92 Hay St
Haymarket, NSW 2000
Malaysian cuisine was the first I ever fell in love with. It cemented my now-undying love for street food, and was the catalyst for my first ever overseas trip with friends. And although I don’t have it nearly as often these days, having gotten the obsession out of my system with 2 weeks in Malaysia, I still very much have a soft spot for the eclectic, multicultural cuisine.
Ho Jiak is one of the first restaurants that really put Malaysian food on the map in Sydney. Although there were plenty of places to get your Malaysian fix, most of them were cheap and cheerful eateries that served up just a few of the more well-known Malaysian dishes. Not Ho Jiak. Sure, they’ve got your laksa and mee goreng and satay, but they’ve also got a range of more elaborate dishes that you’d be hard-pressed to find if you didn’t personally know someone Malaysian who also happens to really love cooking. And the fun doesn’t stop there. The menu is given a modern twist with quirky takes on traditional recipes, as well as matching wines and a dedicated gluten-free menu, just to complete the gentrification. But that’s not to say that the true roots of Malaysian cuisine have been buried under whitewash; on the contrary, an introduction by the head chef at the front of the menu emphasises his impetus to cook Nyonya food just like it would be found in Malaysia, as taught to him by his Amah.
When we first walked into Ho Jiak, I was reminded immediately of what would be considered a family restaurant in Malaysia. No, not Smorgy’s. Consider it a sort of mid-range restaurant where the whole clan would gather to catch up over an elaborate meal, the kind that could be cooked at home, but would just be so much easier to let someone else do it. It’s unfussy but clean, and bustles with an incredible amount of energy. Little did I know however, Ho Jiak also has an upstairs section, and this time around, it falls a lot more into what Australians would consider to be mid-range, with its traditional Malaysian-Chinese décor and more sedate pace.
Loh Bak ($18) isn’t something I usually order, but it appears to be a firm favourite with many people, and who am I to argue with the masses? And sure enough, this was more than just your average offering of minced meat wrapped in soggy sheets of bean curd. Instead, what you have are slices of fatty pork braised in five-spice, wrapped with bean curd skin and fried to an enviably crisp golden-brown. It is very rich though, so make sure you use the tangy sweet chilli dipping sauce liberally.
My must-order dish at a Malaysian restaurant is the Char Koay Teow ($19), and this is about as good as they come. Tossed in a blistering hot wok, the chewy noodles were rendered charred and smoky, whilst the sprouts remained crisp and fresh. It was flavoured liberally with chilli, and garnished with plenty of fish cake and Chinese sausage, though it was the nubbins of fried pork fat that well and truly won me over.
Once again, Nasi Lemak ($18, chicken rendang) is not usually my favourite, but I decided to get it for the sake of variety, rather than ordering another noodle dish. And you know what? This single-handedly changed my opinion on nasi lemak. Whereas previous versions I’ve had felt like a disparate collection of meats and sauces, everything on this plate came together perfectly. The smooth richness of the chicken curry was complemented by the sweet and spicy sambal, whilst the crunch of the fried anchovies and peanuts added texture to each bite of sauce-covered coconut rice. It is simultaneously comforting and invigorating, and I can see how this is the go-to comfort dish for many Malaysians.
I love a good Asian dessert, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have the Ais Cendol ($10). The pandan jelly noodles and red beans were piled high on top of a bowl of shaved ice, with coconut milk and palm sugar syrup served alongside for us to pour on as we saw fit. Of course, I went ahead and upended the lot into the bowl, which resulted in a very precarious eating situation. With that said however, there really is no beating that sweet coconut flavour, especially when it’s paired with such high quality ingredients.
I enjoyed Ho Jiak so much, and the nasi lemak especially, that I was back at the Strathfield branch a week later for another plate (which I had with beef rendang, and can confirm it is every bit as delicious as the chicken). What I found almost as impressive as the food was the service. Although the staff were run off their feet, they were all full of smiles and energy, and never seemed to miss a beat. My only real complaint is the price, which is quite a bit pricier than you’d get elsewhere, even in the city. However the food quality is so good, and there are so many unique dishes, that I would be happy to pay the premium. Best come here with a group – there will be plenty of things you’ll want to try, and they’re all designed to share.
Rating: 14.5/20 – before i forget, you can get a jumbo nasi lemak, and wash it down with 1L of iced milo. now that’s living.
This rating reflects my personal experience at the time of visit.