Malaka Spice, named after the Malacca Strait in the Malay Peninsula, started its journey in 1997 at a small space in Koregaon Park, Pune. The food served in the restaurant was inspired by the South-East Asian flavours that avid travellers Praful and Cheeru Chandawarkar experienced and fell in love with themselves. Malaka belongs to the breed of restaurants that pay little heed to being authentic, instead focusing on discovering new gastronomic pleasures by finding innovative ways of presenting familiar flavours. That small restaurant is now a fine-dine powerhouse in Pune. Over the years, the menu has undergone many tweaks, but many of the original recipes invented by the Malaka’s heart, late Cheeru Chandawarkar remain. Now, after almost two decades, Malaka is bringing its signature delights to the city of Nizams.
Malaka Spice is tucked away in a dead-end lane on Banjara Hills. The sprawling, two-storied restaurant is shrouded in trees and set against the backdrop of the rocky hills of Hyderabad. I was invited to a blogger’s table on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Looking at the stunning outdoor area, I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful the restaurant would look as the sun goes down. Malaka is also known for its lively bar, but the Hyderabad outlet is still waiting for its liquor license.
As we settled down, Mr. Piyush Deshmukh, Malaka’s Head of Business Development, ordered a Malaka Thai Ice Tea for us. This sweet coolant is dominated by condensed milk flavour, but it’s the finishing notes of lemongrass that lends it the balance and makes it so addictive. The Malaka Spice menu is a hefty document that runs into several pages. After a bit of deliberation, we ordered four soups – Chicken Madurasi, Roast Pumpkin and Bamboo Soup, Malaksa, and the Malaka Tom Kha. Each of the soups were excellent and had something different to offer. The Malaksa was a creamy soup that with an eclectic mix of ingredients – bean sprouts and noodles, topped with chilli oil and spiced with turmeric. The Roast Pumpkin Soup was the only vegetarian soup that we ordered and it pleasantly surprised us. The pumpkin lent it a nice textural element, while the bamboo shoots broke the monotonicity of the creamy soup. The Tom Kha is a classic Thai preparation, and the Malaka Tom Kha delivered the punchy coconut milk and lime flavours that we expect. The Madurasi is a spicy soup from the Indonesian island of Madura with a strong aroma of lemongrass.
Since Malaka Spice intends to have a bar, the menu features an elaborate array of appetisers, including several creative nibbles that work well as bar food. Chicken Top Hats, Pumpkin Chips, and Lotus Stem Tango are a few excellent examples. Top Hats are a unique Malaka creation in which fried cups are loaded with herbs, sprouts, and minced chicken (they’re also available in vegetarian, mutton, and duck variants). Malaka surprised me in the soups with its creative use of Pumpkins, and it managed to do it again with the incredibly addictive, crispy fried slices of Pumpkin.
We moved onto more substantial bites with Murtabak, Thai Mutton Chops, and Basa Fish Satay. The fish satay was an interesting experiment, but it didn’t really work for me. Basa fish doesn’t really have much flavour, and it lacked the slightly fibrous texture that makes the Satay so satisfying to bite into. The Murtabak a pan-fried flat bread stuffed with egg and mined meat that’d be instantly familiar to Hyderabadis. This Indo-Muslim speciality from Malaysia has many similar versions in Indian cuisine including Hyderabad’s Baida Roti and Muttabaq, and Kolkata’s Moglai Parota.
Our next course was Eclectic Salad and Tangy Green Papaya Salad. I’m not a big fan of salads, but I love the Thai salads due to their vibrant flavours – often tangy with a hint of sweetness and bursts of heat. The Eclectic Salad with its combination of Green Apple, Cucumber, Raw Mango, and Pomegranate seemed like an interesting proposition but turned out to be a disappointment. I was expected sliced mango and green apple in Som Tam style, instead, there were diced up and mixed together. The flavours didn’t really blend in and the salad was missing the punchy flavours I love in the Som Tam. The Green Papaya salad was decent but needed more peanuts and chilli.
Ushering in the main course was Nasi Goreng – the famous Indonesian fried rice. I like my Nasi Goreng topped with a sunny side up, but Malaka serves their rice with a fried egg. I missed the runny yolk that oozes out and covers the rice, but the rice was delicious with a hint of sweetness and heat. Next up was Malaka Thai Green Curry served with steamed rice. The Red curry was quite good and succeeded in striking the right balance between the sweetness of coconut milk and heat of chillies. Our final dish in the main course was quite the looker – Jala Roti from Malaysia, which literally means Net Bread. The Jala Roti was served with Malaka Kari Kapitan – a spicy, rich, curry with coconut milk, cashew paste, and kaffir lime leaves. This curry originated in the Peranakan Chinese (descendants of Chinese immigrants in Malaysia) community, but the flavours are very South-East Asian. The crispy Jala Roti itself is great as a snack, and the thick, spicy and sweet curry was the perfect foil for it.
We were served a triumvirate of desserts to wrap up our lavish meal – Chocolate Brownie and Ice-cream, Date and Coconut Roll, and Jaggery Ice-Cream. It’s hard to go wrong with brownie and ice-cream combo, but it’s also very difficult to impress with it. My favourite among the desserts was the simple yet delicious Jaggery ice-cream. Unlike Bengal’s favourite Nolen Gurer Ice-cream, this Jaggery ice-cream has a very subtle flavour of jaggery but is very enjoyable in its own way.
I was a tad dissapointed by the absence of pork and beef in the menu – two ingredients that are used expertly by most Asian cuisines. The Pot Roasted Spare Ribs and the Beef Jungle Curry are the biggest reasons I keep itching to go back to Republic of Noodles. However, Malaka still has a lot going for it – absolutely gorgeous setting with some delicious and interesting food. I was told that Malaka will also be introducing seasonal menu with new surprises. The pricing is quite reasonable, and a meal for two should cost around two thousand bucks.