This building near the corner of Elizabeth and Cleveland Streets has been a number of things in its history, most recently it was a strip joint I think, and I also recall it being a South American restaurant where I drank lots of sangria one evening. Now it is what they're calling it Australia’s first Malay fine diner.
The restaurant was made possible with the financial help of the Malaysian Kitchen Concept Scheme. This Malaysian Government initiative aims to insert Malaysia into our consciousness via our stomachs. It's not the worst idea I've ever heard - after all, eating the cuisine of a country will often make me want to visit it.
The fit-out by Idiom Design Practice (Cargo Bar, Wagamama) is summery and relaxing, with cool white furnishings and bamboo matting. I particularly liked the basket lights on the matted walls.
There are actually two parts to the restaurant - a fine diner and a cafe style part. The cafe style part is considerably cheaper, and serves hawker style dishes.
Alcohol is not sold on premises as a condition of their agreement with the Malaysian Government (BYO is okay) but the Big Pants ($8) mocktail (pictured on the right hand side) is lovely.
Executive Chef/Owner Samsudin Yunis is at the helm. He was the man responsible for the heady aroma at The Satay Stick, a restaurant I used to visit with my parents as a young child, and a loss to Chinatown’s dining scene many years back. So of course the Satay ($9) (chicken, beef and lamb) are excellent. There’s not a trace of Kraft’s Peanut Butter in the sauce either.
Entrees like the rich, complex Ox Tail Soup ($12) are excellent.
The superb vegetarian Tahu Goreng ($9) was perhaps my favourite dish (and it's unusual for a vegetarian dish to have such a depth of flavour).
They're trying a new format here - their mains are not presented as sharing dishes (as most dishes in Malay restaurants usually are). To keep a level of Malay authenticity in the cooking, they stay faithful to the sauce, but present it anew. Above is the Steak Rendang ($25) which was not totally successful as the meat was not slow-cooked in the rich, coconut sauce (in other words it's not cooked like a Rendang even though it uses a Rendang sauce). It's served on a roti.
But the Udang Lemak Nanas ($29) or king prawns with pineapple and coconut cream sauce was enjoyable.
Since the kitchen deals with the smelly part of the operation, you’d be mad to skip the delightful Durian Crepe ($10) - it was totally delicious, and you couldn't smell a thing!
Overall, I am not convinced at the concept of serving authentic sauces on Western style Modern Australian mains - frankly I prefer more authentic Malaysian food, and I like sharing. However I will be heading back to try the cafe, and ideally have some more of the delicious tofu and satays pictured above.
504 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9698 8558