I walk past Pappa Rich every day, and for some time I had been curious. It has a silly name. It is always full at 5:00pm. The size and décor of the place doesn’t suggest ‘cheap student grub': it looks like a hotel lobby, yet one curiously filled with young Asian student types eating very early dinners. Curious.
Then I started seeing it being frequently and favourably reviewed. It appeared to be a very authentic Malaysian franchise, of a standard decidedly above cheap student nosh, but still inexpensive. And with lots of vegetarian options, which is handy when we dine with the Sisters Ray and their partners, one of whom is a vegetarian.
So we went on a mission on a Friday night. This involved waiting in a queue, but only for about 10 minutes, which is how long it took our party to arrive and assemble. Everyone in the queue apart from us could have been Malaysian, so it’s obviously good if it’s attracting a home crowd who are prepared to wait in a queue on a cold Friday night, some with small children and strollers. Note: it is an alcohol-free restaurant, so no booze for sale nor BYO. (Hubby and I had a few cheeky pre-dinner ciders and dark beers at The Little Guy on Glebe Point Road.)
The ordering system is very cute: everything on the menu has a code, and you write the code and quantity on the chit provided then press a buzzer.
We chose a variety of exciting non-alcoholic beverages, all of which were extremely sweet but some of which were legitimate thirst quenchers (Lemon Tea; Lychee Soda) whilst others were really just pudding-in-a-glass. I had one from the latter category: Malaysian Favourite #34, ‘Ice Blended Bandung (Rose Syrup with Soya Milk) with Grass Jelly’. It was THE most pink, girly thing you could imagine, and tasted very much like hand cream – but somehow in a good way. The sorbet element was particularly nice; the sweetness was a welcome offset to the salty and chilli-laden food; and the grass jelly was herbal and interesting and fun to slurp through the fat straw.
The non-vegetarians shared a platter of Fried Chicken Skin (why not?!) and we all shared a few rounds of Roti Canai – the gorgeous Malaysian bread which is simultaneously fluffy and flaky, served with a thin curry sauce, a chunkier one (both vegetarian), and a chilli sambal. The Fried Chicken Skin was predictably moreish and heart-attack inducing (best shared between at least six people) and great to dip in the sauces once we’d finished the roti.
My choice of main was Noodle #12, Ipoh Koay Teow Soup or rice noodles in a fragrant chicken and prawn broth (no coconut cream here) with poached chicken breast slices and several plump prawns, plus bean shoots, chives, chillies and crispy things. After the roti bread and crispy chicken skin, this was a filling yet much lighter option than the curries and laksas. And sufficiently chilli-hot to help kill off my sinus infection, but without killing me off in the process!
Everyone else had a rice dish: a Nasi Goreng (Malaysian fried rice with egg, chicken and prawns); three Biryani with Beef Rendang and Sambal Eggplant; the same but with Sambal Prawns instead of eggplant; and the intriguing vegetarian option of Biryani Rice with Vegetarian Curry Mutton. This thankfully turned out to be tempeh, and our vegetarian friend was not unhappy with his choice. I tried several mouthfuls of people’s fragrant biryani rice, with its warm earthy spice mix – yum! The sambal eggplant was a winner too. It was great to have a decent amount of vegetarian choice – our friend is very obliging but I feel he always gets slightly shafted with group meals. (Also the meat is halal. And they can do gluten free. Various friends’ dietary requirements met! Add to high rotation for group dining!)
Between the seven of us – with four shared dishes, a main each, and six crazy drinks – the total was $164.50! I heartily recommend joining the Pappa Rich queue (or eating dinner at 5:00pm). I am sure I’ll be returning soon to try more of the extensive menu and another excitingly unfamiliar beverage.