Dale La Pau review

The classic street snack martabak mesir - roti bread with egg and beef rendang - stopped our reviewer in her tracks.
The classic street snack martabak mesir - roti bread with egg and beef rendang - stopped our reviewer in her tracks. Photo: Eddie Jim

255 Camberwell Rd Camberwell, VIC 3124

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Opening hours Tuu-Sun 11.30am-3pm; Fri-Sun 5.30pm-9pm
Features Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 03 8528 0821

People often ask how I decide which restaurants to visit. It might be recommendations from food-obsessed pals, a press release in my inbox, or the result of wandering around neighbourhoods looking at menus and assessing the glow as diners spill from doorways: do I want what they've been having?

Honestly though, I've never before been to a restaurant because the fragrance of coconut, lime leaf and star anise drifted through my car window and brought me to a screeching halt. That's Dale La Pau for you.

The dish that reeled me in was martabak mesir, spiced beef rendang tossed with egg then squished between roti and grilled. An enraptured person was eating this classic Indonesian street snack in the Astroturfed courtyard running alongside Dale La Pau, a modest, halal (and therefore alcohol-free) cafe near Camberwell Junction.

The modest Indonesian cafe specialises in rendang.
The modest Indonesian cafe specialises in rendang. Photo: Eddie Jim

Soon I had a martabak too. Golden crunch gave way to rich, braised coconutty meat and scrambly softness. It's among the most delicious morsels I've eaten this year.

Dale La Pau is owned by Dale Putra who moved from Indonesia in 2019. The pandemic derailed study plans and he turned his hobbyist's love of cooking into a food delivery business and then this dine-in experience. It's not slick hospitality but there's a lot of heart and goodwill here and the food is fantastic.

Putra moved around Indonesia a lot as a kid but his menu mostly reflects his parents' Minang heritage in West Sumatra, and especially the food of Bukittinggi and Padang. There are plenty of people in Melbourne who miss this food badly; newbies are also encountering it with delight and interest.

West Sumatran-style beef rendang with rice.
West Sumatran-style beef rendang with rice. Photo: Eddie Jim

The style of rendang in West Sumatra is dark and dry, cooked for hours to concentrate the flavours. If you're used to saucier Malaysian or Singaporean versions, this almost black, caramelised, chewier stew may surprise.

I love it: the spice notes (chiefly cinnamon, clove, coriander, star anise and chilli) and the aromatic elements (galangal, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, lime, coconut cream) are melded, almost compressed into a deep thrumming symphony of flavour.

Dale Putra makes various rendangs: braised beef, beef rib, chicken and jackfruit, all with similar flavour bases and served with various combinations of rice and condiments.

Soto padang - spicy beef broth with vermicelli, beef jerky and potato.
Soto padang - spicy beef broth with vermicelli, beef jerky and potato. Photo: Eddie Jim

Other key dishes include soto padang, a healing, spicy beef broth bulked out with vermicelli, beef jerky and potato. It's the kind of enriching bowl that makes winter a joy rather than a slog.

Healing is great but eeling is good too: fried rice paddy eel is all bone and crunch, tossed with green chilli to create a salty snack. Jengkol is a South-East Asian pulse often translated as "stinky bean" – the disc-like beans are starchy and bitter, a sturdy side tossed with red chilli paste.

Still on the odiferous, durian is a polarising fruit that many love for its persistent pungency. If you're partial, you'll love the dessert that combines durian with coconut cream and pandan-scented sticky rice.

A streetside waft may even see you slamming on the brakes and discovering Dale La Pau just like I did.

https://dalelapau.com/