02 Jul Dong at Hale Street
Here comes another food review from the M Makan Kakis. In this episode, we discovered a quaint and cosy restaurant which serves Peranakan (Nyonya) Delights with a Twist. Dong at Hale Street, located at the heart of the city, just a street away from the hustle and bustle of Concubine Lane. Dong is a place where one can partake in local dishes whilst enjoying a glass of wine. Opened by a team of well known F&B operators of cafes in Ipoh, they challenged themselves to take on local cuisines, differing from their other cafés. The concept was to create a laid-back and chill environment for millinieals to appreciate our food history. When it came to Peranakan Dishes, they were so woven into our everyday dishes. Most local cuisines, has a nyonya aspect in it. In the early days of 1400s, the influx of Chinese traders due to the gifting of Puteri Hang Li Po brought in the union of marriages with local Malays. Their way of adapting to both traditions and customs gave birth the Peranakan way of life.
The Peranakan meals, can be described as a hybrid of Malay and Chinese flavors using techniques created to celebrate the best of both worlds. Malay spices are generally used on Chinese Dishes creating the burst of flavours dancing on our palate. Sweet, Spicy and Sour! It goes hand in hand in most Peranakan Cuisine. You have to try it to understand how strong the flavors are. Our geographic location played a part, as Malaysia neighbours Thailand; and you can find Thai influences in Nyonya Cuisines.
Enough of our history class! Back to Dong. The café is rich with antiques from the Peranakan descendants. Porcelain plates shelved in glass cupboards with wooden fixtures. The dressing table that was exhibited to showcase the Nyonya way of life was something that only the wealthy could afford. We could see that even their dining tables were restored antiques. From their ceiling, hung bright red lanterns symbolizing the mixing of Chinese culture into the Peranakans who never forgot their roots. As there were 2 sections in the café, noise levels were eliminated, making the space exteremely cozy. We were seated at a table of 6 in the inner section. Dong does not have many seats making it less crowded even when full house.
When we saw the menu, we were spoilt with choices. We wanted, but we had so little stomachs this time around. Fortunately, it turns out the portions were small. For big eaters, we suggest that you insist on ordering more. After 2 rounds of ordering, we had 3 appetizers, 4 mains and 3 desserts. The Tiger prawn, was the first to arrive. Sautéed and seasoned with garlic, it was fresh and crunchy. Portion wise, we think is it a little pricy for its small serving. Guess prawns are generally expensive as it was an appetizer after all.
Arriving next, the Signature Blue rice with Curry Chicken. The rice was the main highlight as the blue color rice comes from the petals of Clitoria ternatea (butterfly-pea) flowers (bunga telang). We have been seeing a lot of different food using this flower to enhance up food including bubble tea. (imagine that!) I believe this is the latest trend. Malaysians were already using this to make nasi kerabu since decades before. Dong’s dish was similar to nasi kerabu but with less sides. The blue rice was more fragrant and looks very pleasing. Fear not, it is not artificial coloring but contains good health benefits especially with regards to premature aging. Our family enjoyed the dish with the curry chicken complimenting the dish well.
Moving on, thick rice noodle (lai fun) was served. Here comes our top choice! The texture of the noodles was beyond words. Silky soft and smooth, it slid down our throats. To us, it was similar to the laksa noodles but tasted better in a way. How did it taste like? Hmm, if you tasted wat tan hor, lai fun is very similar to it where egg gravy is used to cook the dish with seafood. We all agree this was the best dish amongst all. Recommended by the waiter, thumbs up for this dish.
What is nyonya cusine without some laksa. We had to try Dong’s laksa. Unfortunately it was quite a disappointment. Lacking the rich flavors we expected, Dong’s flavors was not up to par. The soup was quite mild and the noodles were too soft. Then, we had nyonya fried rice with Ayam Rempah, topped with an omelet on the rice. I especially liked the ayam rempah. It was fried perfectly, giving it a crunchy crust but juicy flesh. The rice was cooked well making the dish well balanced. We noticed that when the dishes were served, they will place some pickled onions and sambal to further enhance the dish. Sambal may not be everyone’s favorite but it is definitely appreciated by locals especially in nyonya dishes.
We were done with our first round of orders and waited patiently for the second. The waiting lasted for around 15 minutes. We added mushroom and avocado bao and Salad with Tumeric Chicken. What came was totally unexpected though. We thought the bao will be served burger style where the stuffing are in the bao. Instead, the bao was separated from the avocado, mushroom and scrambled eggs on the side. Eating it as whole was not as bad as we thought as the mushroom was really delicious. Since all dishes were quite overpowering, we ordered a salad to feel less guilty (haha). What we ordered was supposed to come with avocado but they informed us mid-way that mushrooms will be added instead. To our surprise, the mushrooms made the salad much more delicious. Our family members could not stop reaching for it. The combination was a little odd. Tumeric chicken with salad, mushrooms, tomatoes and seaweed sprinkled upon. The dish was a great surprise.
As for desserts, we ordered bobo cha cha, soy milk black sesame rice and red bean soup. Since our bill was over RM200, we were given a free cake. In total, we had 4 desserts! (Oh Sinful, sinful day!). Like any Malaysian, we always love some freebies. I really like the bobo cha cha. It’s sweet aroma and fragrant taro quench my thirst for sweets. Consisting of sweet potato, sago, tapioca pearls and the coconut milk, it was delightful after all the sour and spicy dishes. The favourite amongst all. Soy Milk black sesame rice ball was a bit of a letdown. The soy milk reminds of us of the v-soy drink and my family members said the Sesame rice ball was something that can be found in supermarkets; in the frozen section. We may be wrong but based on our tastebuds, I recommend to skip it and enjoy the bobo cha cha instead. Ok, moving on. The red bean soup was pleasant and full of red beans. The consistency of the drink was great and it placed second after bobo cha cha. It turns out the free cake is a sponge cake with macadamia nuts topped on. It was light and refreshing as we could not have another creamy cake after the rich galore we had.
We asked for the bill and it came down to RM261.80 including service charge. The waiters, young ladies were friendly and pleasant. We were satisfied with their service as well as ambience. The pool of western cafes, has made me appreciate Dong more for its concept and retaining our food culture. Overall, we will rate it 6/10 as the food quality can be further improved.
NOTE : We do not eat for free, nor were we paid for this review. We ordered and paid for everything that we consume. This review is a general summary from feedback provided by all members of the M Boutique Family who partook in the Food Review