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Nonya by Ginger & Spice

by Simon on January 23, 2012

Malaysian cuisine has come into vogue with Sydney’s dining public of late. Especially over the past year, with quite a number of new restaurants popping up in and around the CBD (particularly around Chinatown), serving Malaysian favourites like Hainanese Chicken as pictured above.

Nonya by Ginger & Spice is one such restaurant, located across the road from Mamak; one of Sydney’s premiere queuing destinations and a favourite for those that enjoy roti and late night dining.

With Nonya’s opening promotion of $5 dishes (valid until 26-01-12) drawing in a crowd of the curious and the cheap, often generating a wait time of up to an hour, it may well join Mamak as another popular queuing destination. Nonya has effectively cut their promo short under seemingly suspicious circumstances. Read on for the review of the restaurant and post-review updates regarding the promo.

Nonya by Ginger & Spice is the sibling restaurant to Ginger & Spice Singaporean Restaurant, located in the affluent food hub of Neutral Bay. Actually it’s more of a Mini-Me clone, with the entire food menu consisting of a subset of Ginger & Spice’s ones, but at lower prices.

Ramen Raff and I take a seat by a large window facing out towards the Chinatown promenade to make the most of the evening daylight. We do so as the dark, moderately stylish decor of the restaurant’s interior soaks up light like a black hole, making photography more of a chore than it needs to be.

The floor staff were polite and attentive for the most part. However, when asked whether teh tarik or ais kacang were on the menu in some form as it wasn’t immediately apparent to us, our waitress returned our query with a dumb-found look and an apology for not knowing what we were talking about. While this can easily be excused as inexperience and unfamiliarity of the staff to the restaurant’s menu given the restaurant has only opened recently, being unaware of something so quintessentially Malaysian left me with an expression that mirrored her own.

A short while after we finalised our order, a steady stream of plates made its way to the table.

Char Kway Teow ($11) – If there is one common fault with most char kway teow that I’ve had in Sydney is that it lacks the much sort after quality of wok hei, the smoky breath of the wok. This dish thankfully had it in spades.

The rice noodles were cooked well and were not at all greasy. The other elements of the dish such as Chinese sausage (lap cheong), prawns, bean sprouts and egg were likewise cooked to perfection.

There were some down sides to the dish. For instance, there was an absence of the spicy kick that char kway teow can be known for. There are hints of it but nothing a chili-wimp should ever concern themselves with.

Another issue, though hopefully a temporary cost-saving quirk due to Nonya’s promotional specials, was that the prawns were so tiny that a five cent coin would rival them in size. You know, those small tribble-like scraps of metal you can’t ever seem to be rid of that, while technically are legal tender, few friends or vending machines ever accept. One would hope that once the promotional run is over, they do away with these pre-school prawns and replace them with more substantial ones, as served in other dishes.

Assam Prawns ($13) – If you’re into mixing your sweets with your savouries, the Assam prawns will likely be right up your alley. These regular sized prawns are cooked to springy perfection, while the chunks of pineapple that litter the dish are juicy and tender.

As much as I liked this dish, it was rather one dimensional in nature, in that it’s sweet and not much else. There was an expectation of sourness and tang from the tamarind in the dish, and perhaps the pineapple too to a lesser extent. Unfortunately, these notes were unable to distinguish themselves from the overarching chord of sweetness.

In spite of this misstep, it’s still a nice dish and its one I’d likely order again in future.

Bakuteh ($12) – Disappointing would be the adjective that I’d use to describe this herbal pork bone soup. To someone unfamiliar with the dish, I imagine there is much to like. The pork is tender, the shiitake mushrooms and tofu are cooked well, and the soup with its subtle flavour is light and somewhat refreshing.

However, I found the soup to be too subtle in flavour (almost watered down) and it lacked the medicinal herbal quality that I’ve enjoyed from this dish in Malaysia. It was also served without either the blanched lettuce (yau mak) or fried dough sticks (youtiao) that often accompany this dish.

Hainanese Chicken ($10) – Whilst I’ve had Hainanese chicken from various restaurants around Sydney, this is one of the few I can recall that serve all three condiments i.e. ginger, chili and kecap manis. The minced ginger, an oft overlooked component of this dish, would likely make Singaporeans such as my frequent lunch buddy Lady JoKR squee with delight at its inclusion (or maybe it’s just her).

Nonya’s version of Hainanese chicken was a decent rendition of this popular dish. The chicken was clean-tasting and somewhat flavourful. However, it missed the mark a little as it lacked the juiciness and tenderness of some of the better ones around town. I’m splitting hairs here somewhat though, as I was still pretty happy with the end result.

