Fake news this is not, but the owner and chef of Sri Nyonya Restaurant in Section 22, Petaling Jaya, James Kuok, is certainly 84 years old.
Even a Japanese businessperson would call him from Japan to pre-book his nasi briyani before touching down at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. This too is no fake news!
I was personally very impressed meeting this octogenarian, who is not just passionate about good food, but at an age when most people would rather call it a day. Nevertheless, he still puts on his apron and can easily whip up a sumptuous meal for his special guests.
Besides his signature dishes, which among others include the roti canai and his homemade rum raisin ice cream (both have my thumbs-up!), I find listening to James to be very entertaining indeed, that a whole three hours had passed by us without me realising it, until my 7-year-old daughter started nudging me to go home.
Preferring to be known only as James, Kuok and his wife Lorna have been running the restaurant for the past 31 years. Lorna was a former corporate lawyer who decided her passion was in the kitchen. They are very hands-on, which explains why every dish here has their signature on it.
Although the façade and the inner decoration is simple, the restaurant is a class of its own. The man, too, is a legend himself.
For a start, I agree there are many places with good briyani, but James’ version of the Hyderabadi cuisine gives me the unforgettable o-o-o-u-m-p-h!
Never mind about his nasi briyani being voted one of the top five in the whole of Klang Valley and among the top ten in the country, I initially found it hard to believe when a schoolmate of mine recommended James’ briyani as “the best in town”. Having tasted it now, this is indeed a “must” for all to try.
In fact, his well-known omelette, Nyonya assam fish and fried assam prawn were kind of overshadowed by the nasi briyani as far as I am concerned. The fish is fresh, and the gravy is not that spicy which means young children also get to enjoy it. You can be sure that James would not serve you something that is stale. He has been in the business for three decades, and is very particular about his quality control.
If you have never tasted what a good roti canai is, try James’ roti canai which is fried in pure ghee. His roti canai is a class of its own. It is best eaten with his beef rendang. Trust me, and you will find that his rendang is for real and unbeatable in the way he cooks it.
The rendang can be eaten with white rice, but it goes well with the roti canai because it gives a good balance of spiciness and the buttery taste of the roti canai. One has to taste it to understand what I mean.
What I particularly like about James’ food here is that he does not use MSG. He knows just the right balance between the spices and herbs that gives his cuisine the perfect taste. For each cuisine, it is a different sauce concoction that he prepares; there is no one sauce that works for his entire menu.
A semi-qualified cook myself, I learnt this little tip from James: “Spices for our curries are washed clean and roasted individually to bring out the flavour before grinding it into powder.”
And, for his homemade ice cream, he does not use artificial flavourings. Taste his durian ice cream and you know understand why my 7-year-old daughter said: “Wow! This tastes like great durian!”
So, if the waiters here ask you, “What would you like for dessert?” let them know I strongly recommend James’ one scoop of rum raisin for adults and a scoop of durian ice cream for the children. You may find yourself competing with them for the durian ice-cream, and you may end up eating one scoop of each.
Once you have eaten here at Sri Nyonya, you will feel like you have tasted some of the best Northern Peranakan cuisine in town. The secret I like to share with you is that the recipes are 160 years old. They were passed on from Lorna’s grandmother.
To avoid disappointment, make sure that you pre-book your table as James does not believe in running a big restaurant to serve the masses.
Sri Nyonya Restaurant is located at 14, Jalan 22/49, 46300 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
Tel: (603) – 7875 – 1031
Tues – Sun (Closed on Mondays)