A random conversation with a new friend allowed me to discover Nonya, a new South-Asian inspired venue set to light up the already bubbling Jumeirah Lakes Towers district of Dubai with its promise of Peranakan Cuisine featuring beef rendang, sambal kang kong, nasi goreng kampung and more… While I am no expert in the cuisine, I do have friends whose heritage are Peranakan, and my little soiree in the Maldives last year exposed my palette to the cuisine. To say I was excited to try Nonya would be putting things very lightlightly.
For full context, NONYA, as a term, refers to a specific form of Singaporean cuisine consisting of a combination of Malay and Chinese ingredients and techniques. But it is not just about food only, a whole heritage of people identify and are classified as Nonya, thus making it and the general Peranakan race one of the oldest diverse ancestries across South East Asia.
Perched on the 44th floor of the five-star Taj Jumeirah Lakes Towers, with an impossibly breathtaking, uninterrupted view of the Emirates Golf Club, Dubai Internet City and far twinkling lights of Dubai’s skyline in the distance, walking in, I am positively taken by the sleek and stylish interior; right in the middle and serving as the perfect divider sits a beautiful, intricately designed full bar complete with dashing bartenders stirring and shaking away. NONYA brings a true testament to ensuring guests have a lively dining experience inspired by a rich melting pot of Pan-Asian cultural influences – evident in their decor.
Head Chef of NONYA, Kong Sieng Yeuh, gently reassures that “What sets NONYA apart from other Pan-Asian restaurants in Dubai is that NONYA is a culture; NONYA blends aesthetics, flavors, specially imported ingredients and cooking methods from Singapore, Malaysia, China and other parts of Southeast Asia into delectable and surprising, yet authentic and comforting dishes with a contemporary spin”.
The food is prepared by a team as culturally diverse as NONYA’s menu, each person bringing authentic craftsmanship and culinary skills to the table. NONYA’s drinks menu is as vibrant and varied as its cuisine and interiors with an exciting range of hand-crafted cocktails, Asian malts, sakes, beers, wines and spirits on offer.
My experience however with the food, was quite a mix of highs and lows, with the later taking up more residence. My party left the menu curation to our waiter, a gentle, happy go-lucky type of fella who seemed to be well knowledgeable about the cuisine. After dietary requirements and allergies were collected from the table, we sat back and waited to discover NONYA… We didn’t, well, not to my full expectations.
Upon first glance at the menu, a few Peranakan staples catches my eyes, but not quite enough to really say NONYA, only around 10 maybe 11 dishes on the menu pays homage to the heritage it claim (and yes, I may have been a little too paranoid that I counted them, lol) the other dishes on the menu are more Japanese with a few sprinkles of Thai, Chinese and some Southeast Asian staples.
As expected, the majority of the dishes delivered to the table echoed Japanese and Chinese influences. Our journey started with a hearty chef selection dim sum basket, followed by the king crab soup with sweet corn and egg drop – I personally found the crab meat to be unimpressive, it lacked that tingling sweetness that king crabs naturally offer. The wok-fried chicken spiced with spiced Nestum cereal could maybe use an extra bit of love, while the exterior was the perfect crunch and crispiness, the chicken itself was overcooked, perhaps a bit more attention and it would have been a star dish. Next came sashimi, nigiri and maki selections. I enjoyed the sauce pairing with the maki rolls, no soya sauce was needed to fully immerse in the experience, a true mastery of sushi new-style.
The highlight of the starters was the truffle crispy Lotus Stem – to this day, my guests and I still reminisce about the fried lotus stem, Szechuan pepper, honey chilli sauce, a remarkable taste bomb of a snack that just keeps on giving (no, seriously, really… my party ordered two extra servings of it because it was that good.)
For the main event, we were served Beef Rendang, a NONYA cuisine staple of braised beef tenderloin, galangal, coconut, blue pea flower rice. We also got the Pak Choi and tofu with Chilli and garlic black bean sauce – both dishes were superiorly disappointing. The Rendang was extremely dry and very unpleasant to chew, the Pak Choi was served cold, well, more very lukewarm (I went for it within seconds after it hit the table) and it did not offer a memorable experience.
The story and concept of NONYA is not reflective on the menu, which for me, was the primary reason I desperately wanted to go. The team was very attentive and professional, a real strength of the restaurant. The atmosphere, the vibe and the views are immaculately stunning.
If you are looking for a generally feel good venue with amazing views and a brilliant selection of cocktails; great service, really friendly staff and are not really fussed about specifics of food like my nerdy self is, NONYA Dubai is worth a visit.
44th floor, Taj Jumeirah Lakes Towers