Ria: Authentic Malaysian

This is restaurant review in as few words as I can manage.

I went to Ria recently with my fellow bloggers from Perth Norg, for a bit of a get together and to see what we could see. I had previously heard some quasi Malaysian friend of a friend bagging it out for not being ‘authentic’, which made me wonder if it was any good or not. What I’ve since realised after going there is that the only thing that probably wasn’t authentic enough was the price, and the fact that some actual care has gone into the food rather than just throwing it onto a plate and grunting in your general direction (ala many of the Malaysian restaurants I’ve been too).

Now I’m not going to put myself up to be some kind of expert on Malaysian food, or curry, or really anything to do with original authenticity of ethnic dishes… personally the ‘authentic’ debate doesn’t interest me. It’s tired and is constantly pulled out as a reason to dislike a style of food or restaurant for unjustified reasons. Just because someone makes a style of curry in a different way than your great great great grandmother who originated from the very village where it was FIRST CREATED EVER… it doesn’t mean it is a bad meal. It just means it different. Funny little word that, but a very significant one. If uniformity in food was a good thing, then we’d all be eating at McDonalds and Han’s (and that’s a world I don’t want to have to imagine).

The nature of food in Australia is such that it is inherently a conglomeration (avoiding the word ‘fusion’) of many different types of food. You’ve got ye olde English roasts, your Irish stews, the huge Mediterranean influence of Italian, Greek, and French food, all manner of styles of Asian cooking, and most recently the middle eastern and African migrants bringing lots of lovely spices and styles for us to absorb into the ever growing organism that is the Australian diet.

So onto the restaurant. It’s kinda funky and relaxed, up market but not overly wanky. It is Leederville after all… If it was in Subiaco it would probably have turned out like Buddha Bar, which would not be a good thing. The restaurant is run by chef Deborah Ting and her husband Richard Serrano, who apparently got bored of cooking Italian food, closed up the shop, and reopened as Ria. She is Malaysian Chinese, and the food takes into account a lot of family recipes that she has given her own particular style. It’s quite hard to describe the food, but hearty currys and piquant flavours flow through the whole menu. Look up the style of cooking that is Nonya, and you’ll get a good idea of what some of the food is like.

Her signature dish is a braised caramelised duck called ‘Mum’s lok ak’, and its superb.
Other things we tried were the Chinese Shredded Beef and a Beef Rendang, along with some bok choy and tofu as a side. All very tasty and surprisingly moreish. So much so that I went back the next night to try a few more dishes.

Knowing Sharon would be keen to try this place out too, we headed back again on a Thursday night, after having just eaten there the night before. This time we ordered a chicken and chickpea curry, a lamb curry with star anise, the Nonya Acar Fish (absolute stand out), rice, more bok choy and a bottle of wine. Which was in fact more than we’d ordered the night before when we had 4 people.

Second time around it didn’t disappoint either. We also managed to do some star spotting with ‘HG Nelson‘ apparently in town, and stopping by for a casual dinner with his lady friend.
My only complaint about the place was that our waiter looked like had never carried more than one plate before in his life, and I was expecting to wear half of the dishes he brought over as he shakily fumbled them onto the table. That an the fact that he decided to finish his shift before asking if we wanted any desserts didn’t help either. But I’m not going to write off a place for a couple of oversights.

All in all the food was excellent, the vibe relaxed and happy, and the price just right to not break the bank while probably sending the majority of people who bemoan ‘newfangled’ upmarket restaurants that make traditionally based foods, back to food court land to get their fill of cheap eats with plastic forks. Most dishes are around $18 or so, and substantial enough so that you don’t feel ripped off.

So yeh…that’s all. Go try it, authentic or not, it’s intensely tasty… and keep your eyes out for some Nonya inspired meals coming to an Abstract Gourmet near you soon.

Ria Authentic Malaysian Food
Unit 1
160 Oxford St
Leederville 6007 WA
Phone: (08) 9328 2998

13 thoughts on “Ria: Authentic Malaysian”

  1. sometimes when a malaysian says it’s not ‘authentic’ he/she mightn’t know what they’re talking about either ;) they’re just used to eating what they ‘think’ is good/authentic food. :D

  2. Well i’m not quite ready to start discrediting an entire nations palates just yet :) But if everyone was a little more open to trying food they already “know” in different guises…I think we’d see some great food being produced that otherwise wouldn’t have been “authentic” enough.

  3. I suppose the issue is where do you draw the line? In America they have a dish called crab rangoon which is deep fried crab meat with cream cheese. Most Burmese people would be horrified but to make matters worse Americans get it at Chinese takeaway joints. Wrong Asian nation and even then it’s not authentic. I love fusion and cuisines adapting but I don’t want us to go down that path :)

  4. I have to say I really enjoyed the food at Ria, and I know my dad will be rolling his eyes at the food and the price…but frankly this place isn’t catered for people like my dad :P

    I find it quite frustrating that so many asian restaurants (whether it’s chinese/malaysian or Hong Kong or Indian etc) do pretty much the same thing to cater for what people ‘expect’…I find it hard to differentiate between them all, so I don’t have a favourite! I like that Ria is doing things a bit differently by being creative.

    I find those people who complain about food not being “authentic” (my asian rellies and friends) are usually the same ones that complain that food is much better ‘back home’. So these people aren’t really giving anything new a chance. I do understand what it is like to miss authentic food (Oh I miss the food in Japan!!!), but I refuse to to stay emotionally attached to something I ate in the past, just like relationships/life – we must move on :)

  5. Hi R, firstly I don’t think deep fried cream cheese counts as food…but moving on… I think it’s all in the semantics. From what I can gather crab rangoon was never a Burmese dish, and was basically given that name to identify with Americans who wanted to think they were getting real asian food from their local Chinese takeaway store…but without the chickens feet and pig offal. Which is really another story altogether.

    I think Sharon has hit the nail on the head, and surmised what I what trying to say quite well. This concept of “back home” food, whilst often true, is not a healthy way to approach it, otherwise you will never expand your palate or appreciate for the regional variances in food. And you’ll spend your life visiting crappy suburban food courts… and really, who wants to have to do that :)

  6. Haven’t been to Ria though I’ve heard some pretty good stuff about it. Must find a day to go with another friend who likes checking out new places.

  7. I should try Ria some time, but (and I blush to say this) I’m probably one of those sorts who balk at paying $17 for a bowl of laksa (fragrant and tasty though it may be) when I can get one at the local hawkers area for $7.00. But Acar Fish is going to convince me to give this a go. Thanks for the review Matt.

  8. Sengsta, I should have guessed you were a food hall man at heart… but I won’t hold it against you this time… Still, Ria really is worth the price.

    As for the review, I am more than happy to volunteer my stomach and taste buds in the pursuit of good food… it’s a labour of love… and calories.

  9. ria represents a fresh twist to malaysian food. Take tried and tested home cooked dishes, give them enticing names and sprinkle some cilantro and there you have it!! Price it at mid-levels, add a dash of modern deco and friendly staff. Its a great formula for success. all the best to them. !!

  10. Peter: I think you have a career in overly enthusiastic restaurant profile writing just waiting for you. That comment reads exactly like something a restaurateur would write.

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