You know what they say about not knowing what is truly excellent until you have had the best?
I’m not of Nyonya origin so I can’t claim to know or have grown up feasting on authentic Nyonya food.
I could however, recognize mediocre food. And I do have many Malaccan/ true blue Nyonya friends who lunched with me in various nyonya restaurants in Melaka.
Their verdict matched me for the restaurants below, which are “mediocre, commercialized, not worth the price paid“. We did take into consideration the labour, rent and overall cost of running a business; but the conclusion remained, most Nyonya restaurants in Melaka overprice their food.
Before I go on, I’ll have to declare that I AM AWARE that there are many different recipes and slight variations in every Nyonya family’s recipes for a particular dish.
However, I would argue that at the very basic level, some ingredients are necessary and a level of acceptability in taste is in order.
With that in mind, I’ve (with local Malaccan in tow) visited and dined at the outlets as below:
2. Nyonya Sayang (Jalan TMR 21, Taman Melaka Raya)
3. Ole Sayang (Taman Melaka Raya)
4. Donald & Lily’s
5. Nancy’s kitchen
6. Song Nyonya Taste Cuisine
7. Aunty Lee (when she was still cooking – many years back)
8. Amy Heritage
9. Unicorn Cafe
Other than Unicorn Cafe, there are 2 other restaurants that was decent – Nyonya Sayang and Aunty Lee.
But those visits was sometime ago; while Unicorn Cafe is a recent discovery. After my meal here, I don’t think I’ll be spending my money in any of the other Nyonya restaurants in Melaka anymore.
Unicorn Cafe offers a great package; authentic Nyonya food at wallet-friendly prices in fair portions with an accessible location.
This cosy cafe comes with a heartwarming story too, but I would encourage you to discover that during your visit.
The people behind the cafe are affable and open, so don’t be a stranger when you are here. Feedback are welcomed and no doubt praises too.
We were in a big group so ordering almost every dish on the menu was possible. Well, ALMOST.
A simple one pager listed out their offerings, but look out for their signatures such as Kuah Lada Ikan (as far as they know, they are the only outlet offering this in Melaka), Babi Assam and their amazingly tasty, thick Babi Pongteh, coincidentally one of the best I’ve tasted so far.
1. Nyonya Popiah (RM5.50 set of 2 rolls).
This was one of the most satisfying popiah I’ve had for a long time.
It was lusciously stuffed with everything that matters – turnips cooked to the right degree; not too soft or undercooked, beansprouts, egg and diced beancurd wrapped in a thin egg skin.
The skin is lined with a film of house-made sweet sauce (tim cheong) and chilli, just enough for taste and thus not overly sweet or spicy.
Fried shallots, a dash of pork lard plus chunky pieces of pork lard added overall fragrance and flavour.
Unlike the common popiah sold in Klang Valley which are bland and rely solely on the sweet plus chilli sauce for taste, these rolls are delish on the merits on its ingredients.
2. Nyonya Laksa (RM5.50)
As the bowl was set down on the table my eyes widen in shock. Whoa, all that for RM5.50??
As I dug in, I realized this could easily feed two. And yes, I love cockles and these are as fresh as they look.
The punchy gravy is the result of a myriad of spices prepared fresh in-house and cooked in the freshest coconut milk. It was balanced in both spice and richness, delivering a most gratifying bowl of Nyonya Laksa.
3. Babi Asam (RM9.90 – set meal) – sliced pork cooked with tamarind sauce.
This was a first for me.
I was delighted with the unusual blend of tang and sweetness of the thick gravy. You can request for either lean cuts or those with some fat as you see below.
I prefer the half-fat-half-lean cuts as below, for these deliver both tender meat and soft fats gratification with each chew.
4. Pongteh Babi (RM9.90 – set meal) – pork meat stew in taucheo, potatoes and chinese mushrooms.
This is an excellent pongteh and I’ve yet to savour one as aromatic, thick and cheap as this bowl.
For RM9.90 (with rice!) there were 3-4 thick pieces of meat (with thick fat layers as how it should be) with mushrooms.
All too often the Pong Teh I eat at self-proclaimed nyonya restaurants are watery and just plain sweet. The gravy lacked aromatics and the rich flavour from the spices.
