Sri Nyonya – a restaurant in a class of its own

Sri Nyonya – a restaurant in a class of its own

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

Business Hours:
Tues – Sun (Closed on Mondays)

Waze: Click here if you want to use Waze

Literal home-cooked South Indian cuisine at UMAC House

Literal home-cooked South Indian cuisine at UMAC House

One of my favourite banana leaf rice restaurants is at located at a very odd place; hardly anyone knows its exact location.

Unless you’re familiar with the Universiti Malaya Academic Club, you too may not be able to locate the old bungalow which houses Umac House Banana Leaf Rice – hidden so well that it’s one of the few spots in Petaling Jaya with ample parking!

As its name would suggest, Umac has been a favourite haunt for the university’s students, but I suspect that a lot of the fans of this Indian food shop are either retirees who worked in UM umpteen years ago – because Saturday nights are relatively quiet there!

The old bungalow has been in use since the early 1970s, when Ungku Aziz Abdul Hamid served as the vice-chancellor of the university.

It was exactly a year ago when I was invited here by my friend Charles Raj. He had been telling me about this place for a long time, but because our schedules couldn’t meet, we only managed to make it there after a few months.

So, when we finally met up, I was surprised at the number of people having their lunch there. Although hardly known to the public, guests like me only discovered it through word of mouth, especially with the delicious food going for (relatively) cheap.

My personal favourite is Umac House’s sweet and sour mango chutney, which goes perfect with the banana leaf rice. You can also choose from a variety of vegetables, and a small cup of payasam is offered free every Friday.

A standard vegetarian set with four different types of vegetables, papadum and rice costs just RM6.50. Along with the vegetables, they also have deep-fried fish, chicken, squid and mutton. The piece of tenggiri fish that cost an additional RM7.

But prices aside, what is important here is that the food is authentic south Indian. The chef, Balakrishnan Subramaniam Govindasamy, grew up in Tamil Nadu, before working for over 20 years in a restaurant in Singapore.

Even better, proprietor Siva Ananthan told me that Umac House forbids monosodium glutamate being used in their food.

As with most Indian restaurants, only banana leaf rice is served during lunch hours, but in the evenings, they allow guest to pick from their à la carte menu.

Because it is a bungalow house with its proper kitchen, Umac House has its host of regulars due to its (literally) home-cooked food.

Siva’s sister, Ambiga, has been managing this place since last year. Siva is also managing two other canteens – one at the Colgate Palmolive factory in Petaling Jaya, and at the HSBC office in Cyberjaya.

Umac House can also provide the bungalow for special functions such as birthday parties. Siva told me that two couples recently used the rustic bungalow for their wedding receptions.

Umac House is located at No 1, Jalan 12/5, PJS 12, 46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Tel: +6012 952 1822
Business hours: Sundays 11am- 3.30pm; Mondays- Saturdays 11am – 11pm
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Soon everyone can enjoy Judy’s Hakka lei cha

Soon everyone can enjoy Judy’s Hakka lei cha

When Judy Yap decided that she wanted the world to taste her Hakka lei cha, her entrepreneurial husband, Barry Tan, decided to do something about it.

But instead of a massive launch, the couple started their little “experiment” together by setting up a simple stall at the Centrepoint Hawker Centre in Bandar Utama.

Yap’s affinity towards lei cha is understandable, as she had been helping out at her sister’s stall selling vegetables in the Taman Tun Dr Ismail wet market. Coupled with a strong desire to share the secrets of healthy living, she was naturally attracted to the idea of promoting the lei cha.

Yap and her husband didn’t do a lot of promotion, except to inform her regular customers at the wet market about it, yet she rarely finds herself in want of customers.

“It is the support of our customers that we have been able to sustain our business. We are also able to maintain the quality of our lei cha through their feedback from time to time.”

One particular customer brought his father to try out the lei cha. Pleased with what he had tasted, the elderly gentleman asked to take a selfie with Judy’s brother, who was at looking after the stall at the time.

