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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Makan at Alice's, Thornleigh

Teh tarik Malaysian milk tea $4.50

Exhausted? Lethargic? It's funny how the mere mention of food will always make me sit up with interest.

And so it was that a car full of food bloggers, silently slumped in their seats after a long day at the Sydney Food Bloggers' Christmas party, found themselves all smiles again when Karen suddenly pipes up out "should we have dinner at Alice's?"

Oh how quickly we found renewed energy again.

Homemade barley drink $3.00

The flyscreen door entrance to Makan at Alice's always makes me thinks I'm visiting someone's home . To the left is the cashier counter, still piled high with takeaway boxes of homemade kuih (Malaysian bite-sized desserts) if you're lucky. The dining room is through another doorway into a large bright and airy room, set with simple chairs and tables and decorative lanterns overhead.

Roti canai and curry $11.80
Malaysian grilled bread with lamb curry

Most of us start with teh tarik, hot and strong sweet tea that has been poured from jug to jug to create a frothed top. Simon has the homemade barley drink, traditionally believed to have health benefits.

Roti canai are flaky discs of pastry, cooked on a griddle to a speckled hue. We tear them by hand, and use it to scoop up mouthfuls of the accompanying lamb curry, not particularly meaty but the sauce is creamy with coconut milk and aromatic.

Chai Tow Kuih $13.80
Homemade radish cake fried with chia poh, egg, sprouts and chives

Chai Tow Kuih is my choice, and it doesn't disappoint. The homemade radish cake is made by steaming a mixture of rice flour with grated Chinese white radish (also known as Japanese daikon). The cooled mixture is then cut into cubes at fried at high heat with lots of oil.

The magic of this dish is always about the crispy veneer of the pan-fried radish, and Alice's version has been fried sufficiently to create caramelised cubes of bliss that are smoky with wok hei or "breath of wok". A jumble of omelette adds extra sustenance, and the heaviness of the dish is balanced by crunchy bean sprouts, shallots and bright green lengths of garlic chives.

Wat tan hor $15.80
Grilled rice noodles topped with thick egg gravy
with seafood, pork and vegetables

Karen's craving for Hainan chicken are unfufilled, our waitress regretfully advising that they've already sold out. She's placated with the last of the chicken rice ($3) and orders the wat tan hor instead.

I'm not usually a fan of what I call "gluggy dishes" but this dish gradually wins me over. The thick and gelatinous sauce seems to enhance the slippery smoothness of the fresh rice noodles, and the swaddle of prawns, pork, fish and vegetables is comforting and nourishing.

Butter soft shell crab $22.80
Crispy soft shell crab cooked in butter, eggs, curry leaves and chilli

Suze orders the butter soft shell crab, and it's a dish we're all looking forward to. The soft shell crab, deep-fried until golden brown, is served with a fluffy cloud of green and gold on top. Wisps of buttered egg are as delicate as Persian fairy floss, the mixture tossed through with curry leaves fried to a crisp, and bright red bits of chilli.

The dish is rich but tasty, best savoured with alternate mouthfuls of rice. I eat up all the lettuce leaves, ostenibly for the vegetable vitamins, but really it's because they collect all the little crumbs of crab and egg and chilli at the bottom.

Cendol $5.50
Homemade pandan strands, red bean and grass jelly
in coconut milk with gula melaka

We share dessert. Cendol, pandan-flavoured green pea flour noodles that look like "worms", arrives in a bowl of sweet and salty coconut milk. A submerged mound of ice is tinted brown with gula melaka palm syrup, and digging toward to the botom we find cubes of herbal grass jelly and soft cooked sweet red beans.

Pulut hitam $5.50
Sweet black glutinous rice dessert with a dash of coconut cream

We finish with pulut hitam is another traditional Malaysian dessert. The black glutinous rice has a slightly chewy texture, the rice soaking up the puddle of salted coconut cream on top.

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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

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

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Malaysian - Kopitiam, Ultimo (Dec08), (Apr07) and (Apr06)
Malaysian - Makan at Alice's, Thornleigh (Feb08) and (Jun07)
Malaysian - Malacca Straits, Broadway
Malaysian - Malay Chinese, Sydney (26 Apr 07) and (3 Apr 07)
Malaysian -
Mamak, Haymarket (Jul09), (Nov07) and (Oct07)
Malaysian - Mc Lucksa, Haymarket
Malaysian - The Malaya, Sydney
Malaysian - Tan's Malaysian, Ultimo

Malaysian - Temasek, Parramatta (Jan09) and (May08)
20 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/07/2010 02:21:00 am


  • At 1/07/2010 3:05 am, Blogger Karen | Citrus and Candy said…

    Oh I remember this! Aah sadness at lack of Chicken Rice love... that was the 2nd time in a row as well! :(

    Oh btw the dish I had was Wat Tan Hor I think, not Beehoon :)

  • At 1/07/2010 3:16 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Karen - Gah, thanks for the correction. Duly amended! And hmmm, maybe third time lucky? lol

  • At 1/07/2010 4:10 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    The pulut hitam looks heavenly! I've made coconut rice desserts at home a few times before, but always in a terribly-non-traditional way with white rice. I feel a little ashamed, after looking at the beauty of the dark rice against the drizzle of white coconut cream!

