Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sumatra Cafe

Darwin is blessed by the number of bain-maries it has housing Indonesian cuisine.  I must admit I am a great fan of Indonesian cuisine, especially of beef rendang.  Rendang should be on the drier side, with meat that falls into strands upon the tongue, cooked for many hours such that most liquid is reduced and one is left with a condensation of flavour clinging to and penetrating through the meat.  Of course there are many variations, but all the best rendangs I have had share these qualities.  The best I've tried in Australia is to be found at Minang's in Melbourne.  As a rule, I never order rendang a la carte off a menu, for it is not rendang if it can be cooked in less than 2 hours.  Hence the humble bain-marie provides a perfect residence for a trustworthy rendang.  I'm yet to find a good, dry rendang in Darwin, although Sumatra cafe offers a few long-cooked, beef-based alternatives to more soupy, coconut based Indonesian curries.
Sumatra Cafe also offers a large range of such coconut based curries, with variations on chicken, lamb and beef - and a few vegetable options slopped in - swimming amply before the indecisive eye.
The vege-fritter, an omnipresent item in Darwin's Indonesian bain-maries, is soundly represented at Sumatra Cafe.  Turmeric yellow, concocted from flour, egg, cabbage, carrot and spring onion, these were generously sized but could have done with a little de-oiling before serving.  The level of crispiness depends on how long they've been sitting around, so if you want a good specimen then arrive early.  Either way, once chewed and mixed mouthwise with a drizzle of kecap manis, they hold their ground in the vege-fritter world.
I ordered daging belado (chilli dried beef and potato), semur daging (beef and soy sauce) and 'chilli beans in coconut milk', all heaped in a mixing manner atop sambal-red fried rice (that's what you do with yesterday's left over rice).  The rice was dry, with a gentle wok smokiness that gave way to the sambal's heat.  Nothing special, but more interesting than plain rice.  The daging belado was something I'd never encountered in Melbourne (the closest was the warm, dried lung at Minang's).  Sambal based, with subtle lime overtones and kecap manis sweetness, the very dry slices of beef approach a soft-jerky quality, readily flaking and crumbling when chewed.  The slender slices of fried potato squash into a supporting, gently floury background haze that allows the rich, long cooked beef flavour to clamber into notice above the dominant claims of the sambal.  Definitely a dish I'd eat again!
The semur daging was, as its literal name suggests, chunks of beef slowly drowned in a gravy of thickly sweet soy sauce.  There were suggestions of star anise, and the sweetness was very fragrant indeed.  The beef was as dry as it should be for a decent rendang, although the chunks may have benefited from being slightly smaller cut.  The centre of each piece had a sticky, chewy quality, despite the surrounds falling into long strands.
Finally, the chilli beans in coconut milk were almost impressive - i suspect the beans may have been of the frozen variety, for they were rather mushy.  But the sauce, which very much resembled a basic, mild green curry, perfectly suited the beans' flavour, mushy they may have been.  Either with fresh beans, or a tad more recently cooked, this dish would be a winner!
Jugs of cold water are on offer in the fridge - necessary to deal with the constant barrage of chilli.  The place seemed very popular with Indonesians on their lunch break, which is a trustworthy sign.
Sarah lapped up her food as quickly as I mine.  Indonesian food is always very savoury and moreish.  Sumatra Cafe may lack a good beef rendang, but what it does offer is of decent quality and well worth returning to, especially given the variety of dishes on offer.
Sumatra Cafe, shop 9A/38 Smith St, Darwin.

No comments:

Post a Comment