The Malaya make one of Sydney’s best rendangs. Their Coconut Beef Rendang ($28) is well-balanced and fragrant, with a fluffy gravy that’s sitting right in the sweet spot before the fats separate. Each mouthful of the falling-apart beef is salty, sweet, sour and hot, with umami – that savoury middle - in bucket loads. Steamed Rice ($4.50/person) opens up the sauce and extends the palate length, making this rendition of the famous Indonesian coconut curry worth your trip to The Malaya alone.
Last week we popped back King Street Wharf to get reacquainted with this longstanding Southeast Asian icon. What what we thought would be a quiet Tuesday evening saw us joined inside the dining room by a flock of bookings and walk-in diners.
The Malaya has aged well. The restaurant space feels dark and sophisticated, and is effective in keeping diner attention centred upon the Darling Harbour view.
What’s even more pleasing, is the years (The Malaya first opened in 1963, albeit in a different location) haven’t pulled them away from what they were. The rendang still tastes the same; their cow-milk laksa recipe (because in the 1960s coconut milk was impossible to find) is still the same.
The Chicken Sambol ($27) is cooked from the same recipe they were using thirty years ago. Made with belacan (shrimp paste) candle nuts and dried shrimp, it’s a spicy but linear curry blessed with a funky middle that reminds me of eating ikan bilis (dried anchovies). On the day I dined, the thinly sliced chicken thigh pieces perhaps had spent a little bit too long in the pot, as we didn't get much flavour or texture out of them.
There’s not a lick of sweetness to this curry, so consider punctuating it with forays into Sichuan Eggplant ($27). Cooked with ballistic dried chillies, these lusciously soft wedges of eggplant mingle with cashew nuts, shallots and Chinese water spinach in a kecap manis (sweet soy) based sauce. While the dried chillies have real heat, they’re easy to avoid; and when you do, there’s only a very gentle heat to the rest of the dish.
Riesling is an obvious match to spicy cuisine, and the wine list at The Malaya tries to lead your horse to water by kicking off their wine list with seven of them. The 2018 Crawford River ‘Young Vines’ Riesling ($62/bottle) will do the job in a limey, citrus fruit-driven fashion.
It’s summery and light enough to work with Salt and Pepper Prawns ($38), and energetic enough to cut a swathe through curry.
The prawns were a bit light on the salt, cracked black pepper and chilli for me, though the restaurant was more than happy to oblige with three pots of chilli, one of which totally kicked my arse.
I soothed my palate in Otak-Otak ($17/2), which sees white fish minced with chilli, spices and tapioca starch into a spongy (like ‘brains’), enjoyable little parcel you unwrap from inside a blackened banana leaf.
In a final, genius move, dessert at The Malaya comes in size small! Their Black Rice Pudding ($5) made on black glutinous rice cooked with pandan leaves, and their Sago Pudding ($5) with sago and coconut flavoured with palm sugar, both arrive in elegant little glasses.
Each of the glasses contained just enough dessert to put your mouth back together without amping you up too much on sugar.
Now while I deliberately selected dishes that were likely to be hot, there’s plenty on The Malaya’s menu to suit people who are not big on chilli. And, if you happen to fall in love with your rendang or laksa, on your way out you can buy a jar of the kitchen's sauce to take home. I might even have bought some of their Rendang Paste ($10) myself...
King Street Wharf
39 Lime Street, Sydney
Ph: (02) 9279 1170