Amah by Ho Jiak is a new restaurant by chefs Hun Loong of Mr Wong and Junda Khoo of Ho Jiak and is a strike out at a more upmarket Malaysian restaurant. "The idea came up when my grandma passed away (earlier this year). I spoke to Jundak about it. A few week later, he suggest to use the site to pay homage to my grandma’s cooking. And I loved that idea," says Hun Loong.
Amah is located at District Dining above Chatswood train station. If the location looks familiar, it's when General Chao the modern Chinese restaurant used to be. There is a bar at one end and the open kitchen flanked with roast ducks at the other where you can watch the chefs at work.
While Ho Jiak is casual or kopitiam (coffee shop) style food, Amah, meaning 'grandmother' in Teochew and Hokkien, is more upmarket. There are no coffee or tea drinks here (except at lunchtime). Diners at dinner are steered towards mocktails and cocktails or their wine list. There is a live seafood section with lobster, mud crab and pippies.
Mr NQN starts with a cocktail and his choice is a Bee and Tee with Havana 3 year old rum, pandan, Never Never Fancy Fruit Cup, honey and lemon which he sips slowly, enjoying every drop.
The food comes out quickly and we've tried to order dishes that are exclusive to Amah rather than dishes that you can get at the other Ho Jiak locations. The soup is one of their signature dishes and only available at Amah. Hun Loong explains, "Handmade fish ball soup was the closes dish to my heart from Amah and also my favourite dish from her. Instead of buying fish balls like everyone else she would get up before sunrise to go the market to source the freshest fish to make the dish. She would be spending all day prepping the dish because it’s such a laborious to show her love to the family." It's a bowl of soup with bouncy fish balls, split fish cakes with scallions in a wonderful deeply nourishing broth. It's the sort of thing that I'd order daily as it is as comforting and restorative as it is delicious. "Do you want more?" Mr NQN says hopeful and he polishes off the rest of the soup in no time.
It's early days so it's hard to know what will be a signature dish but I'm willing to put money on the Assam Nonya Curry Toothfish. It's a fat, thick fillet that comes with a wonderful sour, sweet sauce that sings with complex flavours. There's okra in there, tomato and onion and a rich scarlet coloured tomato based broth. The fish is cooked through as well as tender and moist and you definitely want to order some rice to mop up that delicious curry sauce.
Hun Loong explains that the process for the char siu is a two day process that starts with free range Berkshire pork belly. This is marinated in a soy marinate for 2 days and roasted at a very high temperature to get the dark sticky caramelisation. The char siu is delicious but it is a small serve for $29 but that's the trade off for free range Berkshire pork belly. It's luscious and fatty so if you prefer your char siu lean you may be out of luck because that's the only one available. Luckily the idea of lean char siu is anathema to me.
Our waitress suggested the stuffed eggplant and there are split large red chilies, eggplant slices and tofu stuffed with spanner crab with a savoury thick soy based sauce. I was expecting something a bit different like spanner crab in the sauce while the crab is in the stuffing. It's nice although it followed the toothfish which is a hard act to follow with its complex flavours.
The fried rice comes with lup cheong and prawns and plenty of egg. I can't stop going back for more and more of this. It's not dry like some fried rice can be and is highly addictive and I think I finish most of this!
As it is early days there isn't any dessert yet they are still awaiting the delivery of the ice machine from overseas. This will deliver desserts like Ice Kacang and Cendol.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you tend to order the signature dish of a restaurant? What dish reminds you of your grandmother?
This meal was independently paid for.
Amah by Ho Jiak
Interchange, 436 Victoria Ave, Chatswood NSW 2067
Monday to Wednesday 11am–2:30pm, 5–9pm
Thursday & Friday 11am–2:30pm, 5–10pm
Saturday & Sunday 11am–10pm
Phone: (02) 9170 4714