Chicken Rice ($3 per serve) – The chicken rice, which has to be purchased separately, was really, really good. The rice was fluffy and flavourful, the individual grains separated easily, and it was neither dry, soggy nor greasy. It was so good, we ended up ordering a second serve.

Beef Rendang ($11) – The beef rendang was a standout dish in terms of its rich, robust flavour; one of the best I’ve had around Sydney to date. However, the generous chunks of beef could have done with a little more time as they weren’t as tender as they could have been.

Still, that issue aside, it was without a doubt the best dish of the night.

Nonya’s opening promotion of $5 dishes is available lunch and dinner until Thursday 26th January 2012. There are a few things to bear in mind regarding their opening promotion:

  • The promotional price only brings the price of dishes down to $5, rather than offer a $5 discount on the menu price of each dish. For example, an $8 dish would cost $5, not $3.
  • It seems that the size of the dishes are also promotional in nature in that I believe the dishes served are smaller than their standard full-priced counterparts (or at least that’s what I hope is the case).
  • Any dishes less than $5, and all drinks from our experience, are charged at their regular menu prices.
  • To avoid the queues, make sure to go early and put your name down on the list as soon as possible. The restaurant opens for dinner service around 5:30pm, though the name list was available 10-15 mins prior to that.

Edit: Information regarding Nonya’s opening promo no longer applies to a notice posted by Management, effectively ending the promo prematurely (see Update 3 below).

As of this post, while Nonya by Ginger & Spice have a website, it’s still under construction. In the meantime, if you’d like to peruse their menu here is a photo of the menu displayed at their entrance.

It’s too early to get a sense of how well this restaurant will fare in the future given the unique circumstances of the opening promotion. It has shown enough potential thus far that it may join the likes of Mamak and Chat Thai in becoming another popular queuing destination. I guess only time will tell. Perhaps some more visits too. I could always do with more rendang.

A shout out to the fans of the blog (I hope…) that introduced themselve to Raff and I at the restaurant. Leave a comment below and let others know what you thought of the food there.

Same too for anyone that’s taken up the offer of the opening promotion.
Honest opinions welcome :)

Update: Came across a rumour that Nonya is closed for “renovation” until 26th Jan, the last day of their promo (it looked fine to me when I was there). Will make an update when more news comes to hand.

Update 2: Another trusted source has confirmed the rumour of Nonya’s closure for renovations. I hope they make a good-faith offering by extending their opening promo once they re-open to cover for the lost days.

Update 3: A photo of the notice from management at the restaurant’s entrance effectively cutting the deal short has been posted to Urbanspoon. The notice reads:

Dear Valued Customer,

Due to overwhelming demand we will be closed until 26/01/2012 for upgrade to our kitchen facilities to increase our capacity and decrease waiting times.

Normal prices for Nonya by Ginger & Spice applies from the 26th of January 2012.

We appreciate your understanding with this matter and look forward to your continued support when we re-open.

Have a Happy, Prosperous and Safe New Year.

Thank You

Management

It would be nice gesture for the restaurant, in good faith, to extend the promo to cover for the days lost due to the inconvenient (of if you’re cynical, convenient) timing of the kitchen facility “upgrades”, at the very least for the disappointed customers who made the effort to travel to the restaurant only to be greeted with this notice.

A goodwill gesture to those that had to fulfill their Malaysian food craving elsewhere. Perhaps at a nearby restaurant with similar dishes such as Mamak, Singapore Shiok!, Petaling St, More More Cha,…

Nonya By Ginger & Spice
Shop 88 Level 5 (1st floor), 1 Dixon St, Sydney.
(02) 9283 7022
www.nonya.net.au

Trading Hours
Mon-Thur, Sun: 11:30am-10:30pm
Fri-Sat: 11:30am-1:00am


View the heart of food: map

Nonya by Ginger & Spice on Urbanspoon

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Roxy January 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Hi all,
I am one of the ‘fans’ who introduced ourselves to Simon & Park :)
Feel free to read up on my thoughts on the food. :)

[Simon] Edited comment to have link to point directly to the source in question rather than just the homepage.
Roxy recently posted..CNY Eve

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Tammi January 23, 2012 at 6:29 pm

OOHHHH…The food looks simply divine! =) I know what I’m doing for dinner!

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 12:52 am

If you haven’t read, they’re closed for “renovations” until the end of the week, which is when the special is over. Hopefully they will extend the special to make up for the days lost due to the closure.

