Popular Malaysian restaurant Ho Jiak has opened up a Sydney Town Hall branch. This is where you'll find some dishes only available here. It is also the home for Beef Lasagne Roti, spicy Malaysian Chilli crab, Laksa Bombs, Bone Marrow Rendang with roti and an amazing Mi Goreng dessert!
Ho Jiak Town Hall is located on the street opposite the Queen Victoria Building. It first opened in early March 2020 when COVID-19 was really starting to take hold of Sydney. It's date night for Mr NQN and I and our first indoor dining experience in months.
The chef and co-owner behind Ho Jiak (which means "very tasty") is Junda Khoo. He lived in Penang with his grandparents as a baby and Kuala Lumpur with his parents although he considers Penang his hometown. Junda has fond memories of watching his grandmother cook and helping her in the kitchen.
"I came here when I was 15, and my family was still in Malaysia. So being here for a long time I was always homesick and more importantly I missed the food back home. So a lot of my cooking is based on my taste memory of the things I used to eat." He came to Australia to study but his parents wouldn't allow him to become a chef so he did a commerce and IT degree and worked for banks. It wasn't until 7 years ago that he became a chef when he opened Ho Jiak in Strathfield.
Junda was also one of the first restaurateurs to spring into action when COVID-19 hit. The business faced a 90% drop during lockdown. Then the CBD cluster hit and many people started working from home. "Being in the CBD we rely on office people and tourists. At the moment we are only busy on Friday and Saturday nights...but every other day especially weekdays are dead quiet and to be honest we are only doing at most 30% of sales of what we can be doing," explains Junda.
The Ho Jiak menu is enormous and interesting. For example, there's a whole section of crispy skins-these are like the famous salted egg fish chips from Singapore. Each protein has its own section and then this is followed by the Favourites section. There is also a page of vegetarian, vegan & gluten free dishes plus a page of very tempting specials.
We start with drinks, a Milo Godzilla for Mr NQN which is a Milo milk with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and more Milo sprinkled on top. It comes in two sizes the larger one is 1 litre. I love Milo but I would order this with less ice next time as I can never drink it quickly enough so that the ice doesn't water it down. The Teh Limau is a refreshing and lightly sweetened lemon and lime iced tea.
Speaking of the specials, we end up ordering three items from the specials menu and these will be around until mid-December. This wagyu marrow rendang roti is one of them. It's lusciously rich with a thick sauce and three large marrow bones. It comes with three crispy, buttery roti. Rendang itself is very rich but then add on marrow and it's a very unctuous dish but they cleverly lighten it with the grilled lemon and plenty of kaffir lime and lemongrass. "I want to grab that bone and lick it so badly," I say staring at Mr NQN enjoying a marrow bone.
It was a toss up between the laksa bombs or the satay sticks but the laksa bombs won in the end as you can get satay at a lot of restaurants. These laksa bombs have just hit the menu and they are prawn and chicken dumplings with noodles that are served in laksa soup with bean sprouts and heh bi sambal (dried shrimp sambal) and fresh mint leaves. They're fantastic and such a clever idea too and you can add more heat with the sambal.
Oh and that other special? It's a beef lasagna stuffed roti with savoury beef much like a lasagne filling but the white sauce is their Indomee buttermilk sauce. I don't know if I get exact beef lasagna vibes but I will say that it is very moreish and I would order it again in a heartbeat. It comes with a sweet, spicy sambal. The roti is wonderfully buttery and crispy and filled with just the right amount of beef filling.
The main event arrives and it is quite an arresting sight. We don the apron bibs and plastic gloves provided. It is a 700g mud crab and at the moment crab is expensive perhaps due to the Mid Autumn festival. There are a few types of sauces available for crab and we went for the Malaysian chilli crab sauce which has a nice gutsy hit of chilli and belachan. Malaysian chilli crab has less tomato than Chinese chilli crab and uses belachan and four types of chillies in their chilli sauce (chili padi, long red chilli, long green chillis and dried chillis). The crab is meaty and there's a really generous amount of sauce. The crispy thin noodles are good although I prefer it when they're a bit softer and soak up the sauce. You can also order the crab with Mantou buns.
One of my favourite dishes is a vegetable dish that is only available here at the Town Hall location. They are wok fried snowpea sprouts that can be cooked with either sambal or garlic. We love sambal sauce so sambal it is. The sambal is all you need to add flavour but then they top it with grated salted duck egg and it's perfection. This goes perfectly with the coconut rice and the chicken rice ($4 each).
The dessert menu is creative and if we hadn't eaten so much already we would have ordered two desserts. The Indomie Goreng Sundae special is three deep fried sugared noodle rings topped with raspberries and kaffir lime and drizzled with salted kecap manis with Indomie Goreng ice cream and an egg yolk on the side. You have to really eat all the elements together to get the full effect because the ice cream by itself is quite salty. It has a fantastic sweet and savoury aspect to it much like the Thai watermelon with toasted coconut topping. And just like that, it's all gone...
So tell me Dear Reader, where is your hometown? And do you like sweet savoury desserts?
NQN received a few complimentary dishes but the rest of the meal was independently paid for.
Ho Jiak Town Hall
125 York St, Sydney NSW 2000
Monday to Wednesday 11:30am–2:30pm, 5–9pm
Thursday & Friday 11:30am–2:30pm, 5–10pm
Phone: (02) 8065 6954