Time Out says
Malaysian restaurants are a dime a dozen in this city, but few of them are as refined as Merah
Having run popular student destination Nasi Lemak House in Carlton since 2008, Merah’s owners Aline Viravouth and Marcel Nantharath are no strangers to the famous Malaysian dish of coconut rice. It’s fitting that the name of their new upmarket Northcote venue, Merah, means red in Malay because red is all we see after sampling the Kerabu sambal in their superior nasi lemak. It’s a fiery injection for the fluffy rice and hard boiled egg, an infusion of shrimp, lime leaf and copious amounts of chilli served alongside fried peanuts and salty slivers of crunchy anchovies. Here you get no flourishes of beef rendang or fried chicken – simplicity is the name of the game.
Fried chicken is the restaurant’s best seller. Milder on the heat factor than Mamak’s famed ‘ayam berempah’ (spiced fried chicken), the meat in Merah’s iteration is dusted in potato flour and then deep fried, served with a squeeze of lime over the drumsticks and wings and gifted a creamy piquancy care of mayo-spiked with sweet and sour Kelantan sambol.
Two dishes are the barometer of any good Malaysian restaurant – beef rendang and kangkung belachan (water spinach stir-fried with shrimp chilli paste). At Merah the beef might not be fall-apart tender, but the mild coconut curry sauce is creamy with ground, toasted coconut and fragrant with pounded lemongrass and spices. The kangkung belacan has the certified stamp of approval known as ‘wok hei’ (otherwise known as wok breath) from being stir-fried over a large wok, with generous levels of heat and umami from the garlicky shrimp paste coating every leaf.
Don’t miss Merah’s cendol sundae. Cendol are strips of lurid green rice flour pandan jelly famous in Southeast Asia and typically paired with shaved ice. Merah’s cendol eschews convention, with the jelly served underneath fragrant coconut ice cream and coconut sugar crumble.
If we were to have one quibble, it’s the uneven pricing of Merah’s menu. $16.50 is a reasonable price for seven generous pieces of Merah fried chicken, but it makes the $15 price tag on the Langkawi mocktail seem out of step with the rest of the menu, likewise $25 for mamak mee goreng, a Malaysian street food dish known for being economical.
Merah is a stark departure from Nasi Lemak House, but you’d expect nothing less on High Street, Northcote where diners with deeper pockets have become Viravouth and Nantharath’s main clientele. But the essence of what makes people flock to Nasi Lemak House hasn’t been lost in translation to their more up-market digs.
|Opening hours:||Tue-Fri 5.30pm-10pm; Sat-Sun 12pm-3pm, 5.30pm-10pm|