08/08/2006 - 22:00

Ria finds favour with regional focus

08/08/2006 - 22:00

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A change may be as good as a holiday for most, but it looks to have brought even more reward for those behind Leederville restaurant, Ria.

Ria finds favour with regional focus

A change may be as good as a holiday for most, but it looks to have brought even more reward for those behind Leederville restaurant, Ria.

It is hard to believe it was almost three years ago that the Oxford Street eatery shocked its customers and the rest of the dining public with the most stunning of sea changes.

As owners Richard Serrano and Deborah Ting readily admit, they had grown tired of making all that pasta while running their Italian-inspired restaurant, Pasta e Salsa. Ms Ting especially remembers the three to four hours it took her as head chef to make up to 10 different types of pasta for each night’s offering.

“We were very busy back then and with all of our meals cooked to order, it was very draining on us,” Ms Ting says.

So, after rolling their last gnocchi and stuffing their last tortellini, Mr Serrano and Ms Ting closed the doors to their little Italian trattoria.

A couple of weeks later they opened again as a Malaysian restaurant called Ria.

Both Mr Serrano and Ms Ting admit there was some nervousness about their decision to change formats but say they are very happy with Ria’s progress to date.

And so they should be. If its former incarnation packed them in, there is sometimes only squeezing room left in Ria during opening hours from Tuesday to Saturday.

One reason they are so busy, and why their fellow Leederville restaurateurs rave about them, is the Malaysian-born Ms Ting, who is obviously very comfortable taking a slightly modern approach to the melting pot that is Malaysian food.

“There are so many aspects of Malaysian food that I try to incorporate here in the menu,” she says. “The food that I grew up with has influences from China, India, and the Portuguese colony, as well as the Dutch.”

Ms Ting approaches her new role with the same dedication and passion that made her pasta so successful, but is thankful there is more of a focus on slow cooking in Malaysian cuisine.

“The slow-cooked curries and sauces is a side of the food that definitely appeals to me. We don’t make any stir-fries here and all of our curry pastes are homemade, which takes time to prepare,” Ms Ting says.

Ria’s menu and daily specials are designed to give a snapshot of the tremendous variety of influences upon which Malaysian food is based. For example, the beef vindaloo is Portuguese-Indian in origin, the lamb semur is more Chinese influenced, the Chinese shredded beef has traditional Szechwan notes, and the Arabian beef, a traditional dish from Kedah, north-west of Malaysia, is different again.

Ms Ting says there are a few dishes that she has on the current menu that she grew up with, the stand-out perhaps is ‘mum’s loh ak (braised caramelised duck), but she tries to keep the flavours as traditional as possible.

“Malaysian food differs so much from region to region. The flavours in a rendang, for example, change from house to house,” Ms Ting says.

In fact, the only compensation Ria’s menu makes for its Perth patrons is the considerable refinement in the amount of chilli used in its dishes.

“I have had to cut right back of the amount of chilli I use in the meals,” Ms Ting says. “The way the Malays eat is simply too spicy for us here in Australia.”

While the pair jokes that they could close the doors soon and open as a French restaurant, that move seems unlikely. In a climate where some purveyors of Asian cuisine are more miss than hit, Ria is right on target.

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