Sri Pinang, Karangahape Rd

By Peter Calder

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Herald on Sunday rating: * * * 1/2
Where: 356 Karangahape Rd
Ph: 358 3886
Wine list: BYO. Corkage $1 a head.
Vegetarians: No problems. Try that eggplant.
Watch out for: The crowds. Book.
Sound check: Boisterous.
Bottom line: Cheap and cheerful - that's a compliment.
Lunch: Tuesday to Friday
Dinner: Monday to Saturday

I miss Juliet even though I never met her. At the western end of K Rd there was once a sign advertising her massage services which was comically, defiantly indifferent to the correct use of the apostrophe. If "speedway at it's best" or "banana's $1 a kilo" get you hot and bothered, Juliet was so over the top you could only smile. The sign said simply: "Julie'ts".

The polishing up of the outward end of K Rd has not, in my view, been a success. The street's boho charm resides in its unreconstructed nature and it does not surprise me that it resists makeover. The shops on the northern side look empty even when they aren't. Refurbishment can drain the life out of a place, but it can't put it back in. Fortunately much of the southern side has not yet attracted the attention of developers with more money than taste. Progress has not yet caught up with the window displays ("That looks like a man," I remarked to the Blonde as we stared at a chisel-jawed, fishnet-stockinged mannequin in a maid's uniform. "I think that's the idea," she said).

With its sights now set on its 20th anniversary, Sri Pinang is something of a K Rd institution. There will be diners out there who shudder at the idea of eating out in such a downmarket area but that's OK: it makes it easier for the regulars who know that you need to book (or turn up very early indeed) to have a hope of getting a table. The Tuesday evening we went - fortunately one of our group had booked - the place was busy at 6.30 and packed by 8.

In any case - and uncharacteristically for the area - the interior is fresh and clean: it's painted in cool bamboo green and the loos, unlike the standard in Asia, are sparkling.

As its name suggests and the map on the front of the menu makes clear, Sri Pinang serves the cuisine of the state on the northwest coast of peninsular Malaysia on the Straits of Malacca.

This - like Singapore - is one of Asia's great melting pots: Chinese and Malay populations are about evenly divided and there is a spicy whiff of India in the demographic makeup, too. The menu also reflects the close relationship that has always existed between Malaysia and Indonesia.

We arrived at the suggestion of some friends who are regulars and the proprietor greeted them like long-lost friends: it's plainly that kind of place. I left it to these regulars to make the orders, registering only an an interest in the chilli squid which I had heard recommended. In truth that was the least impressive of the line-up.

We shared a plate of fabulously buttery roti, which - in taste if not in shape - reminded me of fresh croissants; I would love to try them with jam and a short black.

To the rest, the beef rendang and the fish curry were the standouts but all the meals were fabulous and came in big hearty helpings, ideal for sharing. The $25-a-head final bill seemed extraordinarily good value for money.

THE BILL

$150 for six Satays (6) $8.50
Deep fried tofu (8) $12
Sambal eggplant $18.50
Chicken curry $15
Chilli squid $19
Beef rendang $15
Fish curry $24
Chicken noodles $13
Roti (4) $10
Rice $9
Corkage $6

- Detours HOS

- Herald on Sunday

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