It’s a Pōneke lunchtime institution, but which Malaysian roti canai and curry combo is best? Armed with a crack team of cousins and other third-culture kids, Preyanka Gothanayagi sets out to answer the question once and for all.
If you walk through Wellington on any given day, you’ll probably stumble across what feels like several thousand different Malaysian restaurants. From the dazzlingly bright green walls of Little Penang on Victoria, to the various “Satays” that have conglomerated on Cuba, Malaysian cuisine is an important feature of the world’s OKest-unless-it’s-a-good-day city.
As a Malaysian-Indian who has lived in Wellington for the past 11 years, I rely on the solid fare and chaotic decor of Wellington’s Malaysian scene to regularly stave off homesickness.
Malaysian food is legitimately the best food in the world. That’s because it’s actually a coalition of three powerhouse cuisines – Malay food, Chinese food and Indian food. These are the three main ethnic groups found in the homeland, and while the politics may not be stable, our food most certainly is.
You can see this expressed in every Malaysian joint in Wellington. While food stalls in Malaysia specialise in different dishes and cuisines, the restaurants here typically don’t. Malaysian-Indian restaurants serve up traditionally Malay dishes, Malaysian-Chinese menus feature Indian-esque curry, and everyone offers their own version of the famous mamak-style roti canai that can be found anywhere and everywhere back home.
Armed with a crack team of my cousins and other third-culture kids, I set out on a life-changing journey of eating the same thing 14 times with the ultimate goal of finding Pōneke’s best roti canai and curry combo.
We judged each restaurant based on what we know good Malaysian food to be. Also, the vibes. Here are Wellington’s roti canai combos, ranked from worst to best.
14. Oriental Kingdom
Left Bank, 116 Cuba St
Oriental Kingdom is a student staple, beloved for its affordable food, barely-enforced BYO policy, and easy-to-clean concrete floors. The staff were lovely, and the dim lighting and mismatched decor is textbook Malaysian.
However, the food was not the go. The roti looked like folded paper. To add insult to injury, there was zero flake, which is essential to rate highly on this list.
The curry, though, was worse. It was watery, with over-boiled chicken, and a confusing turpentine-esque aftertaste. One flatmate declared it was “the worst curry she’s ever tasted”, while another tried to eject it out of his mouth mid-bite. A disappointing experience all round, especially since we forgot to bring alcohol.
13. Satay Kingdom Cafe
Left Bank, 212 Cuba St
The bright side of this venue was the literal brightness. We dined outside under something akin to 90s fluorescent office lighting. It felt like a street stall back home, minus about 20 degrees of heat.
The downside was the actual food. While the roti was sweet, soft and pleasant (though not crispy!), the curry was once again watery. It was like someone had tossed turmeric powder into chicken stock and called it a day.
Strangely, a standout letdown here was the potato, which is a crucial element in most chicken curries. These ones tasted like fried hot chips? Impressive, but not in a good way.
12. Cinta Malaysian Kitchen
1/119 Manners St
Cinta Malaysia is a cosy little spot with the usual odd Malaysian sense of decor – in this case, a giant fork and spoon on one of the walls, and not much else. My flatmate Grace said it was so homely, it was like she was back in Hastings. I think that’s a good thing.
The roti canai was solid, if nothing special. Sweet, crunchy but also a bit chewy, OK overall. But the curry was saltier than I’d like, the chicken was dry (overcooked), while the potato was hard (undercooked)(how??).
The real dealbreaker, however, was the garnish. You just don’t garnish a Malaysian curry.
11. KK Malaysia
54 Ghuznee St
Grant Robertson loves KK Malaysia so much that he was interviewed there twice. Both profiles take pride of place on the walls, alongside some other newspaper clippings and a painting of some alliums. His favourite dish is the rendang, if you were wondering.
KKs is supposed to be really good. When the curry came out, my cousin was convinced that it was going to be the one. It smelled like home, and it had that bright orange colour and slight oil sheen that made us feel so hopeful.
Alas, our hopes were quickly dashed. For all its promise, the curry was – dare I say it – bland. Definitely not home, maybe a cheap hotel at best. The roti was soft and kinda good, but it wasn’t enough to save the day.
Ah well. They had nice plates.
10. Satay Village
58 Ghuznee St
Satay Village has the brightly coloured walls (yellow) and mismatched decor that at this point we recognised as a prerequisite for any Malaysian restaurant. The atmosphere was pretty chill, and occasionally chilly due to the door not fully closing.
The curry was a brighter yellow than the walls – it definitely stood out from the crowd. Floating in the incandescent puddle was one dry bit of chicken and a sad piece of potato that disintegrated on contact, but the flavour was alright – creamy and mild. It met the criteria for a curry.
The two large, handmade rotis were serviceable enough, if not spectacular. But the ratio was off, and we ran out of curry quickly.
9. Rasa Malaysia
200 Cuba St
$28.50 – $20.50 for curry, $8 for roti x 2)
5.5/10 (Aunty Nona said 3.5, but was outvoted)
I admit I have a pre-existing bias against Rasa because despite its “truly Malaysian and South Indian essence”, it feels like it’s not aimed at me, or my Paati. So to help keep things impartial, I invited my Indian mother-in-law along and left her to it.
“A confusing and dusty collection of wall ornamentation,” was her first official proclamation. Alongside their Malaysian elements, they had North Indian puppets, African drums, and two bamboo rainsticks (famously not Malaysian). The walls were adorned with jars of pickles she decided were “charmingly Mediterranean”.
