Sydney Eats - Clean Plate Award
Sunday Magazine 27/04/2003 - Reviewed by Kerry Boyne
KUALI occupies a bland space above a bland arcade in the shopping village of Lane Cove, a unit-stacked suburb with a fledgling food scene. But this modest restaurant has no need for flashy ambience - you know exactly why you're there when the food hits the table. In fact, the room serves as a blank backdrop for the fare, which is vivid to the point of gaudy and spirited to near explosive.
There's little sense of anticipation as you enter. You could be sitting down to a standard meal in a suburban Chinese restaurant although, on reflection, several tables of Asian diners had a gleam in their eyes as they ordered crab all round. In truth, nothing could have prepared us for that stunning crab. but we begin low key with six perfectly steamed Pacific oysters with ginger and shallots ($13.80), and lovely little parsnip cakes with dark soy dipping sauce ($6.80), chosen with the help of smiling and attentive staff. Then the table is cleared and implements deployed for the conspicuous crab consumption - the shell-crackers, the probes, the finger bowls... and, finally, the Queensland mud crab ($52.20). It is magnificent in its luscious signature curry sauce, which must be licked and sucked from the carapace and mopped up with sensational roti chanai before attacking the succulent just-cooked meat within. What a mess. What a marvel. But the show's not over. The mains are here and although the roasted Hainanese chicken ($13.80) and otak-otak (mousse of Spanish mackerel $15.90) have a hard act to follow, they rise to the challenge. The chicken is more flavoursome and - dare I say it - not as bland as the familiar steamed version and, while the mousse is close to molten lava, the accompanying pickled vegetables are soothing. But red-hot as it is, we can't stop eating it - it's a pleasure and pain thing. In all, a glorious meal, its drama increased by the lack of fanfare.
Sydney Weekly Courier - Article by Nicole Azzopardi
Stepping into a crowded Lane Cove eatery on a Tuesday night is usually a good indication of restaurant that is doing something right. Tucked away in a tiny arcade is Malaysian gem Kuali, a restaurant that has quickly built a firm reputation for delivering authentic Nyonyan cuisine with a twist.
The Sydney Morning Herald - Edited excerpt from a review by Annette Shun Wah
Get down and dirty with some decidedly tasty crab - Kuali style.
The restaurant is named for the Malaysian equivalent of the wok, but there are no obvious cultural statements in the rather bland decor, dominated by white walls and tablecloths topped with white butcher's paper. Are staff expecting us to make a mess? You bet!
One of the signature dishes here is the Queensland mud crab served with a choice of four sauces, but our waiter recommends the chef's special curry sauce.
We take plenty of time to suck the delicious sauce from the shell before cracking it open in search of succulent flesh. The crab pieces have been quickly deep-fried to seal in the juices, then steeped in a chilli and coconut cream-based curry, which we mop up with roti chanai, a light flaky flat bread.
From the extensive menu, we select a few seafood specialties along with a couple of "hawkers' favourites". First to arrive is muar otak-otak, a spicy mousse of Spanish mackerel that usually comes as small parcels wrapped in banana leaves. This time, we get a slab of it and there are gasps all 'round as we get a surprise chilli hit with the first mouthful. The sweet pickled vegetables on the side, flavoured with chilli and sesame, are a perfect accompaniment.
Specials include fresh pippies flavoured with curry and the spinach-like vegetable kangkong cooked with shrimp paste, both presented in little stainless-steel kualis. The battered salt-and-pepper squid is tender and succulent.
The two hawkers' favourites, Penang char kuey teow - stir-fried rice noodles with bean sprouts, egg and fishcake - and chicken curry laksa, provide the only disappointments of the meal, both being a bit ordinary, the sweet and creamy laksa, in particular, lacking complex flavours.
Edited excerpt from a review by Annette Shun Wah, The Sydney Morning Herald, January 2003