Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Cheap Eats Review: Malaysian Restaurants - Mamak, Kaki Lima,Temasek and Malay Chinese (Sydney, Australia)

I've always wondered when Malaysian food will become "the next food fashion"......I guess it has "kinda" finally arrived. Nonetheless, it's been, so far, limited to Malaysian street food served as it is......To progress and avoid becoming the next food fad, the challenge is whether Malaysian cuisine can be interpreted and elevated  into a modern and contemporary form. Unfortunately, no one has taken up the gauntlet ...... with some fine exceptions such as Cheong Liew many years ago in South Australia.

Here, two restaurants serving authentic Malaysian cuisine are reviewed - Mamak and Kaki Lima. However, since we are discussing Malaysian food, our favourite and undisputed best Malaysian restaurant, Temasek, is mentioned also, alongside with Malay Chinese Restaurant.

Mamak *

The word "mamak" refers to migrant Indians who made Malaysia home and embraced Islam as their religion - and historically, operated street-side food stalls. It is not hard to spot Mamak in Goulburn Street, Chinatown Sydney......just look for the constant long queue during lunch or dinner time. Those who wait patiently are entertained by the open "roti" (bread) kitchen - where chefs knead and twirl the various types of roti on offer and rewarded by an authentic Malaysian street food experience.

The menu is simple and has a good variety of rotis. Mamak is famous for its roti canai but we ordered the roti tissue and roti bom - rotis that require slightly more skill to make compared with the standard roti canai.

The roti tissue came in its authentic cone shape. Thin and crisp, the roti tissue came accompanied with two  curry dippings - the standard Malaysian curry and a dhal curry; both of which tasted wonderfully authentic. To be picky, the roti tissue was slightly too sweet and could have been thinner. Roti tissue and roti bom are listed as dessert in the menu and you can choose the roti to come with curry or ice cream.

Next was the roti bom (made with chunks of butter inserted into the dough and rolled scroll-like) - a thick roti, crisp on the outside and sweet, buttery and dense on the inside. Definitely heavy and rich!

The nasi lemak was the standout. The fragant coconut flavoured rice was perfectly cooked and sufficiently seasoned. A bit more coconut and pandan leaves would have made it perfect. Crispy anchovies and crunchy peanuts added texture and layers of flavours.The pièce de résistance was the sambal (Malaysian chilli sauce) - wonderfully flavoured and balanced - not too spicy, hints of balacan (fermented shrimp paste), salty and sweet. Mix the sambal with the anchovies and coconut rice, and magic!

The drinks tasted authentic too - condensed milk powered tea and coffee (teh and kopi tarik)- quenches the heat and matches the potent flavours and spices.

The mee goreng tasted authentic but somehow lacked the real "mamak" flavours.

Mamak has successfully brought the essence of Malaysian food in downtown Sydney. Mamak is worth a try for those wondering what the fuss Malaysian street food is all about.....if you are willing to wait or arrive early!

Cheap Eats Rating (Mamak): 15/20

Kaki Lima

There are two Kaki Lima's (both on Anzac Parade) - the original tiny shop in Kingsford and the new larger, modern outpost in nearby Kensington. Slightly clean and sterile, the larger Kaki Lima  in Kensington offers a more extensive menu than Mamak (with exception to their Kingsford restaurant).

Consistency has been an issue during our many visits. The nasi lemak is good....but not great. The rice can sometimes be under cooked - slightly firm, and on the last visit almost devoid of significant coconut flavours. The anchovies were borderline crispy and peanuts slightly marred by stale oil flavours. The sambal anchovies was my favourite component on the plate and had just enough flavours to lift the entire dish. The option of beef rendang or chicken curry are average stuff.

Mee goreng is tough to rate since the same dish almost never tastes exactly the same each time.....ranging from very good to ....forgettable.

Laksa with vermicelli noodles was mild and pleasant....capturing the essence of a Malay-style laksa.

Drinks falls short - the teh tarik was embarrassingly poor.....I wonder why they chose not to brew their own tea! 

Maybe a more focused and manageable menu without compromising quality and consistency is the key for Kaki Lima to elevate beyond passable mediocrity.....A definite positive here is the lack of queues!

Cheap Eats Rating (Kaki Lima): 12/20

Temasek **

The problem with Temasek (for us, anyway) is its location in Paramatta......Apart from that, there is really not much to complain about - beautifully cooked and prepared with quality ingredients.

There are too many things to love here....Hainanese chicken rice, sambal kangkong, mee siam, laksa, char koey teow....all at par if not better than average food stalls in Malaysia.

45 minute drive vs. 8 hour flight to Malaysia/Singapore......I'll pick the drive! A proper full review with photos to be updated soon.

Cheap Eats Rating (Temasek): 18/20

Malay Chinese Restaurant

An old favourite and massively popular among CBD office workers during lunch time......this is a place to experience Malaysian street food in an almost Malaysian "kopitiam" (coffee shop) setting.

I would have rated this place ** (2 stars) several years back but, unfortunately, standards have fallen in recent times.....the laksa - still one of the best examples in town is now a "watered-down" version of its former self and the weekend crowd favourite prawn noodles (har mee) has likewise down graded from fragrantly sweet prawn soup noodle to a disappointingly mild flavoured one.....tasting as if one former bowl of soup is now diluted into two!

A place that now rests on its past merits due to lack of real competition....... (will update with photos IF we do go back, however, with the watered down laksa and prawn mee, there's less incentive now to head back).

