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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Makan at Alice's, Thornleigh

roti canai
Roti canai and curry $9.20
Three pieces of roti canai bread
with lamb curry

It's taken us a while to get to Alice's. On our first attempt (after about a year of intent), we'd arrived to find it closed, ending up at bbq one instead, a tasty consolation nevertheless. After a forty minute drive on our second attempt, we were relieved to find it open, but soon discovered they were operating without electricity due to power failures from the storms buffeting Sydney. Thank goodness Alice was cooking with gas!

Hainan chicken
Hainanese chicken rice $9.00
Steamed chicken with chicken rice
drizzled with garlic oil and soy sauce

Alice's is a plain little family-run restaurant. The entrance screen door, left ajar, looks just like one you'd encounter at any suburban flat. Once inside you notice the counter immediately on your left, packed with varying towers of Alice's famous home-made kuih, Malaysian sweets predominantly steamed and made from coconut milk.

On the wall in front of you is a proudly framed letter from Maeve O'Mara, thanking Paul and Alice for their participation in an episode of Food Lovers' Guide to Australia. I remember the beautiful kuih from that episode well.

Off to your right is a modest room that feels a little like a converted garage--in the nicest possible way of course. The walls and tables are white and clean, there's a large window looking onto the street (just as well since the lights aren't working today) and an open sideboard is conveniently accessible for our additional crockery and cutlery needs.

We're in need of more bowls and chopsticks because all five of us are sharing dishes today, an attempt to cover as much of the menu as possible.

nasi lemak
Nasi Lemak $9.00
Chicken rendang with coconut rice,
anchovies, peanuts and egg

The Hainanese chicken arrives first. The cleaved pieces of chicken are moist and succulent, the rice is faintly sweet with chicken stock. Splodges of sweet and salty garlic paste are drizzled on top; a dish of sweet chilli sauce rests to one side. I'm more used to the plain Hainan chicken served with salty ginger and shallot oil, but N and C can't get enough of the stuff.

The nasi lemak is a typically great contrast of textures. Fluffy steamed rice, creamy spicy rendang and the richness of egg are interspersed with the delightful crunch of peanuts and the honey sweetness of deep-fried baby anchovies. Slivers of tomato refresh the palate after dipping into the extra mound of sambal.

Popiah $8.80
Two fresh spring roll wraps with yam bean,
vegetables, egg and Chinese sausage

Popiahs are an interesting mix of vegetable crunch and sweet bean sauce. Wrapped in sheets similar to a raw spring roll wrapper, I find them cool and refreshing.

nasi goreng
Nasi Goreng $9.80
Rice fried with sambal paste, curry leaves,
prawn, chicken and dried shrimp

The nasi goreng is a jumble of rice, prawn, chicken, peas, shallots and corn, mixed through with sweet kecap manis, a thickened soy sauce, and fried until a pale golden hue. The corn kernels are sweet and juicy, and there are enough caramelised crunchy bits to keep me happy.

Char kway teow $9.80
Rice noodles in thick soy sauce
with Chinese sausage, seafood and chives

The rice noodles in the char kway teow are satiny smooth and slippery as only fresh noodles can be. Bits of fried egg, fish cake and Chinese sausage appear randomly throughout mouthfuls, the cleansing crunch of bean sprouts is a welcome constant.

Roti canai is the real crowd-pleaser of the day. The three flaky pancakes are fresh from the frypan, gloriously crisp on the outside and torn apart to reveal delicate layers within. We dunk them generously into the thick puddle of curry which has a delayed chilli kick. The islands of lamb chunks are superbly tender.

Sago with gula melaka $4.80
and coconut cream

For dessert we share a bowl of sago with gula melaka. The sago is a solid mass of starch bubbles. It rests on a lake of gula melaka palm sugar, so caramelly sweet it almost makes my teeth hurt. The coconut milk is slightly salty. The green jelly beans are sweet and crunchy.

Cendol $4.80
Homemade pandan strands, red bean and jelly
in coconut milk and gula melaka

We all adore the cendol, a dessert-like drink that includes layers of green noodles, cooked soft red beans, coconut milk, palm sugar syrup and plenty of shaved ice. We've always called the pandan noodles "green worms". I'm a huge fan of the round tubs of worms and coconut milk you can get from Vietnamese grocery stores.

The worms aren't particularly sweet (cooked pandan-flavoured dough is pushed through a sieve into iced water) but that just makes the palm sugar syrup such a welcome toffee kick.


