Plumb in the middle of the New Lynn town centre, Bunga Raya has quite the reputation and following as one of Auckland’s better Malaysian restaurants. Until my recent first visit, I knew it only by name and reputation and had been excited by the prospect of finally seeing what made Bunga Raya so popular.
Bunga Raya is Malaysian for the hibiscus, which also happens to be the national flower of Malaysia. The real national flower of Malaysia however is in fact its food. So it is very apt the restaurant is named after such a fragrant and colourful blossom, as its namesake is emulated in the vibrant and aromatic food that is delivered from its kitchen.
The feeling at Bunga Raya is warm and homely despite the rather Spartan décor. However, I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by name. Although half empty - and dare I say awkwardly quiet - at 6.30pm, the restaurant quickly filled to capacity and was loud with chatter by 7pm. It stayed that way for the rest of the evening. Our hostess, whom I suspect is the mastermind behind most of the menu, was keen to help us when we became overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices.
To whet our appetites (I use the term ‘whet’ loosely as we ordered probably more entrees than was necessary) we started with the ngoh hiang (five-spice pork rolls and a specialty of Penang), vegetarian curry puff and an entrée combination. The ngoh hiang (better known as lor bak) and curry puffs were a highlight, the latter absolutely greaseless with a surprising but welcome amount of heat whilst the former were crisp, garlicky and moreish.
The rest of the menu is in a word, vast, and after much deliberation we decided on the stir-fried squid with XO sauce and the Nonya curry chicken. Both dishes were enormously generous and heavily complex in flavour.
The chicken in the Nonya curry was moist (with not a breast in sight) and the broth thin but superbly fragrant with a subtle hint of sweetness. The XO squid (the XO standing for extraordinary) was a marvellous, heady concoction of delicate curry leaves, dried chilli and both fermented (belacan) and dried shrimp.The squid was crisp on the outside but still tender as it should be and turned out to be mercifully mild in flavour despite the mound of dried chilli in it.
Bunga Raya is one of New Lynn’s worst kept secrets (we spotted a large table of young, Ponsonby types in one corner) with food that will continue to keep its modest dining room thronging.
2/3062 Great North Road