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Malaysian Food at Ning

Thursday, 24 February 2011

As some of you readers have probably gathered, the PigPig and I have upped and moved to sunny Manchester in North West England, 200 miles away from London. Manchester is the third largest city in England (still pretty small compared to London though) and is home to University of Manchester which has the largest student body in the whole of England. The Chinese community in Manchester is also quite significant with lots of students from the Far and South East countries. Naturally, various enterprising people have sought to make a profit by opening restaurants to provide for them.

Ning is such an example, providing Malaysian cuisine for the many Malaysian students in the university. Self taught chef Norman Musa has been very active since Ning’s opening in 2006 with him taking part in Taste of London 2010, Manchester Food & Drink Festival 2010 as well as being race chef for the Lotus F1 team this year. Needless to say, we were highly looking forward to eating traditional Malaysian food.

We arrived at our booking time of 6.30pm on a Friday night and the restaurant was already packed to the seams with happy diners. Conveniently, there was an early bird (before 7pm) set menu of £12.95 which consists of a starter, main course and an accompaniment. Since we could both find something we each wanted from the set menu we decided to take advantage of the good offer, since the average price of a main dish was about £10 anyway.

Malaysian Food at Ning 9

Malaysian Food at Ning 8

Thai Fish Cakes”. Four fairly sizable spheres, each of them containing quite prominent flavours of fish, herbs and spices; however, they were quite potato-ey and the texture was quite doughy.

Malaysian Food at Ning 6

Murtabak”. Murtabak is one of those funny things that I never really eat in Malaysia (being distracted by other things I prefer like roti sardin or roti kaya) but seem to order more often than not in the UK. The filling of beef and potato was denser than the ones I remember having before although it was actually pretty good. A more major complaint is the lack of both dhal and curry, which for me is a pretty necessary adjunct. Instead, Thai sweet chilli sauce was provided.

Malaysian Food at Ning 7

Malaysian Food at Ning 5

Kuey Teow Goreng”. There are loads of koay teow vendors in Malaysia but less than half of them are any good, and there is only a handful that I would deliberately visit time after time again to sample their goods. Despite that, London had some pretty good offerings with the best coming from Sedap so I was having high hopes for Ning’s version. Unfortunately, I had a sinking feeling the moment I laid my eyes on it – real char koay teow shouldn’t have green peppers in it. Tastewise, it was a heartsink as well, lacking any real wok hei and being weirdly too sweet.

Malaysian Food at Ning 4

Masak Merah”. One of my favourite dishes has to be ayam masak merah, basically a fragrant aromatic mildly spicy curry that contains lots of tomatoes and without any coconut santan. Sniffing at it, I thought it was a bit muted which was confirmed when I had a taste of it – reasonably tasty, but completely dissimilar to the excellent examples I had both in my hometown and in Satay House in that there wasn’t enough aromatics involved. Portion sizes were incredibly generous though as I basically finished my rice after only eaten half of the dish.

Malaysian Food at Ning 3

Sambal Udang”. Being absolute pigs, we also ordered an extra main dish to share. The menu describes it as being a “traditional fiery sweet & spicy chilli gravy” dish. When the dish came, the PigPig looked at it and said "why is it not red?". We even flagged the waiter and asked if we got the right dish. I found that it lacked any real spicy element and the sweet element was too strongly evident here as well.

Malaysian Food at Ning

“Seri Kaya”. For dessert, we shared a pretty traditional Nyonya kuih but changed the vanilla ice cream to home made mango and ginger ice cream, which was pretty good. The seri kaya, a “sweet cake of sticky rice and pandan & coconut milk set 'custard'” was actually pretty decent but I would have preferred a bigger portion although some people might find that a bit too filling. The syrup and cocoa powder was a surprisingly interesting and nice combination with it.

Malaysian Food at Ning 2

Altogether, the bill came up to about £45 including a glass of soya bean milk. Service was reasonably good and friendly as well. The interior felt a little cramped but there were lots of little nice and modern decorations around the periphery from traditional Malay culture.

My colleague at work declares Ning to be his favourite restaurant in Manchester and from his point of view I can see why as the everything was really tasty and comes in generous portions. For me though, Ning has been a massive disappointment as the food bears little resemblance to my memories of local Malaysian cuisine (I'm not really fond of “modern interpretations” or anything fusion of Malaysian food).

Best bit: seeing a thriving Malaysian restaurant overseas.
Worst bit: seeing and knowing that if any of the local people here go to Malaysia, they’ll be completely confused by the local food as it bears little resemblance to Ning’s food.

92-94 Oldham Street
Manchester, M4 1LJ
Official website

Ning on Urbanspoon

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