We raid the kuih counter on our way out. Unfortunately there are no onde onde coconut balls left today, but we do pick up boxes of kuih lapis, a soft sticky rainbow cake of steamed red, white and green layers; kuih serimuka, a layer of green coconut custard over coconut sticky rice; and kuih talam, a dark green layer of mung bean jelly topped with a thin salty layer of coconut cream.


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makan@Alice's on Urbanspoon

Makan at Alice's
Shop 3, 262 Pennant Hills Road, Thornleigh, Sydney
(turn into Bellevue Street and it's on your left)
Tel: +61 (02) 9484 8288

Lunch Tuesday to Sunday 11.30am - 2.30pm
Dinner Thursday to Sunday 6.00pm - 9.00pm

Related GrabYourFork posts:
Makan at Alice's, Thornleigh (CNY Banquet 2009) and (2008)

Malaysian restaurants
Cafe Kasturi, Haymarket
Kopitiam Malaysian Cafe, Ultimo, April 2007
Kopitiam Malaysian Cafe, Ultimo, April 2006
Malay Chinese Takeaway, Sydney, April 26, 2007
Malay Chinese Takeaway, Sydney, April 03, 2007
The Malaya, Sydney

Tan's Malaysian, Ultimo
21 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/17/2007 11:57:00 pm


  • At 6/18/2007 12:43 am, Blogger Kt said…

    You came to Thornleigh and didn't drop in at my place??!

  • At 6/18/2007 7:41 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You made it to Alice's! 2nd time lucky, woo hoo. I'm a huge Alice's fan, lost count of the # of times I've been there. Those are all my fave dishes but one of their specialities is their Chicken & Prawn laksa and Har mee - both very very good :)~

  • At 6/18/2007 9:22 am, Blogger Lien said…

    I'm glad to see that you made it to Alice's. I've been wanting to try it out since a Malaysian friend told me about it. Thanks for the review!! The sweets look devine.

  • At 6/18/2007 10:10 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    heh looks like everyones visiting alices lately glad you finally made it there! my fav kueh is the angkoo its bright red and turtle shaped? sometimes alice will make them with peanut inside instead of the usual yellow mung bean its awesome!

  • At 6/18/2007 1:42 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hi helen! my name is Yan and I'm a Malaysian student studying at Sydney U. I really really miss msian food and reading your post made me miss it even more! However, I'm not sure how to get to Alice's. IS there a train that I can take?

  • At 6/18/2007 1:45 pm, Blogger Kat said…

    I lived in that area for about three years and never heard of Alice's. Must go try next time I visit.

    Speaking of Thornleigh, have you been to Belmonte's Pizza (cnr Pennant Hills Rd and Yarrara)? The owner is completely mad, and the pizzas are ginormous.

  • At 6/18/2007 3:00 pm, Blogger celia said…

    Thanks for the review. Being a Malaysian in Sydney, I am always on the look out for outlets serving good (as in authentic tasting0 Malaysian food.
    Now to convince the husband that we need to go there :D

  • At 6/18/2007 6:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As an ex-Malaysian, I found 'Alice' not too bad. Unfortunately though, I do find her prices a bit high for the dishes. And some dishes tend to be a bit sweet. She does do good roti though. I do LOOOOVE her kuihs.

  • At 6/18/2007 6:20 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    hi helen

    glad to see you've made it to Alice's. i've been 3 times since seeing your last blog about it when it was closed because i have a few malaysian foodies who have been wanting to find good malaysian. and it's the only place i've found in sydney which makes popiah and is fairly close to a good one i've had in malaysia. i've tried just about all the dishes. next time try the wat tan hor and fried radish cake which are both very good and if having the ice kacang make sure you ask for them to put enough rose water. you'll see they put corn in there's. some pics of the dishes i've had are available to look at http://www.myspace.com/simonleong
    in my food slideshow.

    last weekend went to jasmin's in punchbowl. so traditional and tasty if you have eat with your hands (unless you ask for cutlery). falafel is very good.

    love your work

    simon :-)

  • At 6/19/2007 12:45 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What a great place to go to! Mmmmm!

  • At 6/19/2007 5:26 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi kt - lol

    Hi Beverly - I noticed the har mee but we were all sharing and it sounded too messy to contemplate. I'm certainly interested to see how it stacks up against Malay Chinese Takeaway. I'm definitely trying it next time!

    Hi Lien - I'm sure we'll be back. I must get me some onde onde!

