Review: Kitchen Nyonya – Malaysian food in Gangnam
The cuisine of South East Asia is poorly served by restaurants in Korea. Yes, Thai places are thick on the ground, but let’s face it; most of them are pretty average, and those that aren’t (Wang Thai in Itaewon, say) are fairly pricey, so you end up paying through the nose for something that in Chiang Mai would cost you a couple of bucks. I’m a fan of Kkaoli Pochana, in Gyeongnidan – not everyone is, mind you – but even there, if you can possibly get a seat, your street food experience comes at distinctly un-streetfoody prices.
[July 2017 update: This location has now closed, unfortunately.]
As for Vietnamese food, well, Pho Bay, Pho Mons… just… no. (There was a place in Gangnam years ago called What the Pho, but I never went in.) There are a couple of legit hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese eateries that buck the trend, in Wangsimni and way out in Ansan. But basically if you crave the flavours of anywhere south of Hong Kong, but aren’t able to get there, you’re generally out of luck.
Kitchen Nyonya aims to buck that trend by providing authentic Malaysian food at reasonable prices in a nice, reasonably upscale eating environment – an almost unheard-of trifecta anywhere in Seoul, let alone at Gangnam Station. Does it succeed? Well, largely and with one major caveat, which we’ll come to, the answer is: yes.
(The Baba-Nyonya are ethnic Chinese, also known as Straits Chinese, who settled in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia. Anyone who has been to Melaka, for example, may have eaten Nyonya food, which is a sort of fusion of Chinese and Malay, as you might expect. If you haven’t, go! Melaka is great and the food is fantastic.)
Travelogue / history lesson over. Kitchen Nyonya is, I think it’s fair to say, more generically Malaysian cuisine than specifically Nyonya. The menu is an eclectic and occasionally awkward mix of stirfries, curries and Malay dishes. It’s rare to find a restaurant in Malaysia where you can pair roti canai bread with Chinese stir-fried beef noodles, but here you can, if you really want to.
We ordered a range of dishes. The aforementioned stir-fried beef was really nice, a little spicy but nothing too fiery. Rice-based dishes like nasi goreng were also good, and their nasi lemak (above and below), which is served with a choice of chicken, curry or seafood, was filling and reasonably priced.
In order to properly assess the authenticity of the food, I brought a Malaysian friend with me to pass judgement. She is a harsh judge, and her initial reaction was a bit… meh. “Rice is not right”, she said. “It should have ginger in it. This is just plain rice. Roti is not home-made. The chicken is OK.”
As she ate – and there was little let-up in the pace of her eating – her views slowly became more favourable. “This sambal is awesome”, she drooled. “The chicken is pretty good actually.” Judging by the number of Malaysians that were dining in there by the end of her meal, she wasn’t alone in that view. Her final verdict? Not bad, and she would come here again.
Ah, but there’s the caveat, and a big one at that. As I was preparing this review, a message was posted on Kitchen Nyonya’s Facebook page; their landlord has cancelled their lease, and the restaurant closes this week. Disaster! Or perhaps not. They have vowed to reopen nearby at the earliest opportunity, and even sent me a message urging me to write the review anyway, which is what I’ve done, in the hope that by the time you read this, they’ll be back up and running somewhere else.
So, there we are. Only one month a food blogger and already my reviews are closing down restaurants. Perhaps I am a jinx… but if not, then good luck to the folks at Kitchen Nyonya, and we’ll hope to see them back soon.
- Category: Malaysian
- Price: $$$$
- Must try: nasi lemak
- Subway / Directions: Gangnam (강남역) exit… well, we’ll see.