dollar, now is actually the best time to visit Malaysia if you want to enjoy greater savings. For car wash, petrol, spa, beauty/hair services, KTV, movie and even grocery shopping.
As we came all the way to JB, I thought we would also go check out this buffet at The Grand Gem Indian Restaurant that a friend had recommended me to try some time ago. The restaurant is located at the Grand Bluewave Hotel which is visible from the CIQ Complex (customs & immigration) but almost impossible to get there on foot due to construction works in the area. Taking the taxi is the best way out.
The husband had bought a prepaid SIM card (approx. RM30 for 1GB – valid for a month) when he went to KL earlier for business and it really came in handy for booking of taxis via the Easy Taxi mobile app. Alternatively, there is a temporary booth set up next to Levi’s on the ground floor of City Square and you can request one of the ladies manning the booth to help book a cab too. We prefer to book taxis via the app because it’s more reliable than just flagging any dodgy unlicensed taxi off the road. The taxi fare is charged by the meter so there is no need to haggle with taxi drivers who charge crazy fixed rates even to get to somewhere nearby. Besides, the taxi drivers we encountered so far when booked through the app were all friendly, honest and polite so I highly recommend travellers in JB to make good use of this free app.
The Grand Bluewave Hotel is just a 5-minute taxi ride (in smooth traffic conditions) away from City Square. Taxi fare will be about RM7-9. The moment you walk into the hotel lobby on ground floor, you would see the restaurant on the left hand side.
We were there just before noon time with no reservation made. There was only one occupied table of patrons so getting a table wasn’t an issue at all.
I liked the elegant decor of the restaurant that was really spacious and the ample daylight simply made the whole place look brighter too.
In terms of variety of the menu, it really wasn’t huge. There were probably 10+ different dishes including desserts.
Here’s a quick look at some of them.
The Chicken Rasam reminded me of a Soto Ayam but it was more tangy because of the use of tamarind juice in it with lots of other spices which I couldn’t quite make out. I didn’t like it with my first spoonful because I wasn’t used to the strong flavours of the spices but the more I drank it, the more acceptable it became.
Besides the items on the buffet line, we could also order the day’s special and various naan breads through the service staff as those items were only made upon order. The day’s special was Onion Pakora which was a bomb as it came piping hot and crispy. Every piece had that resounding crunch when we bit into it and was flavoursome with spices. It wasn’t heavily battered and it wasn’t overly greasy too. At least it didn’t ooze oil when I sank my teeth into it. This was one of the best pakoras I had. A must order!
We also ordered plain and garlic naans that were light and thin, buttery and a little chewy. The breads went really well with the sambar. While the husband preferred having the rice with the dishes, I probably ate 80% of the breads which I normally wouldn’t even do in buffets! But these were just so fresh and too good to miss.
The briyani rice was really aromatic with spices and was fluffy too. There was also an option of white rice for those who like it plain. I managed to try a bit of everything since there wasn’t a lot of dishes. My favourite had got to be the Ennai Kathirikai which was just brinjal in a robust & savoury sauce. The Mutton Varuval was good with no gamey smell but the meat had a lot of bones and fats. The Chettinadu Chicken with a thick and full-bodied gravy was scrumptious. The Sambar was light and mild and was the perfect dipping sauce for the naans. The Egg Masala was another must-try especially if you like hard-boiled eggs. The gravy was just dynamite, so thick and flavoursome.
The Malabar Fish Fry wasn’t available yet when I was on my first round so when it came out hot and fresh, I just grabbed some to eat on its own as I was already done with my rice. The fish was fresh with no unwanted fishy smell but I really wouldn’t recommend to eat this on its own because it was really salty. Must go with rice.
It was my first time trying this Indian dessert soup, Payasam that was served hot. It was like a rice vermicelli pudding with cashew nuts cooked in milk and sugar and then spiced with cardamom. We really enjoyed this a lot because it wasn’t saccharine sweet and the milky flavour was lifted by the fragrant cardamom so we didn’t feel sickly of it that quickly. We probably had 3 small bowls each! Must try!
Besides the hot dessert, there were a small selection of agar-agar and fruits which were just normal.
Orange cordial was also available but it was too sweet for my liking so I requested for iced water instead that came in a metal cup like this. And I’m very sure metal cups are used for a good reason because the water was kept chilled for a long while though there wasn’t any ice in it. Psychological effect probably but we really thought the water tasted much more refreshing, lol.
Overall, we enjoyed the meal tremendously because there were a number of good South Indian dishes that we really liked. We loved robust flavours and spices so this was the kind of food for us. But because all these dishes had to go with rice or naan, we were filled up really fast because of the carbs.
Service standard, it was excellent. The staff were always walking over to our table to ask if we needed more bread and if we were happy with the food, etc. They were very attentive and they made sure our cups were always filled too. In fact, they made us feel like distinguished guests of the restaurant as they were all so polite, warm, friendly and carried big smiles on their faces throughout.
Best part was, this buffet was only RM25nett per person which was about SGD9.80 based on the day’s currency exchange rate. What a steal, really!
Buffet lunch is only available from Thursday to Sunday, 12pm-3pm only. Every day, they have a different theme for example it’s Indian Chinese on Thursday, South Indian on Friday, Indian Malay on Saturday and GEM’s special buffet on Sunday. Do refer to their Facebook page for updates.
For those who enjoy Indian cuisine, love buffets and often travel to JB to makan & shop, The Grand Gem is not to be missed.
Grand Bluewave Hotel
9R, Jalan Bukit Meldrum
Johor Bahru 80300, Malaysia
Tel: +60 072210717
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thegrandgem