Tuesday 26 February 2013

Blue Chillies (Malaysian)

182, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, VIC 3065

Blue Chillies on Urbanspoon

This is one of my favourite places to dine. It has offerings of both traditional dishes and contemporary Malaysian with positive innovations. I will try to make the distinction between the two in the blog entry. It means that depending on my mood and the preference of fellow diners, the choices are still there. This is worth a visit, if you just do your research a little bit and know what your preference is before you order.

The Place
This is a tastefully decorated cozy place, whether you are after a romantic dinner or dining with a group of friends. Despite not updating their style for a while, this is not dated at all. The space is relatively comfortable across two levels. It's has a warm and friendly atmosphere with displays of paraphernalia and foodstuff from Malaysia.

Things to do nearby: This is on Brunswick Street and just a few minutes walk from  Gertrude Street. There's plenty to do nearby most times of the day.

The Food.
The food is generally reliably tasty though I would like some of the portions to be bigger. However, the trick is understanding the difference between contemporary and traditional dishes and where your mood is when you are at the restaurant. Let us start with the traditional dishes;
The Noodles dishes are all generally very authentic and your basic hawker offerings back in Malaysia, including; Fried Kway Teow, Hokkien Noodles (KL Style), Indian Mee Goreng.
The Aromatic Curries such as the Chicken Curry and the Beef Rendang are tasty as well.
Blachan Spinach (not kangkong, which is a species of convolvulus) - blachan is a spicy fermented shrimp paste - this is truly a Malaysian dish and done quite well here.
All their desserts are traditional too and worth a try.

They have done the smart thing by putting all their traditional dishes in the noodles and curries and sides. When you then look at the Chef Specials, that's where the contemporary innovations are:
Assam Fish - is a contemporary updated version of the dish back in Malaysia with less assam intensity and more lemongrass flavouring, balanced with a slight sweetness. It works as a contemporary dish.
Diced Chicken in dark caramel sauce and topped with peanuts - is another innovation on a number of positive notes, it's tasty and has layers of texture. Lovely and what contemporary Malaysian should be - my only suggestion for improvement is - throw in a few dried chilli to take it to a whole new level.
Thriced Cooked Duck is brilliant and again, layers of flavour here but not for those who like their dishes either really savoury or really sweet - this one calls for balance.

The Service
The service is generally welcoming and friendly. They struggle ocassionally when it is really busy with keeping up with the diners. This is why I prefer to go earlier ahead of the crowd. This is one of the best service from Malaysian restaurants in Melbourne. When you are there and don't feel the love - you need to just raise your hands, smile and they will mostly remedy the oversight.

This is a relative pricey place for a Malaysian restaurant but this is not your cafe or food hall Malaysian. It's a place to go to where you can have relaxing chats, experience non-rushed excellent dining in a cozy and friendly atmosphere.

Cultural Moment
People need to enjoy innovation in food... while dreaming about the good old days and traditional dishes. I for one think that there's a place and time for both types of dishes. However, as a migrant, I suspect I am sometimes guilty of living in the past (not that there's anything wrong about dreamlike reminiscing of the food I loved as a kid).

However, the number of times I have been back to those dishes when I go back to those "good old places" and it's just not the same anymore. Is it because the place has changed, or it just wasn't that good in the first place and your memories are just ever so slightly flawed, or could it be, that your tastebuds have evolved and you have grown and the good old days might have been good 20 years ago but your tastes have changed? I suspect it's a combination of all of the above. In particular, after years of being in Melbourne, my tastes have definitely changed - for eg. I cannot bide the level of chilli hotness I was once able to. I prefer less greasy food. I seek out blachan like I never did when I was back in Malaysia and Singapore!

So, while I look for traditional dishes in my Malaysian and Singaporean restaurants, I am always also on the lookout for genuine positive innovations. So, I am not talking about the westernisation of a cuisine or watering down of flavours. I am looking for innovation that still maintain the integrity of the cuisine's flavours but made manifest in new exciting ways and combinations.  Here's to innovation and development of Asian cuisine.

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