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Published May 28th 2019
Whimsical decor meets old-world cuisine
Tea houses are to South East Asia what pubs and cafes are to Sydney. With tea being such an integral part of life in places like Myanmar, India, Malaysia & Vietnam, the outlets that sell it play a role that extends far beyond their arbitrary function.
Tea houses are also hot spots for social activity, with gatherings between friends often taking place within their neatly decorated walls. With this communal vibe in mind, Nan Yang Tea Club serves as a nostalgic ode to such establishments.
The decor immediately makes one feel at home; ready to sit down and catch up with a loved one for an hour or two. The service here is fast, but there's no sense of rush when it comes to taking your time to eat, chat and peruse the menu. The stunning restaurant is fitted with antique furnishings, as well as a vintage rickshaw that guests can sit in to enjoy their meal.
A joint collaboration between executive chefs Kaisern Ching (of Chef's Gallery) and Billy Chong (of Ipoh Town), Nan Yang Tea Club focuses largely on nailing classic dishes from Malaysia. One look at the menu confirms that the chefs are not looking to push any boundaries here; the promise is classic, authentic and well-prepared Malaysian food and they certainly deliver on it.
The menu features some old school favourites like Chilli Crab, Bak Kut Teh (a broth made with pork ribs) and Coconut Chicken Soup. We decided to order the three dishes that appealed to us the most, based on both our mood and curiosity.
Starting off with a safe option, we opted for the Ham Yu Fa Lam, a stir-fried pork belly with salted fish, marinated in a mixture of oyster sauce, sesame oil, Shaoxing wine & aromatic spices. The sauce was the real hero here (as expected) and it managed to balance sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavours marvellously. For some, the marinade might border on being too salty, which is why the dish is best consumed alongside rice or mantou to balance this out.
We were then presented with our second dish for the night, a spicy Sambal Squid sauteed with Okra and Onions. The sambal marinade was made from a paste of fried shrimp and a variety of chilli peppers, giving the entire dish a distinctive and memorable taste. The squid was perfectly cooked (easy to bite and not chewy), and the okra was a perfect accompaniment for the spicy sauce.
Our most adventurous pick from the menu was the Malay Quinoa Fried Rice with Salted Fish, Satay Chicken and fried egg. Props to the chef for the perfectly runny egg yolk that really helped harmonise the quinoa and fish. The egg yolk almost acted like a curry here, with a surprising level of success; without it, the dish would likely have been too salty. With the yolk, it was just right.
The inclusion of the Satay Chicken didn't make much sense but there were no complaints on the table when it arrived - it was easily the best thing on the entire menu. The satay sauce was unique and almost as good as the kind you'd find on Singapore's famous Satay street!
Nan Yang Tea Club is an exciting new addition to Sydney's increasingly diverse culinary scene. Above all, it's fascinating that seemingly traditional restaurants like this one are still managing to challenge our palettes.
Whether it's the quinoa or the sambal, the food here has the remarkable quality of being both new and familiar at the same time, akin to a hug from a childhood friend. For the effortless melding of the old with the new, Nan Yang Tea Club is certainly worth your attention.