    Hi chocolatesuze - I saw the angkoo and did pause over that box. Next time! I love the sound of peanut filling!

    Hi Anon - There is a train station at Thornleigh. I suggest you check out the 131500 website for best details on how to get there by public transport.

    Hi kat o+ - Mmm pizza... I'm not often in the Thornleigh but I'll keep an eye out for it. Thanks for the tip :)

    Hi Celia - It has a huge reputation given its location. Convince convince!

    Hi Vb - The roti was delicious. And I certainly intend to 'thoroughly research' all her kuih!

    Hi Simon - I was alread planning on having the wat tan hor and fried radish cake on my next trip :)

    I've been meaning to check out Jasmin in Punchbowl too, having only tried the Lakemba version. I love their falafel too!

    Hi Kristen - It was all very delicious :)

  • At 6/19/2007 6:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey! Your blog has been the best yet biggest distraction during my exam study period! But that's alright, I've got plenty of places I now want to try after the exams finish...

    Alice's is good, there used to be Straits Gourmet there but they went upmarket and it didn't work out. They are getting slightly pricey though (well if you compare it with the prices in malaysia...) but hopefully they won't go down the same path as their predecessor.

    And Belmonte's is superb! Do try that next time you're up north, but they only open on certain days so check first.

    Istana in Thornleigh's another good chinese-malaysian place and is always crowded at nights.

    Good to see you're venturing up north! Looking forward to more distractions!

  • At 6/20/2007 1:03 am, Blogger papa lazarou said…

    lovely pics helen... pushed it up on the list of places to try on the weekend..

    belmonte.. do u guys mean pennant hills? is that the dreadful 'upside down' pizza crap ? if its changed, then i'd love to try again.. if its the same joint, those pizzas were disgraceful... way too thick, cold, u'd be lucky to hold a piece in your hands...

  • At 6/20/2007 9:58 am, Blogger Nora B. said…

    I have to go there! Thanks for the recommendation.

  • At 6/20/2007 4:12 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Helen, there's a new Singaporean/Malaysian restaurant - Singapore Kitchen - just recently opened in West Ryde on Victoria Road. Food isn't too bad. It's a must try. But when we went last night service was dreadful, maybe coz of the rain. But recommend a try if you're ever up this way, hopefully you'll get a better service.

    Belmonte at Pennant Hills has changed owner/chef. Went there earlier this year and now you have a choice whether you want the thick crust or a thinner version. Much nicer than what it was before.

  • At 6/20/2007 11:16 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Everything looked so good.. Helen..! what amuses me is that.. when i was back home in singapore.. all the featured food was so cheap.. wherelse.. now that we are no longer in asia.. we pay top dollars for the food we crave for from home. Fortunately for you . .and the folks in australia.. they've got choice.. as for me.. in this small dingy town.. *sigh*..!

  • At 6/21/2007 12:59 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Cam - So many fooding ideas. Thanks for sharing your insights. And good luck with your exams too :)

    Hi David - Hope you enjoy it. Upside-down pizza? Now I am intrigued!

    Hi Nora B - Happy lunching!

    Hi VB - Thanks for the tip. I'll keep an eye out for it if I'm in the area.

    Hi Mama Bok - It's true what they say - you don't know what you've got until it's gone... I think you need a holiday. Somewhere nice like Malaysia or Australia :P

  • At 11/09/2007 6:46 pm, Blogger Kt said…

    A couple of things...

    Alice's is now open for dinner Thursday to Sunday nights! Woo!

    Istana is briliant. It's a regular of mine. Malaysian Hawker's Pipis - mmmmm.

    In my experience, Belmonte Pizzeria is overpriced and undercooked. Normanhurst Pizza Cafe, however (apart from being practically next door to our new place) is fabbo.

  • At 11/11/2007 11:44 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi kt - Mmm... Istana sounds yum. Will have to check it out. And yes, I must return to Alice's for dinner sometime soon :)

  • At 4/22/2008 10:10 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Temasek in Parramatta (just a short trip down Pennant Hills Rd) is still the benchmark for Malay / Singaporian restaurants (IMHO). I was recommended to Alice's by a Singaporian friend (who also enjoys Temasek) and was not disapointed, although I still think the laksa at Temasek is both more authentic and tastier.

    It is great to have a decent Malay restuarant in the district - sorry I have not been to Istana for many years, having been disapointed way back then. Maybe it has changed.

  • At 4/26/2008 11:54 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Anon - Funny you should mention Temasek as we only just recently headed there :) Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming post!


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