Spice is life at Merah, a new Malaysian restaurant in Northcote serving up authentic cuisine while also taking advantage of great Victorian produce.
Owners Aline Viravouth and Marcel Nantharath are experienced purveyors of hawker-style Malaysian cuisine. Their Carlton restaurant, Nasi Lemak House, feeds hoards of hungry RMIT and Melbourne University students each day. While both venues are committed to delivering a culinary experience like you would find on the streets of Kuala Lumpur, Merah takes a more refined approach.
Locally sourced and seasonal produce is the centre of their menu, as is cooking authentically and from scratch. This includes the sambal, a kind of chilli sauce that is a staple of Malaysian cooking. ‘Merah’ translates to red in Malay – the vibrant colour of traditional sambal and the signature colour of Malaysian cooking.
At both Nasi Lemak House and Merah in Northcote they have three kinds: traditional (spicy), kelantan (sweet and sour) and kerabu (infused with lime leaf and shrimp) – all made in-house with Melbourne-grown chilli using family recipes that date back four generations in Aline’s family.
However, Aline and Marcel did make a point of importing one thing: premium kogane ogatan white charcoal from Malaysia. This gives dishes, such as their satay, a smoky flavour that’s typical of hawker-style barbecue.
“If we are going to have an authentic Malaysian BBQ, why not get the charcoal they use back in Malaysia,” said Marcel.
Expect to see other street food-inspired dishes such as roti canai, Malaysian chilli crab, nasi lemak and Merah fried chicken. Vegans and vegetarians are also spoilt for choice with plant-based laksa, tofu nuggets and vegetarian char hor fun with oyster mushrooms and silken tofu gravy.
There are just 30 seats in their pastel pink and rainforest green dining room (designed by One Design Office), making for an intimate, casual setting that’s hard to find in busy Melbourne. And if you can’t get enough of the sambal, you can even take a jar home with you.
Want to find more places to eat in Northcote? Try our directory.