“The uncle told us that he would try to do something to promote our lei cha and make sure that we could remain in business for a long time. We were very touched by his kind gesture.”

Another customer of hers had never liked lei cha, but after her friend took her to Yap’s stall in Centrepoint, she had all the zeal of a convert.

“After that, she just fell in love with the lei cha. She and her family would eat lui cha at least once a week.”

Yet another customer told her that despite knowing about the lei cha stall, she had never tried it until some classmates who were organising a get-together suggested that they all met up there.

“This customer came to the TTDI wet market to tell me that even her friends were already talking about our lei cha. It really surprises me that the response has been very good. With that, I am further encouraged to expand the lui cha business.”

Just last week, the couple started their second venture at The Starling in Damansara Utama. Subject for another review in the future, but it is nevertheless interesting to see how the couple’s business has evolved from just a simple lei cha stall since they started in December 2016.

From my last article on lei cha, I realised that patrons are naturally drawn to this healthy herbal concoction, probably due to its lack of availability.

This is perhaps why when I was scanning all the food stalls at the Centrepoint Hawker Centre, I was naturally drawn to the lei cha stall there.

Yap says that she prepares the main part of the dish, the herbal broth, by herself, only letting her workers do the serving. “In that way, we have a better quality control over our lei cha so that we do not disappoint our regular patrons.”

When asked if she and her husband are thinking of eventually franchising the lei cha, she smiles widely. “Yes, if there are people who are interested, we can do it,” she said.

But Tan is more upfront. “Yes, we do have that in the works,” he said. “We plan to start more outlets throughout the country when we get young entrepreneurs willing to venture into it. With the current economic conditions, people need a business model that can work.”

Seeing the responses to my article on the lei cha as part of Voiz’ Healthy Food Trail, I have no doubts whatsoever that it will.

For other restaurants in the Healthy Food Trail, click here and here.


Yap’s lei cha hawker stall is located at at the hawker centre in Centrepoint Bandar Utama, No 1, Lebuh Bandar Utama, Bandar Utama, 47800 Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

Tel: +6016 227 5679
Business hours: 10am – 9pm
Google Map: Search for Centrepoint Bandar Utama
Waze location: Waze for Centrepoint Bandar Utama

Athanor, where everything turns into gold

Athanor, where everything turns into gold

The food in Athanor is simply great.

If that sounds like an exaggeration, it isn’t. Any refutations until you get to try the cuisine and pastries in the restaurant run by Sunway University’s School of Hospitality will be purely academic

I would even recommend this place to chefs who are already in the industry and looking for new ideas, as this is the place where people carry out a lot of research and put their thinking hats on to come up with fresh ideas.

Hoteliers and restauranteurs hoping to hire new student talents will also be able to spot suitable candidates for their outlets.

For other members of the public, this is the place for some fine dining at a fraction of the price. I am truly glad that Sunway University has finally set up the restaurant to allow us to savour some of its best cuisine and pastries.

The name Athanor comes from the Arabic “at-tannur,” which means the baker’s oven. In ancient times, the alchemists used this special furnace to maintain a uniform and durable temperature in their laboratories.

The name conjures the image of a kitchen where perspiration eventually yields cuisine and pastries one can only dream of, food good enough to inspire other chefs in the industry.

Each semester, Athanor’s head chef, Patrick Siau Chi Yin, and his team of award-winning chefs whip up a new menu, each more mesmerising than the last.

I made this suggestion a few years ago, and Athanor is now strategically located at the sixth floor of Sunway University, which overlooks the scenic lagoon.

When I was invited to try their latest offering, I was pleased to taste the roast lamb rack, which comes with my favourite pumpkin puree, and some vegetables, herbs crumble and lamb jus.

The portion may be small to the average Malaysian, but considering this is fine dining, the set menu at RM30 is a small fraction of what you would pay in other restaurants.

