Dining / Abell’s long recipe for success

“Abel Ong has carefully curated a winelist that marries well with his style of cuisine. You can BYO but I say go for what Abel has on offer,” writes dining reviewer WENDY JOHNSON

Kopi Tiam’s roast duck rice paper rolls… succulent and the chilli hoisin sauce a great combo of flavours. Photo by Maddie McGuigan

NEW restaurants continue popping up across Canberra faster than a chef can scramble an egg. And some are closing just as fast. Then there are eateries that have fed us for decades, such as Kopi Tiam, now in its 19th year.

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson.

A family run business, Kopi Tiam has remained loyal to its original vision. Owner Abell Ong has had opportunities to expand but instead remains focused on preparing amazing cuisine and staying a manageable size to retain quality and control. It’s a recipe that has served this Chinese-Malay restaurant well and enabled it to survive in the chaos that is today’s hospitality industry.

I’ve been dining at Kopi Tiam for close to two decades and shared some dishes I dream about after each visit.

I love duck and often start with roast duck rice paper rolls ($15.90 for three). The duck is succulent and the chilli hoisin sauce a great combo of flavours.

Another all-time favourite is the crispy, boneless, Asian chicken with perky coriander salsa and salty soy dressing ($19.90). I’ve had this dish dozens of times. It’s never failed me.

In the colder weather, I’m drawn to the hearty and heart-warming Malayan beef rendang ($26.90), the meat slowly cooked in coconut milk and carefully balanced with herbs and spices. Each hour of cooking adds depth of flavour and the meat always falls off the fork.

The crispy, boneless, Asian chicken with perky coriander salsa and salty soy dressing… another all-time favourite. Photo by Maddie McGuigan

Back to duck… the twice-cooked, crispy duck with Asian greens, potato mash and ginger-plum sauce ($32.90) is a signature main in my book. The meat’s always tender and the sauce always delightful.

Abell’s mum’s laksa is a winner. The recipe is a family secret and should be kept that way. What Kopi Tiam reveals is that the dish is prepared with creamy coconut curry, aromatic spices and bee hoon ($19.90 with chicken and $22.90 with seafood).

Abell enjoys and knows his wines and has carefully curated a list that marries well with his style of cuisine. You can BYO but I say go for what Abell has on offer. There’s also a mini specials wine board. The wine list is one reason Kopi Tiam has won so many awards over the years.

Abell’s Char Kueh Teow at Kopi Tiam. Photo by Maddie McGuigan

Kopi Tiam has a decent sized outdoor eating area, with heaters and warm, colourful cozy blankets to wrap around your shoulders or knees to keep you toasty throughout winter. Inside, the restaurant’s mustard-yellow and burnt-orange walls regularly feature photography, including by Abell’s wife, Lorna Sim.

The service at Kopi Tiam is efficient but never rushed. Although the staff are regularly flat out, they’re always friendly and knowledgeable.

Kopi Tiam, 7 Furneaux Street, Manuka. Call 6239 4199. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and dinner.  Gluten-free and vegetarian options easily available.

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