When thinking of Indonesian food, images of nasi goreng or beef rendang might come to mind. While that wouldn’t be wrong, there’s much more to Indonesian food than the few dishes on heavy rotation in Melbourne, and Yoi is here to prove that.
The family-run venue was started by mother Lie Lie Tjoa, and brothers Gideon and Michael Sanusi in August 2019. “We were the first ones who introduced martabak manis (a fluffy sweet pancake) to Melbourne that is made fresh to order. We make it the same as the street vendors in Indonesia,” said Gideon.
The venue itself is clad in floor-to-ceiling glass and the modern insides of this culinary conservatory were designed by architecture and interior design studio T-a Square. Concrete walls meet lush, baby ferns and there’s a mishmash of brown leather seats and wooden benches. Plants are sprawled across the venue and you could almost imagine you’re in an upscale venue in the middle of Jakarta. A digital waiter (aka a polite robot on wheels) adorns rows of trays and dishes up food at tables – a sure-fire hit with kids and the easiest way to get them to eat.
The martabak in question is a sweet, stuffed pancake that’s thicker than a baseball mitt. It’s spongy and more of a crumpet-pancake hybrid than a run-of-the-mill short stack. Choose between the classic or the pandan infused martabak stuffed with your choice of toppings, but shredded cheese, peanuts and Nutella are usually the way to go. The family lather it in a Dutch salted butter that contains a higher milk fat percentage than most butter and soak it in enough condensed milk to make anyone lactose intolerant squirm. The result is a warm, cheesy dessert that will leave you covered in chocolate.
“We bring in the Wijsman (which is made in the Netherlands) ourselves from Indonesia. This is the main ingredient that gives the martabak its signature smell and taste. We also bring in curry spices from Padang, Sumatra which is the birthplace of beef rendang. We even bring in pepper from the island of Bangka which is much stronger than the pepper in Australia and we use it in nearly all of our dishes,” he said. Tjoa would lug over spices and butter in her suitcase on her annual return from Jakarta and this would make for interesting customs conversations.
The spices are pronounced in each dish on the menu. The chilli crab noodles feature an island of egg noodles and fresh chunks of crab floating on a bed of vermillion sauce spiked with garlic, red shallots and chilli. While the dish appears spicy enough to make you beeline for the kitchen sink, it’s deceivingly delicate with the addition of sugar to balance it out. Sanusi’s pride and joy is the salted egg chicken rice that he invented himself and was the inspiration behind the restaurant’s creation. Nuggets of fried chicken are coated in creamy, salted egg yolk and garnished with fried curry leaves and a fried egg. It’s a rich dish but there’s plenty of iced Indonesian milk-based drinks on offer to cut through it all.
You might need to unbutton your jeans for breathing space as you leave, but the experience will leave you feeling sated.