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Jackie B January 23, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Simon, seriously, there is no way that, the prawn dish is a Nyonya assam prawns. One; it is swimming in liquid and cooked with pineapples. I think the chef needs a smack on his head for bastardising this sacred nyonya dish! That is all.

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 12:50 am

Would hate to see how you would have reacted in the restaurant had you been served it. Melodramatic Masterchef-like throwdown but without the tongue-in-cheek? :)

I’ll have to defer to your expertise on this one. Aside from the shortfalls mentioned, it still was a nice dish. Maybe not Nyonya assam but nice all the same.

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Tina@foodboozeshoes January 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm

Mmmm, $5 promo is pretty tempting..! The Hainan chicken looks really classy, though chicken’s more important to me than the condiments… :/
Tina@foodboozeshoes recently posted..Year of the Dragon – Happy Lunar New Year

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 12:41 am

$5 a dish special does makes things more affordable but the dishes are also smaller. Variety over volume for the most part.

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john@heneedsfood January 23, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I had lunch at Nonya on Saturday and found it ok. Pity many of the dishes weren’t available. I’ll definitely return and try the things I missed.
john@heneedsfood recently posted..Gobi masala – spiced cauliflower

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 12:38 am

Had the same issue with the Ngoh Hiang, which looked interesting. Maybe next time…

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Miss Piggy January 23, 2012 at 8:17 pm

I’m all for more Malaysian eateries in town – lucky for me I don’t know what’s authentic or not so I’m happy with basic fare, but I would be sad if no Teh Tarik was on offer.
Miss Piggy recently posted..The Artisan’s Apprentice, Parramatta

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 12:35 am

Well, Mamak is nearby. You could always stop over for a quick one either before or after you eat.

Or eat at Mamak. Whichever works you :)

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Ramen Raff January 23, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Yeah man! Beef rendang FTW! I did quite like their Bakuteh. If you think this one is a bit disappointing, then wow, I am looking forward to better ones!

Was a good feed & hangout dude!

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 12:34 am

This bakuteh vs one or two other bak kut teh I’ve had are worlds apart.

Great hangout. Until next time… :)

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Karen | Citrus and Candy January 23, 2012 at 9:45 pm

Wow Nonya, Petaling St… so many new Malaysian places for me to scope out! I’m a huge fan of Ginger and Spice and I reckon they have one of the best chicken rices and kecap manis sotong in Sydney so would be interesting to see how this one fares. Oh and fyi G&S doesn’t serve teh tarik so I guess they won’t be here.

Oh and I must get my ass to Petaling St too. The critical Malaysian in me is itching to judge both places ;)

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 12:32 am

I know, huh? Very keen to check out Petaling St too. Heard some good things about it.

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Tina @ bitemeshowme January 24, 2012 at 7:57 am

Food looks great. Wishing I worked a little closer to chinatown!
Tina @ bitemeshowme recently posted..Chinese New Year Peanut Cookie Bites

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

I guess there’s always dinner… :)

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Gaby January 24, 2012 at 10:45 am

“Closed for renovations”… very convenient… Hopefully they’ll extend the promo period, as you said.
Gaby recently posted..Review: La Parrillada

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 10:59 am

We’ll have to see. Hope they do, just out of good will.

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Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) January 24, 2012 at 11:18 am

Ginger & Spice is relatively close to me, yet I’ve never tried it. Part of the reason is because I have a regular eating (Malaysian) partner who prefers not to go there due to it being Singaporean. Another reason is because Mamak is even closer to me than G&S! =p
Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) recently posted..Chinese New Year 2012

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 11:32 am

A cultural pride thing? That aside, having Mamak close would be a fair enough point in of itself.

Wish Mamak was that close to me.

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Sara (Belly Rumbles) January 24, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Really is interesting that they close for renos during a scheduled promotion. Food looks good and will be interesting to see what happens when the re-open.
Sara (Belly Rumbles) recently posted..Green Chile Chicken Tamales

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Simon January 24, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Only a couple of days to go until their renovations are over. Guess we’ll have to see then :)

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The Food Sage January 25, 2012 at 8:58 pm

It sounds like a case of an overwhelmed new restaurant to me. Still, the Char Kway Teow sounds great and it’s within a hop, skip and a jump from work, so will try it out one lunch time. Thanks for sharing. And for your updates!
The Food Sage recently posted..Burma: a culinary snapshot

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Simon January 28, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Your welcome. I hope you enjoy it :)

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penny aka jeroxie January 25, 2012 at 11:43 pm

I am slowly going through the Malaysian restaurants in Sydney… so happy that there are more choices than just Mamak now!
penny aka jeroxie recently posted..The Book Kitchen, Gnome and Bruschetteria 102, Surry Hills

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Simon January 28, 2012 at 12:05 pm

If you go outside of the CBD area, there’s even more. I’m happy with the increasing update of Malaysian food of late.