The other sets that you can pick from the menu include either the duck confit with Idaho potato croquette (which taste different due to volcanic soil in America’s northwest), vegetables and green chili sauce; the pan-fried Norwegian salmon with Idaho potato croquette, vegetables and spicy pineapple sauce; chicken roulade, served with pumpkin puree, vegetables and red wine sauce; or vongole pasta, which is linguine cooked with clams and white wine sauce.

Two cuisines that you must try or at least share out with friends are the beef patty, which also comes with Idaho potatoes and the chef’s mushroom soup, which uses shimeji mushrooms and sour cream. Both have my thumbs up!

I have always loved mushroom soup, and it tastes almost the same everywhere. But Athanor’s mushroom soup is truly unusual with unique tastes, just like the beef patty.

If you still have room after the main course, I strongly recommend trying out the exotic log chocolate mousse with passionfruit ganache and ice cream. If you are a chocolate lover, this pastry has a rich chocolatey taste that will give you the oomph the moment you taste it, leaving you with a greater craving for more!

And yes, for the ice cream scoop that comes with the exotic log and other pastries, ask for their Earl Grey premium ice cream. Unlike most other commercial ice creams, theirs is homemade and it has a silky smooth texture to it, as it melts immediately in the mouth.

Trust me, you just have to close your eyes, take a mouthful of it and you will simply love the ice-cream!

The other pastries that you can try out are the chef’s pavlova with stewed pineapple cubes, mint jelly, jasmine passion sauce and ice cream; green tea cake with green tea mousse, red beans, wild berries sauce and ice cream; beehive churros with caramelised pineapple, wild berries sauce and ice cream; and the vanilla flavoured crème brûlée which come with wild berries.

And, because Chinese New Year is just round the corner, Siau has prepared his version of Yee Sang. This is something that you can enjoy, especially the homemade sauce that is again truly unique.

Athanor, which is open to the public, is run by Sunway University’s School of Hospitality. It is located on Level 6, in the west wing of the Sunway University building. The university is accessible using the BRT Sunway Line. You can also park in the multilevel basement carpark in front of the university.

For reservations, contact Maggie at 03 7491 7235 or [email protected]

Tel: 03 7491 8622 ext. 7235.
Business hours: 12pm – 2pm, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only.
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Lei Cha: Old herbal concoction now a favourite with the health-conscious

Lei Cha: Old herbal concoction now a favourite with the health-conscious


The story is told about the legendary General Zhang Fei who was about to attack Chengdu during the era of the Three Kingdoms in China.

However, his troops fell ill and many were weary from the long and tiresome march; they had no energy to march on, what’s more, to take on the people of Chengdu.

It was an old lady whose herbal concoction revived the entire army that they were rejuvenated – and soon, they were strong again not only to fight, but won the war.

The secrets of this concoction has been preserved as what is now known as the lei cha which is a famous cuisine amongst the Hakka diaspora in Malaysia. In recent years, due to a greater interest in health food, lei cha is now accepted by mainstream diners.

It takes a while to acquire the taste. My wife, who is a Hakka, did not like it initially, but after teasing from me, she decided to try it. Now, she can take the entire bowl of lei cha on her own without the rice!

The reason, as pointed out by Big Big Bowl Hakka Kitchen’s restaurant owner, Angie Lim, is because she uses more basil than mint.

“A lot of people cannot accept the strong mint taste,”

she explains.

“Our lei cha soup is thicker and it has more basil in it.”

For this, I can fully agree with her that in terms of value for money, Angie’s lei cha is a lot more concentrated and tastes better than that offered in most other places that I have tried.

Family Project

With the idea of teaching my children to always go for the more healthy food whenever they have to eat out, I decided to do a research into the lei cha.

Often mistaken for the word, ‘lei’ () which means ‘thunder’, the actual Chinese word used for lei cha is , which means, being ‘beaten.’ Combined with the word ‘cha’, it simply means ‘pounded tea.’

There are two versions of lei cha, but in Malaysia, it is the Hakka lei cha that is more popular than the Hunan lei cha.

According to Angie, they use eight different types of vegetables to prepare this one cuisine. The basil and mint leaves are pounded together with roasted sesame seeds and groundnuts into a paste that is to be added into water to turn it into a soup-like herbal tea.

