In Short: Ho Jiak Haymarket lives up to its namesake which means 好吃 or “Good Eats” in Chinese. The food is authentically Malaysian Nonya style and the dining experience there is like taking a quick trip back to Asia.
Ho Jiak Malaysian Restaurant Sydney
Back in September 2017, the Coco and Vine team reviewed a little gem called Ho Jiak Strathfield. So, imagine our excitement when we found out that Ho Jiak now has a new location at Haymarket, with a menu that features some of the favourites from the Strathfield menu, but with its own twist.
Owner and Head Chef Junda Khoo grew up in Penang, Malaysia. Its his Fujian, Malaysian, Nonya, and Chinese heritage, that has fuelled his dream is to be able to introduce traditional food, with his own twist, to the palates of Australians. That introduction started in Strathfield, and now, with a new shop that has a lot more space, and a location in the heart of Sydney City, he is finally able to experiment more with the menu and include food items that are a reflection of his heritage and background.
Through the design and layout of the Ho Jiak Haymarket restaurant, Chef Junda hopes to bring you on a trip down memory lane and transport you back to Lebuh Ah Quee in Penang where he grew up. If you have been to Penang, you would know that Lebuh Ah Quee is famous for its array of great local food, as well as its many cheeky, street art murals. Ho Jiak Haymarket has several street art murals outside and inside their restaurant, amongst the use of wooden window sills, window awnings, a Lebuh Ah Quee road sign and white marble table top with cane furniture. Once you step inside, you would almost be forgiven for thinking that you are in the bustling streets of Penang instead of down town Sydney!
And, the truth is you might as well be, because the flavours and authenticity of the food here is on par with some of the best local food places in Penang. For entrée, we tried the Loh Bak 卤肉 , pork mince marinated in a Chinese five spice mix, rolled and wrapped with bean curd skin and deep fried to a dark crispy dark brown colour. There are many different adaptions of this dish depending on which Chinese dialect group you are from. For example, I know this dish as Ngo Hiang 五香, the Hakka people add prawns to it and call their version Prawn Roll 虾枣. In Penang, it’s known as Lor Bak. It is a very popular hawker dish, and usually presented as finger food together with a light pickle. Ho Jiak’s version of Loh Bak is served with picked cucumber and a sweet chilli dipping sauce. The flavours are rich and juicy, with just the right amount of Five Spice flavour. The bean curd skin holds the mince together and gives the dish a crunch factor. Combine with the cucumber to cut through the fatty richness of the meat, and a sweet chilli dipping sauce to add an extra kick, this dish is the perfect way to start the journey down Penang memory lane.
If you like eggs and are looking for a light dish from Ho Jiak’s menu, I would recommend the San Wong Dan 三王蛋 from their Tofu or Egg Section. It is a silky steamed egg custard, made with 3 types of eggs, century egg, duck egg and regular chicken egg. By adding duck egg, the custard has a richer flavour as duck eggs have a more intense flavour. The century egg gives this steamed egg dish a different color and texture, as the whites (or black) of the century egg is more gelatinous, giving the custard a different texture when eating it. I would almost call this the Asian version of Japanese chawamushi but with a twist of its own. Top that with a sprinkle of sesame oil and chopped green onions and you have a simple steamed egg custard dish that is on another dimension of its own.
No Malaysian restaurant would be complete without an inclusion of Char Koay Teow 炒貴刁. It is a stir-fried rice noodle dish that is a perfect blend of savoury, sweet and spicy all at the same time. Ho Jiak’s char koay teow, includes their signature chilli sauce, which is made in house. The noodles are properly charred with the the wok hei flavours. But what really makes this dish stand out is the generous topping of flaked crab meat that adds a sea briny flavour to the dish. This is not your regular run of the mill char koay teow and you know what, I am completely fine with Chef Junda’s interpretation of the famous dish. In fact, I love it.
Another quintessential Malaysian food is Beef Rendang or Rendang Gu 冷当咖喱和牛 as Ho Jiak calls it in their menu. It is a slow-cooked, coconut milk based beef curry. Traditionally, this dish is made with cheaper cuts of beef normally used for stews, but in Ho Jiak’s version of the Beef Rendang, they have used the best cut of wagyu beef. One of the reasons why a rendang tastes so good is because a lot of the flavours from the gravy are absorbed into the meat by the time the dish is done. For Ho Jiak’s version their focus is on the wagyu beef, that is intensely flavoured and painstakingly cooked for hours to melt in your mouth perfection. The end result is a rich, spicy coconut flavoured beef dish that was delicious to the last morsel.
If using wagyu beef to make beef rendang was not extravagant enough for you, wait till you try Ho Jiak’s Indo Mee Goreng Lobster ! For the uninitiated, Mee Goreng is a simple fried noodle street food that is commonly found in Indonesia. The key ingredient is the use of Kecap Manis, a thick sticky sweet sauce, giving it a sweet, savoury, flavour. Ho Jiak has elevated this common street food into a restaurant dish by adding big, chunky pieces of lobster into the fried noodle, giving it a rich seafood flavour. The flavour of the noodles is moist and amazing. Each mouthful is like a taste explosion. For me, the pièce de résistance is the sunnyside up egg with the runny egg yolk that adds a lush creamy sauce that binds the dish together.
My favourite experience of dining at Ho Jiak Haymarket is their Ho Jiak High Tea, featuring a selection of traditional Malaysian Nonya sweet and savoury small eats, that are delicate and can be fiddly to make. There is the Kueh Bingka, a rich baked cassava cake and the famous Kari Pap, which is like an empanada but with a spicy Asian kick from the curried potato filling. The Kueh Dadar Gulung is another great crowd pleaser with its vivid green pandan-flavored crepes stuffed with grated coconut & palm sugar. But my hands down favourite is the Bola Ubi Keledek, which is steamed, mashed sweet potato, mixed with rice flour and deep fried to a golden brown. The outside is crunchy from the use of rice flour and the inside is soft and warm. This is the kind of high tea that is right up my alley.
In Ho Jiak’s menu, there is a small introduction by Head Chef Junda, explaining his food origin and philosophy. Every ingredient in his food is carefully thought out and there for a reason and not just added because it was part of the traditional recipe. To say that Ho Jiak has a fascination with chilli is an understatement. According to Chef Junda, there is no less than 14 different kind of chilli sauces that are used in their restaurant, and each one is suited for different dishes.
In so many ways, he has taken classic dishes and improved on them and his passion and creativity shows with each food item on the menu. I have to agree with him that “Good Things Are Meant To Be Shared”, which is why we are sharing this review on a great Malaysian restaurant in Sydney, Australia with you!