Simply Mel's

July 18, 2011

This family-run restaurant furnishes a treasure trove of Malaccan food whipped up by Auntie Melba Nunis, a cheerful matriarch who acquired her passion and prowess for cooking by helping her own mother in the kitchen.

Auntie Mel's lovingly prepared food _ including assam prawns _ is a valentine to anyone who adores wholesome recipes handed down through generations of women who wanted to feed their families as best as they possibly could.

Kari Buah Keluak, a treat that KL's residents can finally enjoy regularly. These seeds of creamy "black gold" provide a pleasantly bitter nuttiness that complements both the chicken & the curry. Currently available here strictly on weekends, but expect it to be a daily fixture soon.

Paying homage to Auntie Mel's mom: Mama Mercy's pineapple & cucumber salad, tossed in sambal belacan. For now, this new outlet only offers a short list of items, though its permanent menu will eventually showcase a sweeping selection of Malaccan Portuguese & Peranakan fare.

Father knows best: Papa Vincent's fish cutlets, stuffed with saltwater fish & spring onions. Dense and moist; could almost pass off for crab cakes. There's a strong sense here of a cook who sincerely cares about her food and takes tremendous pride in it, allowing nothing that contains substandard ingredients or excessive oil, sodium or sugar.

Cincaluk. An acquired taste, but thankfully, I learned to like this over 15 years ago, while I was still a teenager growing up in Malacca. This version ranks among the best I've had _ the shrimp tastes fresh despite being fermented, with clean, aromatic flavors that might confound customers who mainly recall pungently stinky cincaluk.

Chicken pongteh. Auntie Mel wisely reminded us that no two families' interpretation of this black-bean-&-shallot stew ever tastes exactly the same. For the record, I prefer my grandmother's preparation (her sauce was sweeter and thicker, with mushier, melt-in-the-mouth potatoes), but the pork-free one here is lovely too.

Belacan chicken. Superbly savory, enhanced further by tasty condiments, including one that comprised pickled salted fish, chili & onions.

Karing-karing. Crispy dried threadfish, kinda like super-sized ikan bilis. Utterly addictive.

Devil Curry, a spicy dish, heavenly for some but hellishly fiery for our feeble tummies.

The Malacca Curry Laksa might work much better with a heap of cockles. But we enjoyed everything else in it _ especially the fish balls, which boast a rare homemade feel.

Nasi Lemak, the quintessential Malaysian dish that everyone appreciates. Mel's concoction, which comes with serai-laced chicken, is recommended for customers who relish a tangy twist, thanks to its tamarind-infused sambal.

Roti Bakar with Mama Mercy's Kaya, another cherished family recipe that puts mass-produced, artificial-tasting versions of coconut-&-pandan jam to shame.

Don't diss the desserts. A familiar favorite: Sago Biji Gula Melaka, as great as it gets.

A little cup of fresh-cut fruits to momentarily slash the guilt factor.

Back to sinful calories with Auntie Mel's "secret recipe" of a chocolate cake, indulgently creamy without being indecently saccharine. Beats KL's better-known Secret Recipe hands down.

Bubur pulut hitam. Boiled pudding that bowls us over whenever it's executed with finesse. This one landed on our table at the ideal temperature (hot, but less than scalding), brimming with reassuringly soft, sticky rice.

Coconut-&-cinnamon-laced cakes. At first glance, these looked like leftovers from a humdrum "open house" festival spread, but they turned out to be light, fluffy and so very fragrant. We'd joyously munch on them every Christmas, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya & Deepavali.

Surprise! The Last Polka supplies ice cream here! Fittingly enough, we had the Salted Gula Melaka flavor, filled with rich notes reminiscent of caramel.

Cold calamansi juice for me, hot coffee for you.

The motto of Simply Mel's is "Beng Naki Kumi!" _ a Kristang-language call for the family to come to the table and chow down. With food like this, we wouldn't need to be told twice.

Simply Mel's,
1-1A, 1st Floor, The Sphere,
No. 1, Avenue 1, Bangsar South, Jalan Kerinchi, Kuala Lumpur.
Tel: 03-2241-4525