Seeing yet another restaurant bringing the hodgepodgery of hawker-stall fare to this city is, in all honesty, a bit of a surprise. I'm not bemoaning Rasa Asian Street Food opening in Dr. Phillips (nor the fifth Hawkers Asian Street Fare planned for Windermere, Winter Garden's Selera Singapore or Mamak Asian Street Food in Mills 50), but it's clear we've really taken to the diversity of Malaysian cuisine. The approachability and familiarity of Indian and Chinese flavors is undeniable, but it also taps into our love affair with street food in general, and the way it limits damage to our purses.
On this tidy strip of Sand Lake Road, Rasa keeps it clean and does away with any charming hawker-stall grime and cacophony, opting for a slick Zen sort of mood. The bar, illuminated in a red-light district glow, begs for Singapore Slings and a proper cocktail program, but the crowd doesn't seem to mind all too much; they quaff their sake, craft beer and wine while heartily indulging in a miscellany of small plates. Mere moments after ordering, we do the same – a heavily sauced serving of so-so char siu ($8) – roasted pork belly – to start, then a soup of delicate chicken dumplings ($5) that we wholly endorse. We make room for a plate of wonderful samosa-like kari puffs ($6) stuffed with chickpeas and curried vegetable before shifting the china around some more.
This is eating at its most pleasurable – the sharing, the shuffling, even the shrimpy pad thai ($10). I figured an order of char kway teow ($7) would be in the offing even before stepping into the restaurant, but another noodle dish – hakka noodles ($9) – had us forgoing Malaysia's most popular street food for this fiery substitution. We add beef for an extra $3.50, but it's hardly necessary. In fact, the following day, I set aside the still-tender morsels and enjoy the eggy, garlicky noodles as is (after a quick toss in the wok). Sichuan lotus roots ($7) lend a more serious burn, but they're too salty to finish. Instead, we lay into appropriately peppery black-pepper cod ($12) in a redolent mix of onion, bell peppers and red chiles. Good, but nothing compared to the "luse chicken" ($9), greened in a heady marinade of cilantro and basil and wok tossed to a glorious glisten.
Now to the roti canai ($3), advertised at the very top of the menu as a way of daring patrons not to order the classic. Naturally we caved, but this roti was no better than the frozen Malaysian flatbreads one can buy at Patel Brothers. The accompanying "signature Rasa curry sauce" is silken, spiked with coconut, and deserving of a much better (house-made, please) roti. Desserts stalled as well. We passed on some fruity cheesecake, but it couldn't have been any worse than mushy fried ice cream ($4). No shaved ice kacang or goreng pisang (banana fritters) here, no, but on the positive side, a stall has been placed in the back of the restaurant from where, in the coming weeks, bao will be served. Sweet!