Contestants from Australia’s best-loved cooking shows are making their presence felt in Melbourne. Masterchef winners Sashi Cheliah and Diana Chan made HWKR home to their respective pop-up ventures Gaja and Chanteen, while Cheliah’s fellow finalist Jess Liemantara has partnered with Melbourne caterers Peter Rowland to create a dessert range.
But it’s winning sisters Tasia and Gracia Seger of My Kitchen Rules fame who have established a permanent outpost in the form of Makan, an Indonesian restaurant perched in an alleyway off Little Collins Street. The location is very Melbourne (read: hard to find) but it deviates from the archetypal design of the day. They’re blending early 90s décor with a Miami Vice vibe, textured concrete walls bathed in purple neon lights sit alongside Eastern elements like a rattan crisscross wall, reminiscent of the woven palm leaf pouch of ketupat, an Indonesian dish of packed rice.
The restaurant name translates as ‘eat’. Specifically, you’ll be eating the Balinese fare the Seger sisters grew up with. It’s a mix of dish recognition with chicken satay and nasi goreng, and some less familiar names, like chicken betutu (a dish hailing from Lombok where chicken is roasted in a rich spiced mix) and opor tempeh (fermented soybeans braised in coconut).
The white fish gohu is sold to us as an Indonesian ceviche, and proves a perfect blend of sour, spicy and salty with rockling marinated in salt and citrus juice, then doused in a light tamarind, coriander and shrimp paste dressing. Served alongside rice crackers so thin they dissolve immediately upon touching your tongue, crisp spheres of radish and dollops of creamy avocado, this dish gets top marks for delicacy and textural contrast.
Sate is synonymous with Balinese cuisine, and Makan’s fish sate lilit is a highlight. Akin to a fishball on a stick, it is unlike its chicken satay equivalent. Minced fish and prawn are mixed in with grated coconut, galangal and coriander, skewered on to thin lemongrass stalks and chargrilled. The result is a highly aromatic snack – these come in a serving size of three, you’ll want more.
A quick perusal of Instagram will reveal the Ubud crispy duck to be one of the most popular dishes at Makan, and it does not disappoint IRL. Half a duck seasoned in salt and spices is steamed before being deep-fried to such crispness, even the small morsels of bones can be eaten. The flourish is the two sambals – one a savoury caramelised onion number, the other a fiery red chilli and shrimp paste mix that cut through the fat with their heat and sweetness.
Other dishes on Makan’s menu fail to reach the dizzying heights of these three. The mie goreng has good wok hei (breath of the wok) but is surprisingly muted. The braised oxtail in a thick beef broth is also disappointing; the meat falls off the bone, but the broth is overly sweet without any curry heat.
Cendol panna cotta is an inclusive dessert, dairy-free thanks to the Pandan-flavoured panna cotta being fashioned out of coconut milk. The result is less rich, with mild caramel undertones of palm sugar and the bitter sweetness of diced jackfruit. It might have worked better chilled –at room temperature, the elements become indistinct from one another.
Makan has the makings of a great restaurant – the trappings are there, but the dining experience is very uneven. The Seger sisters have created awesome dishes in the white fish gohu and the Ubud crispy duck; if only the rest of the menu matched them.