To eat at Richard Rivalee Nyonya Cuisine in Penang, you should arrive hungry. And you should always opt to dine with like-minded adventurous (and hungry) people. That is the only way you’ll get to indulge in Richard’s variety of Nyonya dishes – rich, spicy and a lot of them, coconut-laden.
Richard Rivalee is a fashion designer and chef, known for his beautiful gowns and couture pieces. He ventured into F&B as a hobby, dishing up Nyonya favourites like ju hu char, sago gula melaka, pongteh and perut ikan.
The ju hu char (RM20 – regular, RM28 – large) is good stuff. There’s a good bite which means the vegetables are cut by hand instead of grated. I like how the flavours are rich from the use of dried cuttlefish and mushrooms. Good on its own and also when eaten with some lettuce (like a wrap).
I also enjoyed the Lemongrass Chicken (RM24 – regular, RM30 – large) because Richard only uses the chicken leg. That to me, brings out the aroma of the spices and seasoning because the meat is smooth and tender with a bit of fat for oomph. It wouldn’t be the same when the chicken breast is used. But then again, to each his own.
The Perut Ikan (RM20 – regular, RM28 – large) is really good. I’ve had my fair share of perut ikan dishes since I married Jien, so I feel I am able to objectively comment on this. It is thick, laden with spices and coconut milk and you get generous pieces of picked fish stomach inside.
I also appreciate how Richard balances the pungent flavour of the fish with plenty of daun kadok and that he only uses the first layer of coconut milk for this curry. It is everything one can ask for in a good bowl of perut ikan. I wiped the entire bowl clean. Even my mother in-law doesn’t make it as good as Richard, seriously.
Richard Rivalee Nyonya Cuisine is non-halal and offers plenty of porky Nyonya dishes like the Babi Pongteh (RM24 – regular, RM30 – large). Essentially braised pork ribs in fermented soy bean sauce, I like Richard’s version because it is thicker and flavourful from the generous use of garlic and soy bean sauce.
There’s also an underlying sweetness from the cinnamon stick, which complements the whole dish beautifully. Really tasty with white rice, this one. If I had one comment on this, it’s that I wished he used a bit of pork belly inside because I love it when the fat renders into the gravy and gives it even more flavour.
Desserts are also very good here – usually, Nyonya restaurants I’ve been to only excels in one category but Richard nails both the savoury and sweet. His sago Pudding with Gula Melaka (RM10.90) puts a lot of homemakers to shame. The Melaka sugar is beautifully caramelised, to the point it tastes like a cross between kaya and gula Melaka syrup.
He balances the sweetness with a pinch of salt so there’s a hint of umami in each bite. The sago pudding is made on the spot, using freshly grated coconut so you still get that creaminess from the flesh. This is often sold out I was told, so if you’re hoping to try this, I suggest you call ahead and reserve a portion.
The Black Glutinous Rice Dessert (RM8.90) is right up my alley; made using fresh (top layer) coconut milk so it is already one step about the black glutinous rice tong suis I’ve tried. It is thick with bits of rice grains for added texture, and the coconut milk gives it the “body” it needs. This also has a generous pinch of salt to balance out the sweetness and accentuate the quality of the coconut milk used.
Even his Bubur Cha Cha (RM8.90) is unlike the ones I’ve tried in Penang and Melaka. Cooked with plenty of yam, sweet potatoes and sago, this bubur cha cha is sweet without being overly cloying as the balance of sugar and salt is just right.
Overall, I feel the food at Richard Rivalee Nyonya Cuisine deserve an applause. I don’t know if it’s the best there is in Penang but it certainly is the best (not cooked by Peranakan mothers) Nyonya meal I’ve tasted in Penang.
Ambiance is traditionally Nyonya with the porcelain blue ceramic ware – tastefully done by the fashion designer himself. I love how he turned these knick knacks into a beautiful showcase of Nyonya culture. Thank you for lunch and for introducing me to this gem of a restaurant, CK!
Food: 8/10 (non-halal)
Verdict: The perut ikan, babi pongteh and sago pudding with Gula Melaka are a must-try.
Richard Rivalee @ Rain Garden
282, Jalan Burma 10350 Georgetown, Penang.
Tel: 011-1649 6399 (Richard), 012-421 2511 (Judy), 012-494 9567 (Irene)