Aunty Nona also wasn’t impressed by either the curry or the roti, which she felt was missing “subtle flavours that provide depth”. I seriously considered just handing the whole project over to her.
8. The Long Bar on Brandon
22 Brandon St
This place is a hidden gem in the middle of corporate Wellington, and my go-to during the work week.
Once again, we are treated to bright yellow walls, which always cheers me up. There’s also this huge mural of what I can only describe as a “perky” group of musicians. I assume it was inherited rather than a proactive design choice, and I am absolutely here for it.
The roti canai looked like the frozen stuff I use at home, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – when cooked well, it’s a solid choice. The curry had lovely flavours, and while it was slightly weak, I’d probably order it again.
7. Aunty Mena’s
167 Cuba St
I’ve always thought that Malaysian food could never be vegan. There’s so much hidden animal product involved – fish sauce, oyster sauce, eggs – and it’s everywhere.
Aunty Mena’s might, might, have proved me wrong.
It’s not “authentic” as such, but the flavours were lovely. And after eating so much chicken, I was grateful for the well-cooked vegetables. The roti wasn’t like traditional roti (which has egg in it), but was tasty anyway. Our biggest issue was that it was too sweet, and the curry slightly too salty, so you had to eat them together to balance both out.
We also loved the tree mural and miscellaneous wooden furniture. It had primary school camp vibes, but without your friend’s mum’s bad pumpkin soup.
6. Little Penang
179 Victoria St
Little Penang is a Wellington Malaysian institution with bright green walls. They’ve got their menu down to a fine art, including a rotating list of daily specials, and a few Malaysian hard-hitters that you don’t get everywhere. My mum recommends the rojak.
Penang itself is actually a state within Malaysia, and they have some of the best street food in the world. As its Wellington representatives, Little Penang doesn’t disappoint – especially their char kuey teow, which is straight fire.
As for their roti and curry, it wasn’t a bad option. Their nyonya curry had rich flavours and a really nice level of coconutty sweetness, but there was so much chicken we struggled to get to the sauce. The roti was fluffy and soft, but fell just short of the crunch and flake levels we were looking for.
5. Satay Palace
165 Cuba St
Cosy, understated, green (again). You say dimly lit, I say homely. You say some of the lights don’t work, I say that’s intentional. It’s called ambience.
Their curry was one of the few curries that contained curry leaves. For the uninitiated, those are leaves you put in your curry. I personally didn’t like the slight turmeric flavour, but the more you eat, the more it grows on you.
The roti was flaky and buttery, with a hint of sweetness. The bathroom also doubles as their storage and cleaning closet, and the resulting chaos is very on brand for this cuisine.
4. R&S Satay Noodle House
148 Cuba St
Full disclaimer: R&S is my favourite restaurant in the whole of Wellington. I go there so often, the uncle there knows my order by heart (best Hainanese chicken rice in the city, come at me).
If you don’t know it, it’s that place next to the army surplus store with walls so bright my brother in Melbourne green-screened himself into my graduation photos.
I wanted to rig this thing and give them top billing because I am fiercely loyal. But in the end, they earned a well-deserved fourth place on their own. The roti was delicious – flaky, layered, a good level of crunch and a good amount of sweetness.
As for the curry, it had flavour. The chicken was tender, the potato soft like it should be. Slightly watery, but not a dealbreaker.
3. Istana Malaysia
1 Allen St
$12.90 (lunch special)
We got off to a bad start – when we ordered one curry and two rotis between four of us, the aunty taking our order was not pleased. It was valuable table space, apparently, for only one meal. It’s ingrained into me to not disappoint an aunty, so we ate fast.
I hate to admit it, but it was worth it. The roti was delightful. Crispy on the outside, pull-apart and doughy on the inside, with a little bit of well-earned oiliness.
The curry had a good depth of flavour, with a slight spicy kick. It was hearty, exactly as it should be. I might sneak back in when aunty’s not looking.
2. Nyonya Malaysia
Willis Lane, 1 Willis St
The newest entrant on the list, Nyonya Malaysia just opened in the recently refurbished Willis Lane food court. There’s a cool atmosphere, it’s conveniently close to my office, and open late. I had high hopes.
They didn’t disappoint. My cousins and I agreed it felt authentically Malaysian – mostly because the place was packed, and we couldn’t hear ourselves think. You could also watch them make your food over the countertop, and I guess that counts as authentic too. (When you’re this far from Asia, you take what you can get.)
The meal was served in a takeaway container, and the portion was generous. This was one of our favourite curries in Wellington, with a good depth of flavour, and a satisfying kick of spice.
The roti was the frozen stuff, but cooked so well. Crisp, buttery, soft perfection. If you can cook it this well, it doesn’t have to be handmade.
1. Satay Malaysia
255 Cuba St
$18.50 curry, $10 roti x 2 (lunch menu)
Near the top of Cuba Street, nestled among the burgers and the communists is a small restaurant with elevator jazz music and a bamboo accent wall. It’s so unassuming that you might walk past it, like I’ve done all my life. That is, until now.
This is it. The best roti canai and chicken curry in the whole of Wellington central. It’s almost exactly like what you’d get in Malaysia at a stall on the side of the road, the roti wrapped in newspaper and the curry in a plastic bag (we’re not big on recycling just yet). The roti was handmade, light, airy, buttery goodness, and it soaked up the curry like magic. The curry had flavour, depth and nuance. It was poetry. No bad potatoes in sight.
No other pairing worked together like this – and this dish really is a marriage made in heaven (by which I mean a semi-abandoned block of Cuba St). In this one little shop that no one seems to know about, every element was on point.
10/10, no notes.