Wong Tai See, a merchant seaman from China, migrated to Sydney in the 1940s and opened up his small restaurant on George street in 1963, with the hope of offering Sydney diners a unique South-East Asian eating experience. Fifty years later, at its picturesque new location overlooking Darling Harbour, the Malaya has become an iconic Sydney restaurant with a strong menu of fragrant fare from Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and beyond.
Dinner along King Street Wharf isn’t known for being kind to your back pocket and the prices at the Malaya reflect this pricier standard. Chicken skewers, lathered with a zesty peanut sauce are $19 for four and the Szechuan eggplant, crispy and salty on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside, are $26. However, the coconut beef rendang ($26) is worth every cent; tender beef that falls apart on your fork in a rich, coconut curry sauce. Another stand out is the iconic king prawn laksa ($28), made using cows milk as opposed to the standard coconut milk version. The textures are balanced, the spice is subtle and the taste arouses visions of slurping the stuff on the steamy streets of Bangkok.
The cocktail list doesn’t reveal the restaurant’s maturity, but instead offers a modern variety of fresh blends that will invigorate your tastebuds for the impending banquet. Favourites are the sweet yet zesty Strawberry Capirinha or the Bazil Blush; the garnish of basil a cultural nod to the flavours of the east. The wine list is seemingly endless and will impress those in the know, but there aren’t many on offer by the glass, and those that are, are pricey, so it’s best to share a bottle with your dining cohort.
Contrary to the aromatic and exciting food, the space is lacking in cultural decor and personality. In the company of Mr Wong, Miss Chu, Ms G’s, Bar H and the like; red, bare walls seem boring and the crowd of tables give the large room an, albeit classy, cafeteria-like feeling. Not ideal, but with the distracting view out the window exposing the twinkling harbour lights below, most diners won’t be looking at the walls.
With good Asian food ubiquitous in Sydney, paying this much for a good curry may be reserved for special occasions only. But if you’ve got one coming up and you’re happy to fork out for the good view and the exceptional table service, then the Malaya certainly won’t disappoint.