The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the name “Burma Lane” is a small road in George Town, Penang. It is a popular destination with tourists and local Buddhist worshippers. There is the historical Burmese temple built in the 1800s called Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple and the Penang Reclining Buddha Temple, a Thai temple directly across the Dhammikarama Burmese temple. Wat Chayamangkalaram Thai Buddhist Temple or more famously known in the Penang as the Reclining Buddha Temple is a Thai temple built after the Burmese temple in the late 1800s.
Flashback to my present time. Here in Melbourne.
When I came across a place with a shopfront sign “Burma Lane” as I was walking down a Melbourne lane way – Alfred Place – from Collins Street I was curious to find out what it is. The shop was directly across a T-junction at the end of Alfred Place and Little Collins Street. It was set a bit elevated from the street level. I had to stretch my neck slightly to see what’s inside through the glass wall. That was 4 weeks ago. It looked interesting and stylish with hanging lanterns. It doesn’t take much to guess it is going to be a new restaurant. A modern take on the Burmese food – a less known South East Asian cuisine in Melbourne, unlike Thai and Vietnamese. There is a website – burmalane.com.au. I stood in front of the shop with my iPhone handy in my hand started punching in the web address. There was not much at the time. The website was launched but only with a front page advertising the name and a special soft opening promotion by registering online – a 50% discount on the food. It didn’t take me long to register my interest and “Like” their FB page. Crazy but it’s true! I bet there are a lot of food bloggers still didn’t know about this latest restaurant in Melbourne.
3 weeks later, I received an email from the restaurant announcing their soft opening date on Monday 11th November. To redeem the promotion voucher, it needs to be used during their soft opening. So my partner and I went there last night for dinner. We were there for a 7pm dinner. I was expecting the place to be packed. But it wasn’t. Probably still early.
On entering the restaurant, there was a lot to take in. It has a large open atrium dining space with soaring high ceilings to the second level and hanging lanterns and streams of down lights. A stylish renovation with glass wall on one side with beautiful framed pictures and the other side a concrete wall with a large painted portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, where a flight of stairs lead to the second floor dining area. The place is dark and stylish with very loud music to create the ambience of a latest and hype Melbournian restaurant.
We were given a table upstairs which is quieter for dining couples. At the far end of the room was a row of tables set up only for two people. I thought that was a nice thought. The menu was just right. Not too extensive and not too small. It was printed on an A3 size white paper used as a table mat with a round brown glazed dining plate set on top.
The menus is easy to read and sectioned into Small Bites, Salad, Noodles, Bigger Bites and Desserts. The description on each of the dishes is simple to understand, making it easier to choose and order. We chose a couple of Small Bites – Kun Sar Thi and Soft Shell Crab, Salad – Rakhine style shredded chicken salad with banana flowers, Bigger Bites – Mohinga Rockling and Goat Curry. Drinks – my partner ordered a Sample Pale Ale to start with and a couple of red wine by the glass. I had a cocktail – Thai Dai, which has kaffir lime leaves infused into the drink.
I have never been to Burma so I can’t really say that I know anything about a Burmese food. However, Burma Lane impresses me. The food was good. It was delicate and subtle in flavours. The dishes were presented well, except for the soft shell crab which was our least favourite. The idea of having 3 side condiments to accompany the food was great – from a mild, sweet chilli paste to the traditional “balachaung” – the Burmese dried shrimp relish. I was really surprised with the taste and texture of the balachaung, which is similar to how my mum would have made it at home. Interesting as Burma and Penang are thousands of kilometres apart with the Thai borders in between. I can only guess that during the spice trade in the 1700s, the Burmese came and settled in Penang and brought their culture and food (and also built the only one and oldest Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Burma Lane, Penang). The Penang version of balachaung is a nonya take on the balachaung called “sambal har bee” which is a spicier version. It is a popular accompaniment with rice or spread over a white bread and folded into a sandwich. Sadly to say, this dried spicy relish is slowing disappearing from the culinary food scene in Penang.
Our favourite dish at Burma Lane was the Goat Curry with pumpkin. The gravy was rich, thick and mildly spiced. The goat meat was tender. My next favourite dish for the night was the chicken wrapped in betel leaf. The chicken was mixed through with shallots, green mango and lightly spiced with sichuan pepper. It went well with the 3 different types of side condiments. I ate the mixture wrapped in a single betel leaf and in one mouthful to get the full impact of the different texture and flavour in one bite. It was very nice.The shredded chicken salad with banana flower was simple and delicate in flavour. I would have prefer to taste more of the banana flower but there wasn’t much of that. The Rockling in a mild turmeric and lemongrass based gravy was light and a bit strong on the turmeric after taste. It was accompanied by some vermicelli noodles, hard boiled eggs and the preserved asian mustard green. I thought the fish was a bit overcooked and tough.One thing that I have found with the food was that it was not overly sweet, salty and spicy. That is good as the food should focus on each of the different produces that come together to give the flavour, texture and uniqueness on each of the dishes. I hate it when a dish is over seasoned with too much sugar and salt which kills the goodness of the delicate flavour of a fresh ingredient.
I can’t help but to compare Burma Lane with Chin Chin - similar in food style and restaurant concept. Burma Lane has larger rooms, feels less cramped, less crowded and less noise. It is nicer to dine at Burma Lane without feeling like you have to yell to have a conversation. Food wise, they are quite different depending on taste. Burma Lane dishes are on a subtle and less complex side whereas Chin Chin delivers a big punch to the taste and flavours. Personally I love the food at Chin Chin but I prefer the ambience and classier feel of Burma Lane.