Friday, November 16, 2012

Little Nyonya, Docklands by Big Fil

A Nyonya is a woman of mixed Chinese and Malay background. As I understand it centuries ago Chinese traders were not allowed to bring their wives from home with them when establishing homes in South East Asia and so often married local women. Their descendents are referred to as Baba or Nyonya depending on whether male or female. They are also sometimes referred to as Peranakan or Straits Chinese. The largest concentrations of Baba Nyonya today can be found in Penang and Melaka in Malaysia, and in Singapore. As well as a unique cultural identity they also have a distinctive cooking style, mixing Chinese ingredients and cooking techniques with local spices, Indonesian and Malay in the south but with more Thai influences in Penang.

The Little Nyonya, as well as being a comparatively recent TV series made in Singapore, is also a restaurant down in the docklands. It’s done up to try to look like an old style Peranakan mansion, all the way to including reproductions of photos of old Melaka street scenes on the walls.

With a large group of us visiting on the night we managed to get through too many dishes to describe in real detail so I’ll focus on the ones I liked the most, or at least can best remember several weeks later. First of all from the entrees the Nyonya hats or pie tee. These are little deep fried baskets that kind of look like upside down top hats and are filled with assorted diced items such as prawns.

Also apparently good was the loh bak, spiced pork wrapped in sheets of bean curd and then deep fried. I had given this a miss because I don’t normally like it but apparently in this case I missed out.

The char kway teoh came with Mmm’s recommendation as the best in Melbourne. I am not sure that I’d go that far, but it did come with plenty of wok hei.

I liked the braised pork leg very much, with its slightly fatty but extremely tender meat. I am not sure it is routinely available though, as I think Mmm chose it off of the specials menu.

Mr Mmms favaourite was the stir fried green beans. I’d have agreed that these were one of the more interesting dishes, served with ikan bilis to give the dish a boost in flavour and some crunch to the texture.

The Beef Rendang was the wetter style version rather than the more dry sauce style which I prefer, but still very tender and tasty. The roti was very good and rumour has it that the butter prawns were as well, although I didn’t get to try them.

Dishes I probably wouldn’t order again include the Assam Fish, which I found sweeter than I’d have preferred, and the salt and pepper tofu, which none of us liked the texture of and found lacking in the flavour department.

To finish off our meal we went for a couple of serves of the ais kachang and cendol. I thought these were two of the better versions of these desserts I have had in Melbourne, sweet and cold and very generous in size so that two serves were enough for eight of us to try.

And finally, the tea tarik is kind of sweet and a little weak, good but more kopitiam than mamak in style.

I’d have put the food in the fairly good but not outstanding category, good enough that I’d go again in the area but probably not make a special return visit to. The only disappointment is that we didn’t get to try the bak kut teh, a dish that’s hard to find in Melbourne and I think only offered Friday and Saturday nights.

Food – 7
Ambience – 7.5
Service – 7.5
Price – 6.5

818 Bourke Street
Docklands VIC3008
Tel: (03) 9640 0237

Little Nyonya Australia on Urbanspoon

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