There’s a lot of exuberance in owner/chef Junda Khoo’s menu at the new Ho Jiak in Haymarket. The former enterprising owner of PappaRoti Australia, and chef at Sydney’s Petaling Street, is finally off the leash and cooking the food that matters to him.
Building upon his Strathfield restaurant, the new Ho Jiak Haymarket is a highly personal setting.
Downstairs it pays homage to Khoo’s father, with a vibrant hawker style setting that emulates the streets of Penang using street art, fabric and corrugated iron awnings, strung lights and lanterns in front of the fast-paced kitchen.
A world away from the hustle and bustle of downstairs, the upstairs dining room employs trompe l’oeil with a life-size mural interior from his Mother’s family home.
If you take a look around, you’ll also find photos of Khoo’s Amah (grandmother), the woman who inspired him to cook, and whose Nyonya dishes feature heavily on the menu.
And what a menu it is! It’s intimidating in size, and definitely too big to do justice to in one sitting – though we did give it a good bash. If there’s one dish you should try, it’s their Strathfield best seller – Char Kway Teow ($15). With slippery flat noodles given plenty of interest using chunks of Chinese sausage, crisp pork lard, shallots, bean sprouts and lively chilli, this is the best version of this dish I’ve tried. Even if you’re not keen on spicy you should definitely give this dish a whirl - it's served on a banana leaf (you don't eat) to enhance the aroma of the noodles.
Whatever chilli burn an inexpensive and inoffensive bottle of wine won’t fix, a plate of silky Sam Wong Dan ($15) will. It’s a steamed egg dish made with century egg (for flavour), duck egg and chicken egg, and it is both soothing and delicious. While it’s a mostly savoury dish, you will find a hint of sweetness in the sauce.
Together with the Kangkung Belachan ($18) – water spinach cooked in spicy shrimp paste - these two dishes form good sides for the fuller flavoured meat and seafood items.
While focusing upon Peranakan cuisine, which shows influences from both Malay and Chinese cooking, Khoo hasn’t lost sight of the Western diner (but he hasn't crumbled to us either). Knowing fancy proteins excite us, he’s added crabmeat and salted duck egg to his great-tasting, fried egg-topped Indomee Goreng ($21) and swapped out the lean pig in his Lok Bak ($15) for pork jowl.
The resulting richly porky, crisp bean curd packages swirled through a duo of sauces make for another meal highlight, albeit one that is best shared - they're rich!
Khoo reckons his Kiam Ah Nui ($25) or stir-fried squid with a super-crisp coating of salted duck egg yolk is the only one in Sydney.
Along with the more familiar Inchi Kabin ($15) or Nyonya fried chicken, it’s a good sharing dish. I really love the flavour of the curry leaves that penetrate the chicken even more the next day, which you'll find out if (like us) you over-order and guiltily ask for takeaway containers to prevent food waste.
The Rendang Gu ($30) here is cooked on wagyu, and is another dish that will travel and improve the next day. As it’s super rich and perhaps a bit too salty, a little bit of this one goes a long way. You might want to consider getting your rendang mix by ordering it in one of the combinations.
You’ll find relief for your over-salted palate in the mouth-tickling Nyonya “three flavour” sauce that accompanies grilled selections like King Prawns ($8/each) and Fish Fillets ($25). It made the engaged and beautifully dressed floor team giggle when we said how much we liked it – reminding me that what we’re eating is actually simple, everyday Nyonya cuisine.
92 Hay Street, Haymarket
Ph: (02) 8040 0252