Until a little while after the heart of food was born, I was rather ambivalent about Malaysian food on the whole. This was mostly due to the fact that I was largely ignorant of the diverse amalgam of cultures and their cuisines.
I still am to a certain degree. However, ever since a trip to Malaysia with a group of food blogging buddies, and with the growing popularity of Malaysian food in Sydney, it’s one that I’m very keen to explore.
Whilst the majority of better known Malaysian restaurants are located either in the surrounding areas of Sydney’s CBD or in the Eastern Suburb, there are also small gems tucked away within suburbia. I recently came across one located within the inner-western suburb of Campsie called Spicy King Restaurant.
Spicy King Restaurant seems popular with the local denizens, as the place was consistently operating close to capacity for most of the evening, on a midweek night no less. I would wager that it partly due to the wide variety of value-priced dishes. Most of the dishes float around the $9-$13 mark on average, with the most expensive dish on the menu capping out at just over $20.
Don’t let the name of the restaurant fool you. Ironically, I found the dishes there to be fairly mild, even the ones marked with a red chilli on the menu – the universal symbol of spicy goodness or hellfire damnation, depending on your tolerance level. I tend to lean towards the spicy goodness end of the spectrum, so your particular experience may vary.
The decor of the restaurant is typical of a lot of inner-suburban Asian restaurants i.e. no frills and brightly lit. However, the service was atypically friendly, attentive and accommodating. When suggestions were requested, a rundown was given of the house specialties, popular dishes and a surprisingly honest appraisal of which dishes were good and which ones were perhaps not as strong by comparison.
The service of food was exceedingly quick. A few minutes after we placed our order, a flurry of plates soon occupied the table in a display of shock and awe, dominating the space in what felt like mere seconds.
Nasi Lemak with Rendang Beef ($9.80) – A decent dish on the whole, but it was let down a little with some of the chunks of beef being dry and overcooked. The rest of the Rendang was reasonably tender though.
Har Mee ($10.80) – This was nice on the whole, with subtle flavours of prawn and spices permeating through the soup. The generous slices of pork were good, but I found the prawn halves to be a little overdone.
Bak Kut Teh with Rice ($9.80) – Bak Kut Teh, which translates to “meat bone tea”, is pretty much just that – hunks of pork meat and offal (stomach I believe in this case), bones provided by pork ribs and a “tea” broth made up of a variety of Chinese herbs and spices. The pork is tender and infused with the mild flavours of the light, somewhat refreshing broth.
Belachan Eggplant ($11.80) – The meaty rich flavour of the eggplant worked well with the background notes of belachan and chili in the sauce. Whilst I would normally have gone with the traditional pairing of belachan with kangkung (water spinach), unfortunately I was told they were not in season.
Spicy Pipis (around $19-20) – A very generous pile of pipis arrived on a metallic serving plate; an off-the-menu item, or at least one that wasn’t present on the main one. Flavoured with a sweet and “spicy” sauce, these plump bivalves were tender and cooked to perfection. A great dish marred only by an occasional grain of sandy grit.
Hainan Chicken Rice ($8.80) – This was a dish the restaurant was rather proud of, as well they should be given they do it rather well. The quarter chicken served with this dish was light, juicy, tender and flavourful. The accompanying fluffy chicken rice on the other hand had a richer flavour to it, serving as somewhat of a contrast to the cleaner flavours of the poached chicken meat.
Butter King Prawns ($20.80) – This visually vibrant dish is about as luxurious as the menu gets, at least from a cost perspective. Whilst the prawns didn’t seem at their freshest, they were cooked well and imparted a rich, buttery flavour infused with a hint of chili and spice. A generous coating of buttery egg floss turns the richness dial up to 11.
Asians aren’t generally big on after-dinner desserts, so it comes as no surprise that there are very few dessert options available. Actually, there’s only one to speak of, and it happens to be made from that polarising, South-East Asian hellspawn of a fruit – durian.
Having such a long standing and impassioned hatred for durian for most of my adult life, I’ve come a long way since those days, all thanks to the trip to Malaysia. Since then, I’ve not only come to the realisation that durian can taste alright, but I actively seek it out from time to time to see whether it still does.
Durian Coconut Pudding ($2.80) – The pudding, as with almost everything else consumed that night, was fairly mild in flavour and subtle in its sweetness. True connoisseurs of durian may scoff at the lack of olfactory punch and aromatic belch this dessert delivers, but for someone who has only recently accepted that durian isn’t the fruit of the devil, it’s just about right for my tastes.
Black Glutinous Rice Dessert ($0.00) – If you’re after something sweet post dinner and durian coconut pudding just isn’t your thing, there’s no need to fret. A soup made from black glutinous rice and served with a dash of coconut milk is offered as a complimentary dessert. Whilst it was rather light, with only a hint of sweetness and coconut flavour, I still found myself demolishing it and left wanting for another helping.
Teh Tarik ($1.50) – Much like the other dishes, the teh tarik’s sweetness is rather mute; a far cry from its usual deliciously cloying sweetness. However, for a-buck-fifty, I’m not complaining.
The food at Spicy King Restaurant, in spite of its name, is rather mild on the whole, making it ideal for those that take issue with strong flavours or the searing heat of chillies.
There’s the option for several traditional Nyonya dishes which are a specialty of the restaurant. However, as locals have found the authentic preparation of these dishes to be too spicy, it’s something that needs to be ordered at least a day in advance.
Whilst I’m certain that I’ll be back for the chicken rice and some pipis, I’m also keen find out how spicy these Nyonya dishes really are. Hopefully then I’ll be able to experience a dish that will live up to the spirit of their name.
the heart of food dined at Spicy King Restarurant by the courtesy of Malaysia Kitchen Australia as a part of their Malaysia Kitchen Summit promotion.
Spicy King Restaurant
140 Beamish Street, Campsie
(02) 8033 9569
Mon-Sun: 10am-3pm, 5pm-10pm