By Jo Rittey


If you are new to Merah and let’s face it most of us are because Merah only opened a month ago, don’t worry, because Merah is the kind of place that makes it easy for you. Firstly, it’s all pretty straightforward and secondly, the waitstaff will give you the low down on all things Merah; the name – it means red in Malay – as well as the concept of celebrating the sambal; the red, spicy sauce traditionally served with Malaysian street food.


Owners Aline Viravouth and Marcel Nantharath have had plenty of practice putting up great tasting Malaysian food at their Carlton venue, Nasi Lemak, which is more of a takeaway joint. Now they want to invite you to come in a sit a while so you can discover the wonder that is sambal. “Just as sambal brings together a variety of ingredients to create something memorable, so too does our restaurant,” says Aline.


If this seems fairly single-minded, they take this all the way through. The revamp of the nineteenth century building they’ve taken over was by One Design Office and continues the theme of red, with Malaysian flourishes of green for banana leaves and rattan wall features.


While the 30 seater restaurant itself is pretty simple, the food is really impressive. Everything we ordered, from the soft shell crab bao (which is pretty much the best version of soft shell crab I have ever eaten), to the pearl dumplings made from tapioca sago, turnip, pork shoulder and served in a betel leaf, to the grilled king prawns, was delicious.


I had to try the Nasi Lemak, given the rave reviews of the dish at the Carlton venue. This is a traditional way to eat sambal, with rice, pickled vegetables, dried anchovies, a hard boiled egg and peanuts. I was telling a friend about how much I loved this combination of flavours ad textures and spiciness, and she had also loved it because it reminded her of her Malaysian roots and gave her delicious childhood flashbacks.


Merah will also stock Aline’s house-made sambal, made from a four-generation old family recipe. “I’m a huge chilli fan and have worked tirelessly over the years to perfect my recipe. We always have people asking to buy it at NL House, so I’m excited to see it in jars and ready for customers to take home,” says Aline.



238 High Street, Northcote



Jo has an exotic (kiwi) accent, loves good food and wine and has just a touch of the required culinary cynicism when it comes to the misuse of apostrophes and the hype over kale.

Something to say..? Leave your comments here.

Stay up to date via TwitterStay up to date via TwitterStay up to date via TwitterStay up to date via Twitter