Far be it from me to admit defeat so quickly, but I’m starting to question whether or not I’ll be able to complete the challenge I set myself of visiting every establishment on the North Shore train line listed in the Good Food Under $30 guide. With K having recently started a new job in Kings Cross and various other personal commitments, I’m finding that I’m travelling into the city for a meal quite often, rather than dining locally on the North Shore like we’re used to.
Nevertheless, we push on with the challenge slowly and Kuali, a Malaysian restaurant tucked away upstairs in an arcade in Lane Cove is our latest destination. When we arrive at 8pm on a Wednesday evening, the restaurant is already empty – I say ‘already’ with the assumption that there were earlier diners. While we were there however, we were the only ones in the restaurant which resulted in a rather gloomy dining experience as we sat alone in the middle of a large empty room.
Presumably because of the lack of patronage, the staff were very attentive and practically bent over backwards to give us everything we wanted – starting with some complimentary prawn crackers served in a cute mini-wok bowl. By Australian standards, these prawn crackers weren’t bad – they had a crispy ‘snap’ to them, and dissolved nicely in your mouth. I’ve tried proper Malaysian prawn crackers that are almost as big as your head though, and these simply don’t compare as the essence of the prawn flavouring just isn’t as strong.
Our first entree arrived quickly and I was surprised by what the dish actually was. I don’t know what I was expecting – perhaps something more like the neatness of Chinese radish cake? In any case despite my surprise, I really enjoyed this dish as there was a great smokey flavour that went through the whole dish which is a real testament to quality stirfrying. The bean shoots also managed to remain crunchy, and I loved the freshness that this gave to the dish as well.
Our second entree was the grilled otak-otak, or spicy fish mousse. Beautifully wrapped up in leaves and chargrilled, the otak-otak looked amazingly authentic and similar to what you might find on the streets of Malaysia. Unwrapping the parcel, the fish itself was super tasty, well spiced with a good amount of herbs. On the whole though, I actually prefer the otak-otak from Sambal in Ryde which has a higher level of chilli hotness.
Like the fried parsnip cake before it, the kuay teow had a fantastically smokey flavour throughout which is one of my benchmarks for how good a dish is. They were very generous with their additional ingredients as well, with a good amount of both prawn and chicken throughout the dish. An all-around great dish.
We finished our meal with pandan pancakes – a favourite of mine. The palm sugar infused grated coconut inside was just heavenly, with a toasted crunch but sweet syrup. The pancake didn’t really have enough of a pandan flavour, but it was still delicious!
Overall, I rate Kuali a 7.5 out of 10 – the food was quite decent, but the atmosphere incredibly somber! Part of it can possibly be blamed on the time and day that we went, so I would recommend going on a Friday or Saturday evening instead.