Cheap Eats Rating (Malay Chinese Restaurant): 13/20

By Gastronomic G.

Rating explained:

Scores 18 to 20 = *** (3 stars) = World class and close to perfection
Scores 16 to <18 = ** (2 stars) = An exceptional and special dining experience
Scores 15 to <16 = * (1 star) = Very good to great dining experience
Scores 13 to <15 = Good but not memorable
Scores 10 to <13 = Acceptable
Scores <10 = Are you sure you want to eat here?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Architectural & Antiques Elements: Wonderfully Antiquey

Visiting interesting stores forms a great part of my weekend. It's like going for a walk except this one involves lusting over gorgeous furniture. Furniture porn? LOL Anyways, while we were in the inner west this weekend, we decided to drop in to Architectural & Antique Elements

Located in Leichardt at the corner of James Street and Darley Road, Architectural & Antique Elements houses an amazing collection of well.. antiques and architectural elements! :) In addition to the usual antique sideboards, consoles, tables & bench, the split level store also house an amazing collection of antique doors; ranging from old antique chinese doors, vintage french doors to amazing ornate doors that once graced the Rajesthan palace. There were even ornate hundred year old columns and grand fireplace extracted from old houses!

We took a couple of shots in the store before we spotted a sign that says photos not allowed! Oops... Anyways, if you're thinking of restoring an old charmer & are looking for leadlight windows and antique fireplace, Architectural & Antique Elements would be a good bet...

I absolutely adore this sideboard... drools....

by The Quirky One

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Macarons from Adriano Zumbo Lab (Sydney, Australia)

Adriano Zumbo aka macaron master aka "that cake guy from Masterchef" has developed an immense reputation and following as the master patissier in Sydney.

His signature "dish" is the macaron .....and no, it is not "macaroon" which is a meringue-like baked cookie.

The queue has been perennial in his original Balmain store....often for the macarons. While we have wanted to experience this macaron sensation for a while, we were often deterred by the long queue outside the original store.. I guess it's our lucky day today because while Tong was doing her real estate excursion in the inner west, we chanced upon the Zumbo cafe aka the Zumbo Lab (made popular by Zumbo's TV show) in Rozelle. The small 9 seater cafe serves a selection of patisseries, pies, quiche, bread and coffee.

Armed with our own macaron experiences in France including those by Alain Ducasse (or rather his pastry chef(s)), we gave Zumbo's version a go.....we were not disappointed. Zumbo plays with flavours.....Smarties, Passionfruit with Basil, Wasabi with Ginger, and Chocolate Mud Cake with Blueberry macarons are just some of his many innovations....

Visually, the macarons were beautifully coloured and of good, consistent size. Egg shell-like crisp on the outside and gooey soft on the inside - his macarons were perfect texture-wise. Flavours were light and slightly on the "too sweet" spectrum.... but not to the extent of being unpleasantly sweet.

With macarons like these, his reputation as the maestro of macarons is well deserved.

By Gastronomic G.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mari Hirata

Recently discovered Mari Hirata's work. Japanese born & Gold Coast based, Mari Hirata has produced some signature work through her white shoes series. Interestingly, the white shoes series was originally developed from her part time work as an interpreter for Japanese tourists' weddings in Gold Coast. As time goes by, she developed her signature style of using white high heel shoes to express her thoughts through different themes. She described her works as "a combination of established procedure and order, with the notion of surrealism and visual puns." I like it!

The Descendents - The White Shoe Series (2001-2003)
To Reach, To Hold (Sacred Ties Series - 2006)
Cry Baby (Soft Coatings Series)
A good piece of art is both provocative & gets one thinking about the meaning behind a piece. Also love her  none white shoes - soft coatings series which focused more on lines, symmetry and patterns. See more of her work here.

Samples of her work:

by The Quirky One

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Home is where the art is..

Home is where the art is.. & this home in Victoria by Robert Mills Architect illustrated that fact well. The art pieces, sculptural lamps & beautiful lines of the furnishings truly defines this place. Fantastic space! Found this space through the 2010 Australian Interior Design Awards site, 2011 shortlist will be released soon. Stay tuned!

by The Quirky One

Friday, March 4, 2011

Seamless extension: 'Spröjs House' by visiondivision

Since finding this wonderful Surry Hills extension, I've been thinking about doing extension every time I see a small house with potential... Found another cool extension online that is going into my inspiration folder..  :)

Love this Swedish countryside house extension done by visiondivision. Connected through a glass corridor, the extension features a front facade composed of gridded frames (mullion windows: or Spröjs in Swedish), that overlooks the lake and the garden. Mullion windows are typical of traditional Swedish country houses.The ingenuity of this design however lies in the integration of a built-in shelving system & an office nook behind the window. Great idea, isn't it? I can probably sit there all day with no work done...


by The Quirky One

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Marrying the old & the new... Victorian terrace with modern extension

I have been busy with a couple of things & have not been posting much in Feb! There were changes in work arrangement & hopefully it's all for the better. Anyways.. I've been lurking the real estate sites in the hope of finding our dream home & I came across this! An old Victorian terrace facade with a gorgeous streamlined kitchen and an amazing modern extension. LOVE the utilization of glass wall & the inside out concept. It is not the most seamless transition but it kinda works.

I would love to own this but I know I can't afford it.. :( Surry Hills address is just too posh for me.. or maybe I should just start buying lottery ticket! Link here while lasts.

Back of the house....

by The Quirky One