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

Cafe Banca

I make perhaps the worst restaurant reviewer in history. That is unless anyone wants to read a bunch of reviews about which restaurants are the best places to go to on a complete whim shortly before they close and still hope to get a decent meal.

It was a Thursday night, we’d been out shopping, leaving it too late as we always do, by the time the shopping was done (read: I got hungry and cranky), it was around 9pm. Now to most of you reading this post from the Eastern States or overseas, this might not be such a problem. If you’re in Perth however, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that the situation was dire. On a Thursday night, at 9pm, you’ve got a slim chance of finding anywhere to eat that isn’t a) Closed b) About to close c) McDonalds, or d) Primarily inhabited by drug addicts.

So it was a lovely surprise when we wandered into Cafe Banca at 9:15pm, and (after a quick consultation with the kitchen) were given a seat. Noted, we did have to order within 5 minutes, and asked to only order certain things because most of the stuff had been put away already… but we were so overjoyed at getting to eat at all it didn’t seem to matter.

Cafe Banca is a well appointed restaurant on Wanneroo Rd in Tuart Hill. It could be my local if I was one of those people who have locals, but I’m not, so it isn’t. It’s almost a little too funky for the spot that it’s in, which has lead me to question just how well they do there, but from the looks on the faces of the diners that were there (not being the kind of people who leave it too late to go out for dinner) it’s doing just fine.

We were initially seated next to the kitchen, but then moved to a comfy booth in the middle of the restaurant, one of the few booths i’ve been in that are actually comfortable and practical (I’m a big booth fan, but not when it means you’re sliding off the seat and have trouble reaching the plate because you’re slouched backwards in a highly trendy but utterly impractical way).

So, not wanting to overstep the mark of the already lovely service and hospitality we were shown, I promptly ordered the black and white prawn linguini, and Sharon picked the lamb shanks with mash potato, which I immediately wished I had ordered for myself. We also decided on a bottle of cheap wine to wash it all down, $15 for a bottle of Murphy’s Lore Shiraz Cabernet, crazy cheap, and a nice quaffing wine.

The meals arrived fast… a little too fast, but not surprisingly fast, if that makes any sense. By the time we got in and had ordered, the rest of the people in the place were ordering coffees or finishing off what was left in their glasses of wine before slinking back off into the night to their beds (like all good Perthites should). So there was nary an order coming into the kitchen except ours.

My meal was great, prawns were tasty and fresh, and the linguini had a chilli through it that gave it a nice kick. Sharon’s lamb shanks were so tender they fell of the bones before she could get to it herself (which I’m hoping was because they’d been slow cooked all day up until that point). The wine flowed freely and went down easily, to the point where we suitably rosey by the end.

At the end the owner was there to ask our how the meal was and generally made us feel like he was really happy we had decided to stop by, which was great. So you never know, it may just end up becoming my local after all.

Cafe Banca
75 Wanneroo Road, Tuart Hill
Phone: 9344 7007


Lava Stone Grill

I’m trying to catch up on the reviews to some of the places i’ve eaten recently… So here’s another one.

Lava Stone Grill is on Walcott St in Mt Lawley, it’s a funky looking place in a refurbished house… it looks pretty small from the front, but actually has two really big rooms inside.

Sharon and I had driven past this place all the time on the way in and out of the city or to Mt Lawley, and so one lazy week night we decided to try it on a whim and see what it was all about.

The concept is basically that they bring out these special hot “lava” stones… that have been in the oven for a while and are bloody hot (don’t touch them!). You then order your meat and/or vegetables, which are brought out to you raw, with an assortment of sauces. You then put your meat onto the stone and it literally cooks in front of you. When the meat or veges are done to your liking you cut bits off, or transfer it to another small plate, add the sauces and away you go.

I ordered the mixed grill which comes with fillets of beef, pork, & lamb and a chicken tenderloin…and is served with a pepper and brandy sauce, maple syrup, and a whisky and ginger sauce… which were really tasty sauces.

I’d have to say it’s a novel concept, but i thought it was pretty pricey… most of the meals are in the order of $25-$30… which is not extravagently expensive…but when im cooking the food myself i’d expect it to be cheaper. I also found the practicality of cooking and eating from the stone didn’t really add up to the novelty… My food ended up getting overcooked after a while and it was hard not to burn yourself on the stone every now and then while leaning over to pick up your glass etc.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a good meal, i did enjoy it, and the meat was excellent quality. I guess i’ll just put it in the nice to try once basket, but not the type of place i’d go to regularly. On another positive note, the wait staff were all really friendly, almost to the point of being quite casual, but then this is Perth :)

Anyway… Give it a try and make up your own mind.

Lava Stonegrill
155 Walcott St Mt Lawley, Western Australia, 6050
(08) 9328 6669