Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Malaysia Kitchen Laneway Food Festival

A few week backs, Sydney played host to the "Malaysia Kitchen Australia" Laneway Food Festival/Market in the small laneway behind the State Theatre. It's a Malaysian Tourism initiative that has been run around the world but with this being the first time it was held in Sydney, they started small with less of a food hawker market style affair but a mini restaurant setup. On offer was a meal for $10 with several renowned Malaysian Restaurants taking part. Of course, I thought I'd check it out, and here is my fairly long story/rundown of how the night turned out:
The entrance to the "laneway"
So I turned up before 5.45pm on the first night expecting there to already be a queue (with the night starting at 6pm) only to find hundreds of people already queued up. I joined the queue somewhere near the Hilton, which Sydneysiders would know is a fair way down from the actual laneway! Within 10 mins (and still before 6pm by that stage), the queue had made a U-Turn and started to snake back towards where it had started with literally hundreds of people causing a traffic nightmare.

With there being some confusion about what exactly was in store, I had expected hawker stalls where, for $10, you were perhaps given coupons that you could redeem at whichever restaurant you wanted to visit. When I arrived, my enquiries uncovered that you infact would get a sit-down several-course meal served to you, with each course being provided by whichever restaurants were participating for that session. Perhaps I should have cottoned on by this stage that 1) it was a small lane-way and 2) that full waiter style sit-down service would take a while, but having joined the queue and waited for some time already I figured it wouldn't be too long a wait. Perhaps I would get in by 7pm? Not bad for a special, once-off event. Plus I got there before opening, so I figured by the time the first lot of people were seated and served, surely it wouldn't take long for me (presumably in the second seating) to gain entry?

How wrong was I! Turned out the setup was for a mere 80 diners. Yes, you heard right. By the time it hit 6.30pm, there were at least 500 people queued up. The numbers really started to not add up.

Now it felt like I was quite close to the front of the line, so I perservered and maintained my spot in the line. We waited....and waited some more...and waited even more. Come 7.45pm, we were still a fair way from the front and we our hunger was making us snitchy and eager to get answers. Would we get in? Would we be turned away after already waiting so long? What exactly were we waiting for?

To cut an already long story short, come 8.30pm, the security gaurds counted out the last group of people allowed to enter (because they only had enough food to feed an additional 40 people). We luckily just made the cut, with only another 5 people after me being lucky enough to join us. For all those behind us (some of whom would have been waiting for just as long as we had been!), there was shock in their faces. They had waited for more than 2 hours only to be turned away!

After all that, we were probably too ravenous to really be able to enjoy the food. Anyway, here are the long awaited photos (I'm missing a photo of the laksa...but it wasn't fantastic):
Roti and Satays from Mamak
Nasi Lemak from Jackie M
Apologies for the bad photo - Nyonya style sambal fish from Chinta Ria
 My verdict - the food was decent, but definitely not worth waiting all that long for. I am the first to admit I'm fairly good with queues and have a high tolerance for them (the longest I've queued for anything is almost 7-8 hours, and I often find myself queuing for things with little annoyance), but with all the participating restaurants being places you can visit yourself it didn't seem all that exciting. For $10, it definitely was great value and I'm glad to have satisfied myself that I was able to see for myself what it was about. I had low expectations of it - after all, I can eat Malaysian food anyday without needing to go to a food fair - and I knew it would be over rated, but there's nothing like seeing for yourself what all the fuss is about.

Overall, there is no doubting that it was badly organised and they definitely should have foreseen more than a few hundred people turning up. On the night, many of us in the queue discussed how easily it would have been for them to organise it so that they didn't anger hungry fans who would now boycott the event. Personally, I think it was a fantastic location and vibe, but better suited for a month long "pop-up" restaurant sort of event where people could visit the restaurant on a first-come first-served basis (especially given the 80-person capacity).

There was a DJ mixing tunes for the night

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