With two reviews down, I decided to visit Chillipadi in Melbourne Central for my third Malaysia Kitchen restaurant review – the main reason being that I have quite literally walked past this eatery a countless number of times whilst living in Melbourne, but I’ve never actually ventured inside. In fact, during my uni years I had often sat at the Max Brenner store next door while being completely oblivious to what sort of restaurant Chillipadi was.
Maybe the reason for this is that everytime I’d walked past, they were always crazily busy, or maybe it’s because none of my friends were familiar with Malaysian cuisine. It might even have been the fact that due to my own ignorance of Malay food, I was intimidated by the unfamiliar menu and didn’t think to give it a try.
At any rate, now that I had an incentive, I happily made my way there with my kid brother so we could find out what it was all about.
One of the things that has been interesting about my discovery of Malaysian food is seeing the different influences present in the cuisine and also the different way that it is served at different restaurants. Of course, this is to be expected with any restaurant regardless of what they are serving, but things such as the fact that Chillipadi served their Nasi Goreng with a fried egg while Lim’s Nyonya Kitchen had no egg whatsoever was intriguing to me. Are these regional difference? Does it come down to the personal tastes of the chef, or is it a cost thing?
I really wished that I had someone of Malaysian heritage with me who could explain some of the history and culture behind the cuisine since I was stepping foot in this world with complete naivety, though I guess the advantage of this is that I have no expectations whatsoever and am open to each experience as it is presented on the plate.
Vegetarian curry puffs
With that in mind, we decided to try the Chillipadi vegetarian curry puffs as our first entree. Having enjoyed these so much at our first Malaysian experience, we were both keen to see how different they would be to what we experienced at Petaling Street. And oh, how different they were!
The curry puffs that we had at Petaling Street were much smaller and slimmer, with a very delicate buttery pastry which had a crumbly exterior while the inner layer was much like the delicate innards of a croissant – slightly chewy and moist. However, the ones at Chillipadi were absolutely packed full of peas, potato and onion and the pastry was quite a surprise. While they first seemed quite dense and difficult to cut, once you bit into them you realized that the pastry had a wonderful shortness to it which dissolved in the mouth with almost no effort.
Vegetarian curry puffs
The closest equivalent that I can think of is a shortcrust pastry, yet tis was thinner and more delicate than any shortcrust that I’ve experienced to date.The filling also had a wonderful spicy kick to it – much spicier than the Petaling Street curry puffs, but as a lover of the humble chilli, this just made this dish even better for me!
It might have been that we were actually here for a bit of a late lunch and thus both quite hungry, but we managed to demolish these curry puffs in a matter of minutes and eagerly looked around for the next dish…
Chicken satay skewers in a spicy peanut sauce
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit this, but I had no idea that satay was a Malaysian thing. Honestly. I hang my head in shame – it’s pretty tragic isn’t it? At any rate, I’ve ordered satay skewers at non-Malaysian restaurants in the past so I was keen to find out what they’d taste like when actually cooked properly by Malaysian-trained chefs.
Was there a difference?
To be honest, the only difference I could pick up was again a much punchier spiciness than I’ve experienced in the past. In terms of flavour, the sauce was rich, smooth and very peanutty as expected but other than the chilli factor, it held no surprises. In fact, the best thing about this dish was how well the chicken had been cooked – tender, moist and moreish, the use of chicken thighs here as opposed to breast was clearly a good choice by the chefs as the darker meat was tender and carried the satay sauce quite well.
Tok Tok Mee – egg noddles with prawn & chicken wontons
My brother, being a rather hungry munchkin, decided to go with the tok tok mee, but the meal that came out was definitely not what either of us was expecting. We had both assumed that the wontons would have come out as part of the noodle dish, but what actually arrived at the table was a plain plate of noodles with some watery bok choy on the side and dumplings floating in a clear broth in a completely seperate bowl.
This dish really made me wish we had access to someone with more knowledge about this cuisine than either of us had as we weren’t sure how this should be eaten. While I would’ve liked to have asked the waitress for advice, unfortunately the frantic pace of the restaurant meant she was constantly racing from one end to the other and just couldn’t be stopped for a few naive questions.
My brother decided to eat them simultaneously – a bite from one and then the other, and then sat with a quizzical look on his face.
When I asked him what was wrong, he answered that he wasn’t sure. Obviously as we’re still learning about the cuisine we’re not familiar with the flavourings used, but he said both dishes tasted like something was missing. I told him to bring the plates over so I could give them a try, and then discovered what he meant.
Tok Tok Mee – egg noddles with prawn & chicken wontons
It wasn’t that the flavours were bad. Both dishes just tasted…well, the most accurate word that I can think of here is ‘incomplete’. The sauce that the noodles were in was strong and salty, but tasted very one-dimensional with no really distinct flavour that I could pinpoint. Again, this may be due to my unfamiliarity with this dish, but I definitely felt like something was missing. Unfortunately, the watery bok choy on the side really didn’t do anything to help this.
The same again with the wonton soup. The broth was light and fragrant in that I could definitely smell that spices had been used to flavour it, but when it touched my lips I again encountered that somewhat disconcerting feeling that something was just missing. The soup tasted too mild, as if it would serve well as a sort of palate-cleanser but without enough punch for an actual main course. The wontons themselves were quite standard and whilst there was nothing that stood out about them, they could hold their own against most other wontons that I’ve tried, however to this day I’m still perplexed by this broth and this “dish” overall.
Beef Rendang with coconut rice
For my main dish, I decided to go with a recommendation from one of my readers in a previous post and try the beef rendang – a slow cooked curry-like dish (though not actually a curry). The sauce is quite sublime – rich and heady with spices, and I was tempted to stick my fingers into the plate just to get at it! The beef, unfortunately, didn’t provide the same sort of pleasure – it had definitely been braised, but tasted like it had been over-cooked. Very much like it had been cooked till the liquid had quite evaporated, and then continued to be cooked till the meat started to dry out.
What this meant is that the texture was very curious – the beef was definitely tender and fell apart in the mouth, but it was also incredibly dry and stringy – so much so that after a few bites, I had to set it aside as I couldn’t cope with it. The rice suffered the same problem in that it was somewhat dry and firm, as if it was a little old and/or undercooked. Not hugely so and it probably wouldn’t be picked up by the average diner, but my mother makes perfectly moist and fluffy rice so I have a fairly high expectation when it comes to this Asian staple.
Mind you, neither of these points were enough to stop my brother from polishing it off himself!
I had also ordered a roti chanai as I was curious to see how a Malaysian roti compared to the Indian rotis I have so often eaten with my curries. I have to say that I quite prefer the Malaysian style of this flatbread as the slightly thicker, fluffier and chewier texture of the roti that came out was very tasty and I ended up eating half the roti on its own – tearing pieces with my hands and chowing down happily.
All in all, the experience at Chillipadi was quite interesting and has made me want to find out more about Malaysian cuisine – since I’m still learning, it’s hard to distinguish between what has and hasn’t been cooked well. As for whether I’d return to this particular restaurant? I’m afraid the jury is still out on that one. While the entrees were both fabulous, unfortunately the mains that we had wouldn’t be enough to bring me back here.