Thursday, 1 August 2013

NL House

115 Grattan St, Carlton, VIC 3053

Nasi Lemak House on Urbanspoon
SCORE! The rebranding and repackaging of the old tired Nasi Lemak House into NL House is an exercise in what to do to update your image and offerings. They have clearly done their research, and the target is now clearly students in the area and working adults after a quick meal (takeaway or eat in). This really works and I am most excited about the prospect of watching it grow. I don't mind if it gets really crowded because the new operations work just as well as a takeaway joint.

The Place
This is now a 'fast food' space which seats about 15 inside and again the same number outside on the foot path of Grattan Street. It is not a huge space. So, it also works well if you take your packaged Nasi Lemak (NL) to the nearby parks.

They have updated the look, the feel, and the deco into a funky informal dining space. I love the bright colours as well (though I am not sure about the hazard tapes outside). Admittedly, it's not a great space for kids but then, this is really targeted at students and working adults nearby - not leisurely dining. Parking can be a bit of a struggle in the area as it is near Lygon Street.

Things to do Nearby: It's in the Lygon Street Precinct and the Museum is about 10 minutes away.

The Food
Let's get down to core business - Nasi Lemak. It's what they do and they do it well. Towards the end of their previous incarnation, I was pretty critical of their declining standards because it felt like they had given up. It seems like they are back with renewed energy. The food is fresh and the Nasi Lemak is cooked the way they do it back in Malaysia. What is also nice is the fact that it's not 'fancy' Nasi Lemak and is reminiscent of the many places in Malaysia where you can get a small pack of Nasi Lemak with various accompaniments quite cheaply.

Check out the funky paper boxes they are served in.
Beyond the coconut rice, the accompanying chilli paste is really important in good Nasi Lemak. The ones here induce as much perspiration as the ones back home. So, they are not kidding when they put signs up indicating "Warning - Spicy Eaters Only". The other essential accompaniment to traditional Nasi Lemak is the fried anchovies and peanuts. The ones here are fresh - you can tell if it's been in a container somewhere for too long. Nothing tastes worst than stale anchovies - right? No worries with that here at all.

Some might complain that the chicken is a bit dry on the outside but I can assure you - this is how they do it in many parts of Malaysia and Singapore. It's a style of Malay fried chicken, laden with tumeric, that's quite yummy. Remember that much of Asian food is also about the texture.

The Service
I have to say that one of the thing that has come with the rebranding has been the total change in attitude and service. It is happy, cheery, friendly, helpful and very reminiscent of Don Don's service in the old days (for those who know the old friendly Don Don in the city). It's a huge improvement and I love that they do take time to talk to customers about their various offerings.

Check out the 'wait card" - they have even put in a little saying to keep it interesting (some say tacky - but many will like it - from a cultural stand point).

Funnily enough, I love the saying in my card today because it's just what I needed in dealing with difficult situations. Thanks! NL House!

I am looking forward to more lunches in this new revamped place. They will also be bringing back their various noodle offerings. It's really re-assuring to see improvement and for Nasi Lemak lovers - it's great that there's really good nasi lemak in the area once again.

Cultural Moment
Coconut Rice is popular in Southeast Asia. Nasi Lemak is the Malay style (dominant in Malaysia and Singapore) coconut rice, that has both coconut milk, salt and also pandan (some call this Asian vanilla). In Malaysia and Singapore, this used to be sold in little packages - traditionally banana leaves - but more recently - paper packages. People have it for breakfast/lunch/dinner. What differentiates breakfast - lunch - dinner nasi lemak are usually the accompaniments that go with the rice.

For example, breakfast accompaniments of nasi lemak might include a little slice of omelette, and possible a small fried fish. This is in addition to the requisite chilli paste, cucumber, and peanuts/anchovies mix.

By lunch, nasi lemak might be served with some fried chicken pieces,  or the Chinese might serve a hot dog, or a piece of luncheon meat with it (in addition to the requisite accompaniments mentioned above).

At dinner, you'd replace the fried dry chicken pieces with various curries or rendangs, for a heavier fuller meal. Achar (pickled vegetables) are usually served as well to offset the spice of the curries.

Of course, nasi lemak is not something one should have all the time as it has relatively high cholesterol inducing - some would say - you shouldn't have it more than once a fortnight. But it's so goooood, right? But like everything - moderation is the key.


  1. The portion is horribly less than what it used to be! The old Nasi Lemak House is so much better that this "renovation" and "new face" is very disappointing!

  2. Sizes are definitely smaller - but I went just before the renovation - and it was really tired and quality was down. When this place started with the original owners years ago, it was the place to go for sit in Nasi Lemak.

    To put things in context - the makeover has turned it into more of a takeaway style lunch, so, the review considers that. So, you're probably disappointed that it's now just a takeaway place - I can understand that too.