Lot LG37, Empire Shopping Gallery,
Tel: 03-5637 0706 – Empire,
03-2181 6717 – Life Centre,
03-5510 5729 – Shah Alam
Business hours: 11.00am to 10.00pm, daily.
HAVING heard so many good things about the fare at Serai, it was definitely one of the restaurants to visit on my checklist but since Empire Shopping Gallery is not in my radius, hence the delay until that fateful day when I ventured into Subang Jaya.
Serai@Empire is a spin-off from Serai Group Sdn Bhd’s first successful initiative Serai Thai in Shah Alam which, as its name suggests, is a Thai restaurant.
The simple and down-to-earth Rina Abdullah, its owner, warmly welcomed us to her homely restaurant where we indulged in food that makes Serai what it is.
Serai Thai, she explained has been around for 23 years while Serai@Empire, an Asian, Western and fusion restaurant took root in Subang two years ago and the latest venture Serai@Life Centre, Jalan Sultan Ismail, in Kuala Lumpur opened its doors in September.
The menu, as Rina said, was an amalgamation of flavours but my interest was mainly in its reputedly good local fare, which I was eager to savour.
One of the first things that sealed the delivery in taste was the Serai Nasi Kerabu with its blue-hued rice, ulam, solok lada, kerisik ikan, kerisik kelapa, salted egg, sambal tumis with budu, ayam percik and keropok.
The very pretty bunga telang (clitoria ternatea or butterfly pea or blue pea flower) which sheds off an indigo shade when dried and soaked in water, gives the rice its appetising colour.
These are grown in Rina’s backyard because she finds it difficult to get them at the local market.
The best way to relish this dish, she advised was to mix all the condiments on the plate and savour it with shreds of the flavourful chicken.
Even as I pen this down, my mouth salivates for yet another taste of the nasi kerabu.
My friend Lola Muzani, who is only too familiar with Serai’s array of dishes as she works in Empire’s office block, was shocked to learn that budu was amongst ingredients in the dish as she did not like the overpowering Kelantanese fermented fish sauce.
“We incorporate budu into the sambal so it blends in with the chilli and the taste is not overpowering,” she said.
Another famed dish here is the Steamed Fish with Lime Sauce, which Rina wanted to replicate after having tried such a dish in Thailand.
“I truly enjoy Thai cuisine and I wanted to serve customers the very same steamed fish item I had tried.
“And so, we do a lot of research and development into our recipes and once we get the taste we are satisfied with, the dishes are then placed on the menu,” she said.
The Serai Platter which comes with oxtail assam pedas, honey squid, fruit achar and ayam goreng berempah is Serai’s most popular dish, selling up to 80 plates a day while the nasi kerabu sells 50 plates a day.
Other local favourites to look out for are the Deep fried Salted Egg Squid, Nasi Ambang and Deep fried Crispy Brinjal with Serai Spice.
Rina also recommended the Middle Eastern Medley, Grilled Grain Fed Tenderloin and Beef Rendang Penne for us to be acquainted with their fusion selections.
Her son-in-law Najib Hamid, who is the director and executive chef of the restaurants in Subang and Kuala Lumpur, said local beef simmered for three hours in a delightful mix of herbs and spices, resulted in tender beef rendang in the pasta option.
The Beef Rendang Penne was, I must say, satisfaction on a plate.
Najib said the grilled tenderloin served with puff pastry, filled with portobello mushrooms, roasted cherry tomatoes, cripsy beef bacon and shallot sauce was also a hit with diners.
Najib, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Adelaide attributes his extensive knowledge in Western cuisine from his 10 years in Australia working in hotels and restaurants, where he fine-tuned his passion for food.
“The Subang restaurant attracts more families but Serai@Life Centre is a little more high-end and there we have weekly specials for diners,” he said.
We refused dessert but Rina and her family urged us to try the meringue filled Swiss Passion and Pandan Banana Fritters, which were tastebud teasers and a good end to our adventure at Serai.
This is the writer’s personal observation and is not an endorsement by StarMetro.