“The vegetables have to be cut into smaller pieces so that the lei cha can then be added to the mix,”

she explains.

“They can either add white rice, brown rice or our lei cha noodles, handmade from pounded vegetables.”

If anything, the whole process is very time consuming and unless there is a high turnover, a number of restaurants only offer the lei cha once or twice a week.

However, at Angie’s Big Big Bowl, the lei cha is available throughout the week. In fact, you can even buy the refrigerated paste from her and prepare your own lei cha to be eaten any time of the day.

Customers like me who want to reduce the intake of carbohydrates, prefer to eat the lei cha without the additional rice or noodles.

I am amazed that both my children, including my six-year-old daughter, have already started to love the lei cha. This is a good way to encourage them to take more vegetables than meat.


Check out previous articles on this Healthy Food Trail: Energy Bowls to be featured prominently at Coffea Coffee come Dec 16


Restoran Big Big Bowl Hakka Kitchen is located at No 5A Jalan Desa 2/7, Desa Aman Puri, Kepong, 52100 Kuala Lumpur.  

Tel: 012-211 5564

Operating hours: 8 am – 9 pm through the week, off only on alternate (second and fourth) Tuesdays of the month.

Waze location: Search for Big Bowl Hakka Kitchen

Facebook: Type in “Big Bowl Hakka Kitchen”

Oh Raub, your original fish head curry is still mesmerising…

Oh Raub, your original fish head curry is still mesmerising…

No one can ride into the little town of Raub without noticing a corner shop painted in bright orange that has since become the humble beginning of this famous Ratha Raub Fish Head Curry.

It is located some 31 kilometres from Bentong heading northwest toward Lebuhraya Kuala Lumpur – Gua Musang.

Along this stretch of roads, there are a number of durian plantations; therefore, expect to stop by the roadside to pick up some durians or eat what you can on the spot, if you are a durian lover but reserve some room for the savoury Indian dishes at Ratha Raub.

This is the place where Malaysians of all races come together to enjoy the town’s specialty delicacies.

Originally from Kelantan, its owner, M Rathakrishnan settled down here in Raub and started his own restaurant in 1982. His fish head curry and chicken curry soon became his two main signature dishes that attracted both locals and domestic tourists.

When we arrived there after an overnight’s stay at the beautiful eco-resort of Tanah Aina Farrah Soraya in Raub, it was already 1pm. I suspect most of the people here are domestic tourists from all over the country.

Although the journey was another 17km away from Tanah Aina, it was worth the trip because the curry fish head was simply delicious. It was spicy, yet it tasted great. I strongly recommend this delicacy which has made Ratha Raub so famous. The curry chicken is just as good.

Surprisingly, the curry used for the squid was different in taste compared to the fish head and chicken curry. It is less spicy and tastes slightly sweeter, perhaps to cater to younger children.

With the main dishes, I was hardly interested in their pickled vegetables initially until my son tried it and told me it tasted really good.

When met in person, the man himself told me that he has good news. Today, after 35 years, Ratha Raub is touted to make waves in Shanghai with its first batch of curry paste being exported to Shanghai, China.

“So far, the order has been successful,” Ratha said. “We hope to fulfil this first order soon and going for more orders.”

If the curry paste takes off in China, this is a proof that Malaysian cuisines especially a small town like Raub can become well-known overseas even in China, especially in a metropolitan like Shanghai.

The secret of his success? “We quality control our products very strictly,” he says. “There is a difference between chilli imported from China and those from India,” he explains. “Although they are from the same stock, perhaps it is the soil that makes the Indian chilli a lot hotter than those produced in China. This is why we are always very strict with the raw ingredients.”

The legacy of 35 years created by Ratha since 1982 will continue for many years to come

Restoran Ratha Raub is located at No 82, Jalan Tun Razak, 27600 Raub, Pahang.

Tel: 09-356 1651

Business hours: 7:00 AM – 11:30 PM


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