I turned up to lunch at the new PappaRich store feeling a little sheepish. I was about to meet one of Australia's most well loved and recognisable cooks, and what I knew about Malayasian cooking was limited to a meal I once ate on a Malaysian Airlines flight. So not much.
Masterchef favourite Poh is the new ambassador for Papparich
Masterchef favourite Poh Ling Yeow has signed on to become the ambassador for the PappaRich brand which – while extremely popular in Kuala Lumpur and across Asia – is relatively new to Australia. The first Perth store opened in Northbridge about six months ago, and the second store has just burst onto the scene at Carousel Shopping Centre in Cannington.
Now, I know what you might be thinking, because I had the same thoughts myself – chain restaurants can be pretty unimaginative and ordinary. But I was relieved to find the restaurant itself a beautiful space with friendly staff, and the queues that formed outside quickly dispelled any concern that the food being created at Papparich isn't authentic and fresh. Perth people as a rule don't like to queue, so when they do, it is usually for a very good reason.
Poh grew up in Malaysia with PappaRich from her teens, so she is very familiar with their food. In fact, she didn't stop ordering and eating the entire time we were there, a massive endorsement if there ever was one. It was also a Malaysian Food 101 lesson for me and some of the other writers.
According to Poh, Malaysian food is fast and meagre, and while we Aussies might think a big slab of steak or half a chook as the main act at dinnertime, in Malaysian cuisine, the rice is the centre of the meal, and the other dishes are there to flavour the meal. She recalled arriving in Australia and being astounded at seeing a man eat a whole plate of beef in black bean with hardly any rice. 'That would be equivalent of drinking straight cordial to us,' she laughed.
It turns out though, that I have probably eaten a lot more Malaysian food than I had realised. Many Asian restaurants tend to serve up Malaysian dishes without labelling it as such. So that laksa you enjoy regularly: thought it was Thai? Think again.
Despite its very Italian sounding name, Papparich is an authentic Malay experience and even though it was bustling from 10.30am, you won't be finding any breakfast menus here. In Malaysia, said Poh, you eat the same meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, pointing to a dish of rice, dried fish and peanuts that she grew up on for breakfast. So if you are the type of person who enjoys a big meaty dish first thing in the morning, you have just hit the jackpot.
The menu at Papparich is extensive and covers rice dishes to noodle dishes, breads, rotis, curries, satays and soups.
Vegetarians are well taken care off with at least 12 full dishes available and there are also pages of sweet desserts to tempt you.
One of the biggest surprises was the number of beverages offered – there are in fact over 60 different drinks available. 'Malaysians don't drink alcohol,' Poh explained, so they tend to give extra care and thought to the drinks they offer. As a consequence, PappaRich has a huge variety of drinks including tea and coffee based drinks, as well as fruit drinks and drinks with jelly. But this is no ordinary short black or cuppa tea.
We were able to watch a traditional tea pulling, where the hot black tea is poured from a great height and caught in a jug (most of it anyway), to much applause from the other diners. The traditional black tea is very hot, and by 'pulling' the tea, it not only cools it, but also makes it stronger, which is then drunk with sweetened condensed milk.
My favourite was the lychee soda, a refreshingly tall glass of lychee juice, soda water, fresh lime, mint and two lychees. However, if lychee isn't your favourite you could always try freshly squeezed watermelon juice or tropical lime which is made with coconut milk.
We were able to try a number of the signature dishes including satay, asam laksa and chicken rice. As the dishes are brought out as soon as they are prepared, it creates a constantly moving feast (literally). Even the ordering system is fun, with little shopping lists on your table, and a doorbell system which you ring for one of the serving staff to come over and take your order.
This style of hawker food is fast and extremely fresh. If you're not convinced of either, then you can watch your meal being prepared in the open kitchen. The whole restaurant is smart, shiny and clean, with wicker backed chairs and vintage style tropical fans that make you think you're sitting in The Raffles, rather than a Westfield. Cutlery and chop sticks are stored in a box on the table (though you might have to hunt around to find serviettes).
You might be familiar with Indian roti, the thin flatbread that is commonly served with curries and condiments, but the Malaysian version is entirely different. Watching Poh and the PappaRich staff prepare them was a lesson in both theatrics and meditation.
Preparing hundreds every day, it becomes addictive, said the chef as he expertly flipped and stretched the shiny white dough. They're also addictive to eat, being chewy and flaky and sweet and buttery all at once. Thoroughly recommended.
Chicken rice is a deceptively simple looking dish, and the presentation is simple as well. Pale chicken, sliced and fanned out next to a ball of rice and dish of bean sprouts, it may look plain, but the flavour is rich and tasty.
I admit I am not a fan of hot, spicy red laksa but I was told I really needed to try the PappaRich asam laksa. While it was spicy and rich, it did not have the fire that destroys tastebuds, and I thoroughly enjoyed its light flavours of tamarind, lime, torch ginger flower and mint. It is a quintessential summer dish.
A tray of satay sticks – beef and chicken – presented beautifully, with a separate compartment for the sauce, chunks of red onion and cucumber pieces. While the beef was a tad dry, the chicken was perfectly moist and very moreish.
Kwai teol is a noodle dish not unlike pad Thai, with slippy rice noodles, eggs, vegetables and pieces of tofu. It had the perfect amount of heat, and would serve as a perfect meal for one if you weren't inclined to share. Having said that, most of the dishes are designed to share, and it is more fun when you get to try a wide range of food.
The chicken curries all had generously sized pieces of chicken in a rich creamy sauce. I had to keep reminding myself that it was there to flavour the rice and not the other way around. I tried, but failed.
This is probably not first date food: not if you are concerned about slippery noodles flopping on the table as you try and dish up, or if you worry about dripping soup or satay sauce down your chin.
But it is perfect for groups who like to share, as well as those who are budget conscious: you can enjoy a big meal for not much at all. Our meal of at least half a dozen different dishes, two drinks apiece, and dessert was around $20 a head.
Until January 2015 they won't have a phone and therefore are cash only for the next few weeks, but it's a small price to pay for a fun and fresh lunch or dinner.
I think it s great that they true to their traditions by not offering alcohol. With the wide range of other options, I bet it proves you don't need alcohol to have a good time. That's some pouring tick the waiter did with the tea.