  • At 1/07/2010 5:14 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    I've been looking for a blog of this place, so thanks for the review! My mum lives close (sort of) and she'll be rapt!

  • At 1/07/2010 6:31 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hmm, serendipity. I have been thinking of making a pilgrimage to this place (its a bit of a drive for me) but needed to be sure that it'll be 'worthwhile'. Have been looking for a M'sian/Sporean place now that Abang Sam in Kensington has gone kaput. Yes, there's always Kopitiam ... but ...

  • At 1/07/2010 8:35 am, Anonymous Fiona said…

    mmm more places need to make black rice well... and I need to find roti cani in Canberra

  • At 1/07/2010 8:49 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Good choice to finish your day with a dinner at Alice! I am drooling over the butter soft shell crabs :)

  • At 1/07/2010 10:31 am, Anonymous John (he needs food) said…

    Oooh ... looks amaazing! I'd be diving head first into the softshell crab. Actually, it ALL looks good

  • At 1/07/2010 11:18 am, Anonymous billy@atablefortwo said…

    Alice's is probably still one of the best msian resto in sydney. I like the look of that chai tow kuey, all those caramelised bits... :P

    last time i ordered the char kueh teow is rather lack of wok breath, i think i need to go back to rectify my little disappointment.

  • At 1/07/2010 11:32 am, Blogger mimbles said…

    We live less than 10 minutes walk from Alice's but have never eaten there. Clearly this should be rectified.

  • At 1/07/2010 12:27 pm, Blogger Kate said…

    Mmm..the roti canai looks devilishly good, as does the chai tow kuih. I have to visit Alice's....incentive to finally get my license!

  • At 1/07/2010 3:22 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Mmm the pulut hitam looks delish. I love the almost pudding-like texture of the sticky rice porridge and eaten with lashings of coconut cream it's one of my all time favourite singaporean/malaysian desserts.

  • At 1/07/2010 4:57 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    Haha, foodies, how I love their appetites! Our little gang got bbq pork rice from the Emperor's Garden afterwards! We live so close to this place must try soon, thanks for the reminder!

  • At 1/07/2010 5:29 pm, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    I was so tempted to join you guys and now I wish I had! Nice choice with the chai tow kuih, I haven't tried the one at Alice's yet. And LOL you're so right about the flyscreen door

  • At 1/07/2010 9:33 pm, Anonymous B said…

    Totally unrealated to this post, but saw this and thought you might appreciate

  • At 1/08/2010 2:21 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - I've never used black rice either to make dessert so I wouldn't feel too bad! The pulut hitam was great, especially with the coconut cream.

    Hi Joey - I think Alice's is a bit of a favourite with a lot of food bloggers. Hope your Mum enjoys dinner there soon :)

    Hi Gosmack'd - It is a bit of a drive but it's worth the trek :) I do like Kopitiam but Alice's has butter soft shell crab! And there's a lot more variety, without the Chinese and Thai consolation dishes of Kopitiam.

    Hi Fiona - Alas, I'm not an expert in Canberra so best of luck!

    Hi Ellie - The butter soft shell crab was great. I'm always amazed by the egg - it's so delicate and beautiful!

    Hi John (he needs food) - The soft shell crab is always a winner, but I was happy with all of our dishes :)

    Hi Billy - The char tow kuey was great. Breath of wok makes all the difference!

    Hi mimbles - Wow, you must get there pronto :) I hear it does get very busy at weekends so you've been warned :)

    Hi Kate - Yes, it's worth the trek, but in the interim, it's actually quite close to a train station too.

    Hi Daena - The pulut hitam does have a pudding-like texture. The coconut cream does make it!

    Hi YaYa - Emperor's Garden takeaway sounds like a great idea too. I think everyone was knackered after the picnic :) Too much fun!

    Hi Stephcookie - You should have come :) The chai tow kuih was my favourite - I think I ate about half the dish myself, and yes, the door always makes me think I'm about to walk into someone's lounge room. lol

    Hi B - I read that when it first appeared online. Very tongue-in-cheek methinks!

  • At 1/08/2010 5:08 am, Blogger Rambling Tart said…

    Mmm, that grilled bread is especially entrancing today :-)

  • At 1/08/2010 4:41 pm, Anonymous Simon said…

    The "car" huh? :)

    The butter soft shell crab was really good! Something I'd certainly drive all that way for again.

    The saltiness of the chendol I found a little unsettling. Don't know if it's traditional to be served that way but I've not had it that way before.

  • At 1/10/2010 12:16 am, Blogger Sarah said…

    Oh YUM pulut hitam!!!! Love it! With lots and lots of santan. My mum hasn't made it for ages, I might sneakily hint that I want some, hehe.

    xox Sarah

  • At 1/11/2010 3:47 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Rambling Tart - Roti is always good in winter. Summer too :)

    Hi Simon - lol. It was "car" or "of". Your choice :)

    The butter soft shell crab is always a highlight at Alice's!

    Hi Sarah - Clever thinking! Hope you get some pulut hitam soon :)


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