Plate With A View: Nam Langkawi, Malaysia
Saturday 27 May 2006
The cuisine of the Straits Chinese isn't well represented outside Malaysia and Singapore. The baba nyonya hybrid uses the same ingredients as Malaysian cooking (which tends to be messy and generous) in a lighter way. It has its origins in Malacca, where the spices of the Moluccas met those of India long before the Portuguese brought chilli.
Narelle McMurtrie used to run a homeware shop in Kuala Lumpur with a cafe attached, serving nyonya food. The café took off, and the Nam Restaurant is its daughter. The menu takes in regional dishes from the Maldives to Bali, by way of the Mediterranean. The house speciality, though, remains its nyonya platter.
Served on a banana leaf on a lacquer tray, nine dishes are arranged in bright piles: a green okra sambal; turmeric yellow of a chicken curry with galingale and lime leaf; chocolate-brown beef; pandanus-leaf parcels of prawns. Despite the heady flavours, it is not overwhelming. You might even have room for the char-grilled rock lobster tails on a guava salad as a starter. But you must reserve space for the sticky black rice pudding, and ask for it with gula melaka ice cream.
The resort and restaurant sit in an old coconut grove beside a freshwater lagoon with reeds and water lilies, over which the sun sets. There is a deck for cocktails and mezze. The jagged, jungled range that rises to the peak of Mat Cincang fades to a silhouette. Warm light spills out of the open-sided restaurant, decorated with an eclecticism that complements the menu - Chinese screens, Thai silk, Javanese sculpture - but Narelle has also amassed a collection of altogether larger antiques.
Under the coconut palms stand seven old wooden Malay village houses that make up the Bon Ton Resort. These houses are becoming rare and, spot-lit at night, you feel as if you are dining in a museum of vernacular architecture. The latest addition is an old Chinese shop-house, done out in boutique style as the Chin Chin bar.
The nyonya platter is 58 ringgits (£9). Entrées start from RM20 (£2.90): mains from RM38-74 (£5.50-£10.80). Wine from RM85-650 (£13-£99) per bottle. Booking is advisable for dinner. 00 60 4 955 4791; www.bontonresort.com.my
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