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.
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
Mon-Thur, Sun: 11:30am-10:30pm