K is of Malaysian descent on his father’s side. We see his paternal extended family quite often, and of course, we usually see them for a meal in a restaurant. It ties into the whole Asian family method of expressing love through force-feeding, with his grandmother ensuring that we both have fourth and fifth helpings whenever we go out.
Since dating K, I’ve been exposed to a lot more in the way of new Malaysian foods. Items I’ve not tried before like ais kacang, kaya and murtabak are now some of my favourite foods. However, I know that my knowledge of Malaysian food is still elementary at best, especially given the cultural diversity of their various regions, and I’m keen to be better educated!
Most buffets I’ve previously attended fall into one of two categories – they either try so hard to cover all cuisines and dishes that they lose the quality, or they limit themselves so much that they lose the variety. The Flavours of Malaysia buffet struck a good balance between having a good selection of dishes and quality. Oh, the quality! I’ve never yet eaten Malaysian food in Malaysia (something that will change with future holidays to Malaysia to visit K’s family), but K assured me that all the dishes we sampled were highly authentic, and similar to what he has eaten in Malaysia.
This no doubt is due to the fact that the Grace Hotel has flown a number of highly regarded chefs from Malaysia to Sydney for the month, to cook the dishes for the buffet. K actually wondered whether they brought particular spices with them to cook with, as some dishes achieved a certain spicy taste that you can’t even find in the most authentic Malaysian restaurants in Sydney.
The selection of cold dishes was particularly varied. I took delight in the “Make Your Own Gado-Gado” ingredients that you could help yourself to, loading mine with white turnip, cucumber, pineapple, bean shoots, pineapple, hard-boiled egg, and topped with satay sauce. It was absolutely beautiful – better than my parents used to make for the take-away shop they ran for fifteen years. I also enjoyed the cold squid salad, but the tripe salad was a bit bland – possibly because all the other dishes were so loaded with flavours that a simpler dish didn’t stand out.
The nasi served particularly well as a base for the dishes like curries that had a lot of sauce. It wasn’t particularly flavourful in itself (not like a standard nasi), but complemented many of the curries well. The roti bread was also good with the curries – but truthfully, I’ve probably had better roti bread elsewhere. The roti really wasn’t anything special, but it served its purpose.
These were probably two of my favourite dishes today – squid in a sambal sauce, and hard boiled eggs in a sweet sauce. It can be really supremely hard to do squid well, and getting the consistency right really requires pinpoint timing. This squid was perfectly soft without being overcooked and chewy. No mean feat, considering that it was sitting in a bain-marie for a while. The egg itself was really nice as well – a standard hard-boiled egg that had been lightly battered and fried (I assume!), then cooked in this subtle sweet sauce. A really simple dish (try this at home!), but effective and a real winner.
I’m a fan of meat on sticks – from the Uyghur lamb skewers I’ve had in Shanghai to barbecue skewers at an Australian backyard barbecue. It’s just such a simple but effective way of cooking and enjoying food. These satay sticks were well spiced but unfortunately they had been sitting on the bain-marie for a while, so had lost much of the best part of a good satay stick – getting to eat it as it comes directly off a sizzling plate. The spices were great though!
There were a large number of curries available – lamb, beef, fish, chicken, prawn, vegetable. I tried a bite of each, and the prawn was definitely the stand out with a touch of sweetness in the sauce. The boneless chicken curry was also well done, with the chicken cooked so well that it practically melted in my mouth when I ate it. Unfortunately the fish was too overdone for my liking, with the flesh quite tough.
You can also go directly to the chefs and get a bowl of har mee made fresh on request. The soup of the har mee was perfect, with a good amount of green veggies and fresh bean shoots to balance the starchiness of the noodles. There was only one prawn in the har mee however, so if you wish for more, you’ll have to request it directly.
Mmm, desserts! Having an insatiable sweet tooth, I tried a bit of the main dishes – bean curd in a rice cake covering, a pandan pancake with coconut and palm sugar filling, banana fritters, and blue glutinous rice cake. The standouts were the pandan pancake (largely for the coconut filling), and the banana fritters. While the fritters weren’t perfect given the slightly thicker batter, it was still amazing. K tells me that there’s a man in Penang who specialises in banana desserts who does it better – I can’t wait to try it one day!
We finished with the “make your own ais kacang” to share – a cool dessert of shaved ice with evaporated milk, rose syrup and various toppings including fruit jelly, lychees and black jelly. I was disappointed that there wasn’t a “make your own cendol” station as I prefer the grass jelly and palm sugar of cendol, but the ais kacang was still really good!
We both ordered drinks to have with our meal – K ordered a “Fresh Young Coconut” drink, and I ordered the Tropical Punch. The coconut was actually a mature coconut so didn’t have the sweetness that young coconuts have, which was disappointing. My tropical punch tasted primarily like orange juice with chunks of fruit – nothing special, but enough to quench the thirst. I would probably recommend ordering standard bottled drinks where you’re guaranteed a certain quality – beers, soft drinks and similar.
In terms of service, there were some administrative issues when we first arrived (my name wasn’t on the guest list) and when settling our beverages bill at the end (they needed a printout of the invitation but I only had it on my phone), but these are not issues that would affect a regular guest attending of their own accord. The service throughout the meal itself was quite attentive.
Overall, I rate the Flavours of Malaysia buffet at The Grace Hotel a 8.5 out of 10.
The food was, on the whole, nearly faultless. any low points were not food-related, so if you’re after hearty good food, Flavours of Malaysia is the place to be!
Flavours of Malaysia is on at The Grace Hotel from October 5 to October 21 as part of the Crave Sydney International Food Festival. For reservations and more information, visit the website, call 02 9272 6670 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: I attended the Flavours of Malaysia buffet as a guest of The Grace Hotel’s for review purposes. My attendance was free of charge, but all words and opinions are my own.