Word has been quickly traveling around town about the new Malaysian restaurant located on 170th street, just a short drive away from WEM. Tucked in between a Sleep Country and a liquor store, the family-run establishment is both small and quaint. I've been wanting to try this place for a while now, and considering that I work only minutes away from the area on Saturdays, a visit seemed to be overdue.
Island's claim to fame is serving genuine Malaysian cuisine (their words, not mine), and to my knowledge, the only place in town serving mille crepe cakes. Since Tropika has been one of my favourite restaurants since I was a kid, I was curious to see how Island's homemade approach to Malaysian food would compare.
When we pulled up around 5:30 on a Saturday, most of the smaller 4-top tables on the side were taken. They also have two larger tables that would accomodate larger families and groups nicely.
Once seated, we were given menus to peruse. The menu is an interesting mix of both Malaysian dishes and "Western delights." I'm not a big fan of when restaurants do this, because I'd rather they focus on one thing and do it right. And from a customer perspective, why on Earth would you dine at an ethnic restaurant and choose to order chicken tenders? That's what I call a missed opportunity. I'm sure they have their reasons though -- to accommodate the picky eaters in a group? Appeal to the kids? Who knows.
We started off with the roti canai with curry sauce, $3.95 for 2 -- a steal compared to Tropika where only one will already set you back at $4.50. This was definitely the stand-out dish of the night, and dare I say, better than Tropika's. (That's high praise coming from me by the way. I live for their roti canai.) Served piping hot, the roti was just a tiny bit crisp on the outside, revealing soft, tender and flaky layers throughout. Yum.
We also ordered one of these to go for my dad at home, and after placing our take-out order, the waitress thoughtfully came back and let us know that the roti canai would be better served hot, and would we still want it? I appreciated the gesture since it shows that they take pride in their food and hold it to a high standard. We still ended up ordering it, and even at room temperature, my dad ate the whole thing and declared it to be very good.
For the rest of our dishes, we each ordered our own plate, but ended up sharing everything anyways. (Sharing is caring!) My mom decided to go for the special of the day which was the Malaysian style sambal prawns ($12.00 I assume?), served with a salad of cucumbers and pineapples, homemade prawn crackers, and a choice between steamed or coconut rice. My mom decided on the latter, but we couldn't really detect any coconut flavour or actual coconut in the rice. It's possible that they sent out the steamed rice by mistake though.
Sambal is a sauce traditionally ground up by mortar and pestle, using aromatics such as garlic, onions, lemongrass, chili peppers, and fermented shrimp paste, to name a few. The lemongrass was the predominant flavour for me, and while there was a decent portion of fresh prawns in the bowl, I couldn't help but feel that the flavour was less pronounced than I would've liked. It was still decent though.
My sister ended up choosing the Malaysian style chicken curry ($12.00) which also came with prawn crackers, salad, and choice of rice (she chose steamed). The chicken curry was actually the same curry sauce that came with the roti canai, only this time there was a leg piece and a chicken thigh in the bowl. My sister really liked the dish, saying that it tasted very similar to the Vietnamese chicken curry (cà ri gà) that my mom makes at home, only a tiny bit thicker in consistency. These types of curries are generally thinner than their Indian or Japanese variants anyways. Her only gripe about the dish was that it was a little too oily. Easy fix if you skimmed the oil off on top.
My dish was the Malaysian laksa curry noodles ($12.00), which came with vermicelli, tofu puffs, shrimp, fish balls, slices of fish cake, a hard-boiled egg, and beansprouts. Laksa broth is typically rich, creamy, and spicy, flavoured by curry with hints of coconut. If you can tell by the picture, and disregard the oil droplets floating around, the broth was quite thin and too pale-looking. It just felt and tasted a little watered down.
On a positive note, I did like the toppings that Island decided to include, especially the tofu since they're like little sponges that soak up extra flavour. But fish cake and fish balls? It was a little redundant to have both. Overall, I thought that the laksa was okay, meaning I've had better.
Since my dad was at home (and can't cook to save his life), we also ordered the Malaysian style nasi lemak ($12.00) for take-out. Nasi lemak is apparently the national dish of Malaysia and the ingredients that accompany the dish vary depending on who makes it. Island's version contained coconut rice, five chicken wings, a hard-boiled egg, roasted peanuts, a salad of cucumber and pineapples, and prawn crackers. I think the dish also came with a side of sambal sauce, but I forgot to include it in the picture. I didn't try it and couldn't ask my dad what he thought of it, but it looked like a slightly dry dish to me, albeit a decent portion for the price.
And then probably the most anticipated dish of the evening for me -- a slice of their mille crepe cake! A mille crepe cake is an architectural masterpiece, and consists of many layers of crepes, sandwiched with a pastry creme filling.
Island Cafe & Bistro does a variety of mille crepe cake flavours, as well as custom ones as well! In the restaurant, it's $7.00 a slice, but you can order ahead and buy a full cake (7" for $60, 10" for $80). Some of their flavours in their wheelhouse include: original (vanilla), maple walnut, kaya coconut, green tea matcha, mango creme, pina colada, crème brûlée cheesecake, cookies n crème, and dark chocolate banana cream. The flavours in bold were the ones being offered that weekend, but it changes up during the week.
You can better appreciate the many layers of crepes from this angle!
My sister and I ended up splitting the crème brûlée cheesecake mille crepe cake ($7.00), which came plated with a caramel drizzle. The cream cheese frosting on top overpowered whatever crème brûlée flavour the pastry cream had, but I still really liked it. The cake was rich (and maybe a tiny bit stodgy), without being too heavy. I'd love to try their other flavours, especially their green tea matcha and their mango crème!
I was even inspired to make my own mille crepe cake at home, and found it to be a pretty easy process, although time-consuming. I made about 10 small chocolate crepes, and sandwiched them simply with whipped cream and oreo crumbs for a cookies and creme inspired cake! Perhaps I will document my further attempts in a future blog post to come!
Overall, it's worth checking out Island Cafe & Bistro. Though some improvements can be made to their food, they're bringing a unique product to Edmonton's restaurant scene, both in terms of Malaysian cuisine and their mille crepe cakes. It's a breath of fresh air.