Recently appointed Kuala Lumpur Food Ambassador 2015, celebrity chef Norman Musa opened authentic Malaysian restaurant Ning on the outskirts of Manchester’s Northern Quarter back in 2006. His aim – to introduce Malaysian cuisine, with its infusion of flavours influenced from Oriental, Thai and Indian gastronomy, to Manchester’s multicultural population.
Entirely Halal, the menu comprises tried and tested old favourites and introduces seasonal specials to keep it fresh and interesting. The pink and black floral decor compliments the exposed brick wall behind the counter, adding a vibrant feminine elegance. The restaurant is due a refurbishment in the next couple of months, however, to brighten up its interior.
Pink net curtains drape over the windows, providing customers with a little seclusion from the busy streets outside. You almost forget that it is rainy Manchester beyond the pink netting and feel instead as though you have been transported to authentic Malaysia with the exotic aromas and atmosphere Ning creates.
A wicker basket of succulent prawn crackers with a dish of glistening sweet chilli dip was brought over to us along with our drinks. We ordered a ginger and cucumber mojito cocktail – an interesting twist on a favoured classic – it was cool and refreshing with just a hint of fiery ginger. And with this, a strawberry mojito mocktail that was light and sweet, garnished with mint and a strawberry.
We were offered two appetizers: the first, a Chicken Murtabak – ‘Mamak’ style crispy pancakes filled with chicken, potato, onion and egg, priced at £7.25 – and the second Masalodeh, which consisted of lentil fritters, lightly spiced with cumin and curry leaves, and costing £5.95. The appetizers were served on slate slabs, on top of which was a banana leaf – a decorative touch that added a sense of authenticity.
The crispiness of the pancakes in the Murtabak offset the chicken filling perfectly, and together with the pot of thick, creamy curry sauce with which it was served, the combination was exquisite. The lentil fritters were a tad dry, and although served with a lovely yoghurt dip, had a rather subtle flavour.
For our main course, we chose a Nyonya Lime Curry which was priced at £10.25. This was a combination of vegetables such as potatoes, green beans and peppers with tofu in a velvety sauce that boasted a sweet and tangy flavour provided by the lemongrass. The dish was so moreish that even when I was full to the brim, my hands could not help themselves from sneaking back to my cutlery for ‘one last mouthful’.
The same could be said for the Roti Canai that was brought over to accompany our meal. This was a flatbread type dish, the golden flakiness of which resembled a pastry. It was stodgy but delicious, particularly with a drizzle of the curry dipping sauce it was served with. We also sampled a Sambal Udang; at £12.95 it consisted of prawns and vegetables such as those enjoyed in the other main dish, coated in a light, oily chilli sauce.
We were told how the spiciness of each dish can be catered to each customer’s tastes, with creamy yoghurt added for those who desire a more subtle flavour, and chilli added for more fieriness. With our main course, we were each given a glass of German Gewürtztraminer white wine, the mildness of which combats the heat of the Malaysian cuisine perfectly.
For dessert, we sampled a traditional Saga Gula Melaka, a warm pudding made up of little jelly balls – resembling tapioca – that was topped with strands of zingy mango and drenched in coconut milk. The palm sugar sauce with which it is served is the essential component to this dish; you drizzle this over the pudding so that the jelly soaks up the sticky sweetness.
We also ordered exotic artisan ice cream: one scoop of Teh Tarik ice cream which is made from combining Malaysian tea and condensed milk, and one scoop of lime and lemongrass sorbet. The consistency of the Teh Tarik was lovely and creamy but the tea flavour was rather strong – perfect for tea lovers, I’m sure. The sorbet was a delight; it melted in the mouth and had a tangy refreshing flavour that complimented the other spicy courses. The lemongrass keeps it authentic and unique to the Malaysian experience.
Award-winning Norman’s huge success and celebrity profile has placed Ning firmly on the map, particularly for foreign visitors to Manchester, who queue just to take a photograph standing outside the renowned restaurant.
TNT Lifestyle Sophie Weiner