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Vivian - vxdollface January 27, 2012 at 1:03 am

hmm I’ve been wondering what all the hype was about but no teh tarik?!! :(
the drinks on the menu are very Cantonese/HK style like snow white, black cattle etc
The chicken rice & beef rendang sound intriguing! Shame I missed out on the $5 special

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Simon January 28, 2012 at 12:04 pm

I thought the same of the drinks menu when I saw it for the first time.

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Eccles January 28, 2012 at 9:12 am

Your link to Petaling Street, takes me to a Melbourne restaurant. Might be a tad far for a quick lunch? ;P

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Simon January 28, 2012 at 12:01 pm

Good point. The link is for the right company as they have a branch in Sydney but they haven’t updated their website. While the link will eventually be right (hopefully), here’s a link to their address details on Urbanspoon.

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Food is our religion January 29, 2012 at 11:31 am

Damn I missed out on the $5 special but it seems really strange that they closed and re-opened. That’s a first for me.
Food is our religion recently posted..Tea 101 and Cone Pizza, Parramatta

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Julie January 29, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Simon thanks so much for sharing this review. I am looking forward to trying this place since I lover ginger and smart. Cant believe about the rice being extra for the chicken!
Julie recently posted..White wine Sangria

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julie January 30, 2012 at 11:05 am

omg ginger and spice not smart.. failed typo..

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Simon January 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm

lol! it happens :)

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Simon January 30, 2012 at 4:41 pm

I heard the same thing from a convo on Instagram. It seems like it’s sacrilege to not include the chicken rice along with the dish.

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Anna @ the shady pine January 30, 2012 at 9:36 am

This really is the type of food I love and would love to try making a version of this dish at home actually.
Anna @ the shady pine recently posted..Balloons, Birthday Cake & Marshies

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Simon January 30, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Same here. Envious of families that can make it at any time and, at times, better than what you can find in a restaurant.

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Nic@diningwithastud February 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Shame about the chicken rice but the rendang looks amazing!!

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joey@FoodiePop February 22, 2012 at 10:25 am

Wow, so many updates! The beef rendang looks delish and I also hate tiny prawns in dishes. Cheap and tacky.
joey@FoodiePop recently posted..Dish Of The Week – Chefs Gallery (Sydney)

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PickyEater July 5, 2012 at 8:28 pm

Nonya is no longer related to Ginger and Spice and the chef has gone back to Neutral Bay. has anyone been back since the split? Is the food still good?

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Simon July 6, 2012 at 11:53 am

I wasn’t aware that that was the case. I also haven’t been back since the time of the blog post, towards their opening. If I do go back, I’ll make sure to let you know :)

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SeeFoodDiet July 10, 2012 at 12:41 am

Heard the same news that Ginger & Spice chef has returned to Neutral Bay. Walked past Nonya twice in a week a few weeks ago and saw only a couple of tables at lunch time on each occasion. Might have just been bad days but I didn’t want to take my chances. Can’t comment on the actual food now, but if crowds (or lack thereof) are anything to go by…
Incidentally, in the promo period, I tried my all time favourite dish – kecap manis sotong. It was a little burnt, and wasn’t the same as Ginger and Spice.

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Cludia July 7, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I was at Nonya last month and realized that they have a menu that differs from Ginger & Spice Neutral Bay. Definitely a disappointment! Food aren’t that great anymore as their chef has gone back to Neutral Bay. Will follow such a great chef anywhere he goes!

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Eva September 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

Went back last week on a Fri night since the opening, their menu has changed but it was a bit of wait as we didn’t make a booking. We waited for 15mins for a 6 people table however the food didn’t disappoint us.

We’ve ordered the singaporen crab , assam prawns, hainan chicken, redang beef and their signature CKT. We were so full and had no room for desserts but one of my friends ordered the ice kacang to share amongst us.

We also saw that Nonya was in the finalist in something of the City of Sydney. So they must be doing well?!

So Yes , we will go back for sure but will make a booking with a group of 6 to avoid the waiting :)

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Simon September 18, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Eva, I’m glad to hear that you had enjoyed your experience there. Thanks for leaving a comment :)

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