There is something incredibly endearing about Rata in Subang Jaya, Selangor. The eatery’s walls are lined with images of foliage while tables and bartops are fashioned out of recycled wood sourced from local junkyards, lending a holistic energy to the space.
The brainchild of chef-owner Vicneswara Thenamirtham (who also helms the popular Two Hands in Damansara Perdana, PJ, which serves innovative Western-tinged food), Rata was actually meant to be his first F&B venture.
“Rata was supposed to be the first restaurant that we wanted to do, instead of Two Hands, but Rata’s concept is a little deeper in terms of the cuisine we’re trying to tackle, which is modern Malaysian food. So there was a lot of research that had to be done, so we decided the time wasn’t right then,” he says.
Vicneswara, who is better known as Vic, spent a year studying and analysing Malaysian food, testing and tasting as he went along. The result is a menu rife with intrinsically Malaysian offerings that have been given unique twists and tweaks.
“We wanted to portray Malaysian food in a more interesting way, using common ingredients but putting them in a combination that hadn’t been done,” says Vic.
He is fastidious about making things from scratch, so everything from the sambal to rendang and mutton varuval is made in-house. There is also a strong proclivity for local produce, so vegetables and fruits are sourced directly from Cameron Highlands and at least 90% of the ingredients used are proudly Malaysian.
To begin a meal here, try the coconut lamb skewers (RM9 each). The lamb is marinated overnight in a slow-cooked, homemade rendang sauce before being grilled. The sumptuous rendang flavours have really seeped into the meat, which is divine – each cube blistered with char spots on the outside and yielding and tender on the inside.
Next up is the grilled squid and summer salad (RM26). The salad is awash with zesty flavours gleaned from the calamansi juice, fish sauce, ginger and sesame oil in the dressing. The squid itself is delightful – plump and bouncy with none of that dreaded rubberiness. It’s a refreshing, incredibly flavourful salad that is also very accessible, as it bears a strong resemblance to the Thai kerabu salad.
Perhaps the most addictive of the appetisers is the salted egg crispy soft shell crab (RM29). Here, soft shell crab is coated in a trio of gluten-free flours (chickpea, tapioca and rice), before being deep-fried and tossed in a house-made salted egg yolk sauce. This is a meal that elicits the sort of unbridled joy that only sinfully good meals can evoke.
From the mains, have a go at the grilled marinated pomfret (RM42). Here, pomfret is marinated overnight in a fiery house-made sambal (made with copious amounts of red chillies, green chillies and bird’s eye chillies) that has been cooked for four hours to elicit maximum flavours. The rich sambal has well and truly permeated every crevice and cranny of the fish, and when fish is this delicious, trust me, you will savour it to the last mouthful.
Then there is the wok-fried pan mee with spicy tuna (RM28), which utilises handmade egg noodles made by Vic’s former neighbour. The dish is reminiscent of the ubiquitous char kuey teow (albeit a littler wetter) with one curious exception: the addition of yellowfin tuna. It’s a befuddling choice, one that at first seems like that stranger at a party that everyone thinks is weird, but then becomes the belle of the ball. In other words, the tuna really works in this amalgamation, lending a uniquely fishy, strangely successful, quality to the noodles.
Perhaps the most triumphant offering from the mains selection is the mutton fried rice (RM36). The slow-cooked mutton tossed with rice is probably the best version of mutton fried rice you’re likely to find anywhere, alive with spicy undertones and mutton that is tender as silk. It’s a dish that will take over your imagination, living there and assailing your senses, until you make your next visit to Rata.
Rata also makes its own pizzas, of which the chilli chicken and pineapple (RM26) is a sure-fire winner. A local take on the classic Hawaiian pizza, this version sees percik chicken, percik sauce and pineapples atop crusty pizza dough in what proves to be a memorable mingling of Asian components.
End your meal on a sweet note with the sago gula Melaka Horlicks (RM18), an ode to Horlicks and its permanent imprint in the childhoods of many Malaysians. Here, the sago gula Melaka features the treacle-like flavours of palm sugar interspersed with rich coconut milk. These hedonistic bedfellows are juxtaposed against a creamy Horlicks ice-cream that hits all the right nostalgic notes.
Few meals are complete without nightcaps, and Rata’s signature cocktails do justice to this notion. Try the lychee La Senza (RM38) which is made from cold-pressed lychee juice, mint liqeur and vodka in what proves to be a yummy, fun drink with sweet fruity undertones. Not to be outdone, the dessert cocktail of Bailey’s Balenciaga (RM38), made up of Bailey’s, hazelnut liqeur, orange liqeur, chocolate and cold-pressed orange juice offers swoon points for an intoxicant that is 100% pure seduction.
While Vic is excited about the possibility of opening more outlets, he is steadfast about finding inspiration from local and regional cuisine.
“I have a lot of ideas, but I’m also trying to move forward and expand my knowledge of Asian food. It’s about bringing back heritage and culture into food – I like that,” he says.
25, Jalan SS15/5A
47500 Subang Jaya, Selangor
Tel: 012-424 1194 (Melinder); 012-237 3894 (Nittin)
Open Monday to Friday: 2pm to midnight; Saturday and Sunday: Noon to 12am