Whenever I am in Sydney, I always try to make the most of my day… and night with good food if possible. On this occasion, my initial plan was to drop by at Alice’s in Thornleigh for some Malaysian Chinese food on my way home with Big D. After being informed by our friends who live in the suburb that Alice’s is usually shut for business on Tuesday, we soon divert our focus on to another restaurant just a few hundred meters down the road. A restaurant named Istana as in the “Palace” in Malay, that’s where I will be expecting to be treated like a royal with some good food from home.
Istana is located on the top floor within a complex of restaurants spread out over two levels. Via the staircase at the far end corner of the building, I arrived at the restaurant and greeted by a huge green and red neon sign that you probably can get a tan if standing in front of it long enough. Inside the restaurant is in the shades of pink, from the cream coloured wall to the pink linen table clothes. Our friends are already sitting inside waiting for us, and more importantly, waiting to order.
Firstly, we have some Lobah for entree. Lobah (or Lobak) also known as Ngo Hiang (means five spice in Hokkien) in some restaurants. The pork fillet are marinated in five spice, wrapped in bean curd skin then deep fried. The lobak here has a nice pork fillings inside which is moist, tender but very subtle in five spice flavour. The bean curd skin is not too greasy, deep fried until golden brown and crisp, but I found it strange that the skin is lightly coated in batter which is unnecessary.
I ordered the Hainanese Chicken, a simple dish and yet difficult to perfect. The chicken is slow cooked in hot water bath for over an hour to keep its moisture and tenderness, then drizzled with soy sauce, and served with dipping sauce of lime & chili, and fried ginger & scallions. Unfortunately the Hainanese chicken at Istana is rather over cooked with tight bumpy skin instead of slippery succulent. The meat is tender although a little on the dry side. My mum used to describe it as “rag” if the chicken meat is dry and stringy. Nevertheless, nothing can’t be sorted with a good smidgen of chili sauce on top.
We ordered two vege dishes to balance out our meat intake. Belachan KangKung, another signature Malaysian dish which Istana still doesn’t quite mastered it well enough. The kangkung (chinese water spinach) is young with crunchy stems in vibrant green, stir fried to an inviting pungent aroma of belachan prawn paste with subtle chili hit. However the dish seems a little dry with very little sauce. It is flavorsome nonetheless.
Not all dishes are underwhelming, I do find the french beans with pork mince is probably the best dish among them all. The french beans are pan fried for the toasty skin but still hold a nice crunch inside then stir fried again with pork mince. A sprinkle of sugar adds sweetness to the pork mince with hot burning sensation lingers in the mouth from the chopped chilies. This dish really shines through compares to the others.
Big D also ordered the crispy shredded beef. Thin strips of beef are heavily coated in cornflour then deep fried for that unbelievable crunch. Stir Fried the beef with a handful of shredded carrot with a light layer of sweet sour plum sauce for that extra shine and sweetness; finished off with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seed and served on a bed of crispy fried noodle, it is truly a multi-layered crunch on crunch orgasmic sensation. It is everyone’s favorite, crispy, crunchy and tasty, but little did they know it is actually not a Malaysian dish, but a SzeChuan one.
The dessert menu is also a mix of traditional Malaysian sweet delicacies and some not so much. I go for the Sago Pudding, Big D has the Ice Kachang and Wingman opt for the Rambutan Ice Cream. The most sacrilege dessert would probably be the Rambutan ice cream, which is literally rambutan flesh from a can served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Oh, but I did hissed about the Ice Kachang, served in a tall milkshake glass which is impractical and clumsy to reach for all the red bean and chendul goodness at the bottom of the glass. Not to mention the lack of ingredients in the ice kachang like peanuts, sweet corns, grass jelly, red jelly… urrggghhh! Sacrilege! I try not to let it get to me and so I can enjoy my sago pudding which is what it should be, nice firm sago with a dash of coconut cream and palm sugar syrup, no complain from me on that one.
We even presented with some “post-dessert” complimentary fortune cookies and a plate of fresh watermelon and oranges. At this stage, I seriously doubt the authencity of this restaurant that is truly run by Malaysian chinese. We actually never have fortune cookies in Malaysia, and crispy shredded beef? and Ice Kachang in tall milkshake glass? The food is average but expensive at Istana, it is a hearty meal even though I found some dishes are catered for western palates. Another thing I noticed is the weird pricing on the menu, $21.30, $15.20? What’s the story?
I cracked open my fortune cookie, and it says “Remember your mother’s advice“. I think my auspicious wish is accurate, I should listen to my mother and cook at home more often. So that I dont have to pay high price for food that is less decent.
Istana Restaurant 230/238 Pennant Hills Rd Thornleigh NSW 2120 P: (02) 9481 8855