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Luisa De Liseo

I’m one of the first to defend Canberra from the usual attacks. But lately, on the dining scene, I’ve really felt that it’s all the same. So many places are owned by the same owners who replicate their business model over and over albeit with a slightly different spin. It’s hard to get excited when the new hotspot in town is a mere reinvention of the old.

But not with the Chairman Group. I’ve been a long time admirer of their consistent quality and excellent service as demonstrated by stalwart Chairman and Yip, and its newer cousin Lanterne RoomsMalamay is their new venture, this time exploring Sichaun cuisine with its fusion brand of cooking. The formula is well-honed despite the different cuisine of the others (cantonese and nyonya respectively).

Malamay gives the brand a spicy edge in more ways than one. Not only is sichaun cuisine notoriously spicy and flavoursome, its location in the swanky Burbury Hotel and its dramatic interior design is a world away from most Canberra dining experiences.

What is the same, though, is the concept around the food. I always enjoy a restaurant which isn’t afraid to do what it wants and do it well, even if that means that there is fewer choices for customers. TheChairman Group has always been good at set menu dinners. Not only are they very reasonably priced and offer diners a chance to sample house specialities, they are an effortless way to dine – to sit back and enjoy the conversation and the meal as the food and wine flow effortlessly.

Malamay is set menu only, but there is an element of choice involved – which set menu to pick. Choose from five courses for $62.50, eight courses for $88 or eight courses with matching half glasses of wine for $120.

I think the balance is right. It’s not every day that you’ll head out for a five course meal, but when you do, $62.50 is exceptional value, when you think that you’d pay pay that for an entree and main at a standard venue. Just as $88 is quite reasonable for a degustation of sorts. And you can go the whole hog if it’s a special occasion, and enjoy the superb selections on the wine list. The menu will be changing every three or so weeks, I’m informed.

Highlights were the slow cooked eggplant with sweet sticky rice, the pork ribs with plum and belly with chillied dust and the mouth watering spring chicken. Each dish was incredibly delicate, which seems counterintuitive for a cuisine packed with flavour. The focus seems to be on balance of each, so that no dish is so overpowering, and that they all complement each other.

The interior design is a bit over the top – the red and black colour theme has been adapted to about every facet, from the black napkins (as opposed to the traditional restaurant white), the red chopsticks, mismatched coloured plates and the red shoes that all of the floor staff are wearing. The windows are covered in grey drapes and the walls are covered in interior slate. It’s all a little bit blade runner-esque, but it’s something different, and the dining room itself is exceedingly pleasant, with each table its own intimate hub, with a dim hum of conversation in the background rather than not being able to hear yourself think.

Malamay is a breath of fresh air on the Canberra dining scene. While it does replicate the formula of Chairman and Yip and Lanterne Rooms, it’s experimenting with colourful, flavour-packed sichuan cuisine, and it’s an edgy, fun space.

Have you eaten at Malamay yet? What was your verdict?

Luisa De Liseo

Luisa has been writing about food for the past few years on OutInCanberra and HerCanberra but recently left our nation's capital for the big smoke of Sydney, where she hopes the food writing journey will continue. In her spare time she likes to cook, eat, travel and write. You can follow Luisa on twitter @luisaliving. More about the Author

  • lola

    My parents recently ate at Malamay and they loved it, as agreed with your article Canberra cafes/restaurants are pretty much all the same. They loved the fact that there was no choice with the meal and had a feel of MKR. Ill be eating there for my birthday next saturday night and cant wait to try it:)

  • Thanks for the review. I haven’t been there yet but love Lanterne Rooms and Chairman & Yip, so this will definitely be on my list for a special night out. Cheers!

    • Whoops, sorry, didn’t mean to shout 😉

      • Amanda Whitley

        hahahahaa xx

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