That shouldn’t be the case. A good pongteh gravy should be thick, brown with substance broken down from the taucheo, potatoes and spices, not thin and watery.
Thus the elements of an excellent pong teh starts with its thick gravy with balanced caramel sweetness from quality gula melaka tinged with the saltiness of taucheo. The meat should be tender but still with some bite, the potatoes soft but not mushy.
This dish needs the fat from the pork to accentuate the overall flavour, and will not taste the same with a dry slab of lean pork.
UPDATE: This dish below is meant for sharing.
This is the set (RM9.90) I’ve had on my 3rd visit on Oct 20th.
It has about 3-4 pieces of pork, some mushrooms and potatoes.
The gravy and overall flavours are still spot on.
5. Kuah Lada Ikan (RM9.90 – set meal).
It was difficult to describe the gravy as it is truly complex. A mix of freshly grounded peppercorn, spices and turmeric in coconut milk, it carries a peppery heat plus multi-facet fieriness from the spices coupled with the richness of creamy coconut milk.
It calls for rice, and I concur that it is certainly best enjoyed with a bowl of hot carbs.
Stingray is used here, and you can expect 1-2 pieces of fish with each order.
6. Seh Bak ((RM9.90 – set meal) – sliced pork marinated with herbs and spices.
While the earlier Babi Assam is sharp and sweet, this is a more familiar braised pork dish. The flavour carries a tinge of cinnamon with the saltiness from the soy sauce.
Likewise for this dish, you can opt for lean or mixed fat-lean cuts.
7. Pai Tee (set of 5 – RM4.00)
Pie tees are a perennial favourite of many due to it bite sized convenience and also for the crunch from the dainty pie tee shells or otherwise known as top hats.
I’m not a fan since I don’t fancy additional calories from fried items but these ones are good; fried to a crisp minus the grease and filled generously with similar filings as the popiah.
8. Lemak Sayur – this is the vegetables of the day which comes with the set meal we ordered but since we ordered so many sets, this was served in a big bowl instead of numerous smaller servings.
I love this as it was satisfying creamy yet not overly so. The gravy adds taste to the vegetables, but the greens retained its texture and flavours.
9. Chendol (RM3.50).
This is the best RM3.50 chendol in Melaka.
I love my Justberry’s chendol with durian ice cream but for RM3.50, this bowl has all aspects of a good chendol covered; rich coconut milk tinged with saltiness, thick aromatic gula melaka, fresh green jellies and soft SMALL red beans.
I’m fussy about red beans and I’m of opinion that kidney beans are a no-no.
UPDATE: 3rd visit on 29th Oct 2015.
Still as good – finely shaven ice, gooey palm sugar, fresh jellies, soft red beans and creamy coconut milk. It melts really quick though, so slurp it up in haste!
10. Nasi Lemak with Chicken Rendang. RM7.90.
This was from my 3rd visit and apart from the pongteh, popiah and chendol, I ordered the nasi lemak.
The sambal is on the sweet side, the anchovies thin, fresh and crunchy and the rice redolent with coconut milk. In fact, the rice was excellent enough on its own.
The chicken rendang was a tad salty for me though.
All in all, after 3 visits (2 with food, once for drinks) I must say I’m pleased with the overall ambience, service and food here.
I’m definitely actively recommending friends and readers to Unicorn Cafe.
However, I’m not in Melaka all the time and I would welcome any feedback from any visitor to Unicorn Cafe. Let me know if you agree with the food and if not, where else is better?
Your family’s home-cooked version doesn’t count (unless you are inviting me over for a meal lol!). It has to be something available commercially to the public.
626 JALAN MR 10, TAMAN MELAKA RAYA,
75000 MELAKA, Malaysia
HOURS: Mon-Wed: 10:30 am-4:30 pm
Fri-Sun: 10:30 am-4:30 pm
Prices: Affordable. RM10 – RM30.
Pork-free/Halal: Serves PORK.
Service: Warm and helpful.Your orders are served to you.
Ambience: Comfortable. Casual.
Outdoor seating: No.
Powerpoints for charging: Limited (indoors).
Parking : Roadside. Easy.
Payment: Eat first, then call for bill to pay.