I know I’ve previously declared my love for South East Asian cuisine – mostly, because it’s delicious but also because the food summons a sense of nostalgia, having lived in Brunei when I was younger. Malaysian, Indonesian, Bruneian, Singaporean share many of the same dishes such as laksa, nasi and mee goreng, roti, murtabak, etc. Always on the look out for decent SEA fare in Vancouver, we heard great things about the Malaysian restaurant, Tamarind Hill, so we decided it was time see how it would compare to the other similar restaurants in the Lower Mainland.
Initially, we had planned to drive to New West to try Tamarind Hill, but then noticed there was a second location in North Vancouver (thanks to Urbanspoon). So we decided to dine at the North Shore location since it’s a lot closer to our home in Kitsilano. Tamarind Hill North Van is a cozy restaurant with warm dark colours, rich wood furniture and Middle Eastern inspired lamps. Interestingly, the chef at Tamarind Hill, Robert Phua, is the same one who was behind the success of the Banana Leaf restaurants.
Murtabak ($7.95) – Roti wraps with a choice of chicken, beef, lamb or vegetarian filling, served with curry dip and a tangy side salad. This was an interesting interpretation of murtabak. In Malaysia, murtabak is a thin omelet wrapped like a package in roti dough (with lots of ghee) then cooked on a flat top grill. The omelet part includes egg, onion and minced mutton or chicken. (Beef and pork aren’t often used in this dish because of the large Hindu and Muslim populations in Malaysia who don’t eat cows and pigs, respectively). We ate murtabak practically every weekend at a restaurant at BWN when we lived in Brunei. We’d watch the chef expertly need the dough to cook this delicious creation just like in the following video:
Gado Gado ($6.25) – Bean sprouts & tofu salad mixed with green beans, potatoes & cucumber, topped with
peanut sauce and boiled egg. The majority of this gado-gado dish was bean sprouts, with very little potatoes or tofu. The peanut sauce, although a generous helping, was had quite mild flavours and could have used more terasi. Also, traditional gado-gado is always served with crackers, like keropok udang (prawn crackers), but none were served with this dish at Tamarind Hill.
Nasi Goreng ($10.25) – Malaysian style fried rice with beef, shrimp, egg, tomato, onion and green bean. Like any fried rice dish, day-old rice should be used. However, the rice in this nasi goreng was overcooked and a little soggy. Unfortunately, this dish also exuded very little flavour. Like the gado-gado dish, it was also very bland. Perhaps this restaurant caters to a more western clientele who are timid of bold tastes?
Tamarind Hill offers three different types of Laksa: Malaysian ($9.95 – spicy curry broth), Singaporean ($9.95 – spicy coconut milk broth) and Assam Seafood ($10.75 – spicy tamarind flavour with fresh mussels, clams and cuttlefish). All three styles include rice vermicelli in a hearty flavoured soup with dried shrimp, tiger prawns, chicken, fresh bean sprouts, egg and fish cakes. We ordered the Singapore-style and were pleasantly surprised by the dish. We have had a difficult time trying to find good laksa in Vancouver, but this one was creamy and boasted a lovely depth of flavour. We would certainly order this laksa again, and even return to sample the other two laksa options.
Overall, service was good, but dishes were hit and miss at Tamarind Hill. I wonder if their New West location is more consistent; we’ll have to check it out soon.