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Jul 6, 2008 10:20 AM

Sweet Chili Cafe - Another Option for (Somewhat) Authentic Indonesian in Vancouver

Located in the old Dona Cata location on Victoria Drive (near 41st Ave), this new family run restaurant serves authentic home-style Indonesian food. Of dishes we ordered, my favourite was the Beef Rendang - the spicing was nuanced, and the beef was meltingly tender. It could have had more chili heat. We ordered it "hot" but it was "mild" to my tastes.

Other dishes worth ordering are the Laksa Ayam (which could have been hotter as well), the black rice pudding, and the tofu salad. Using the Beef Randang as my litmus-test - I can safely assume that their curries and stews will also be flavourful and authentic - albeit toned down for Western tastes. Their Roti Canai was a bit dense and lacks flakeyness and lightness.

The pricing is decent. They have "Rice Tables" - really more like combos than true rijstafels - starting from $7.50 to $8.25. Compared to Seri Malaysia on Hastings St - the servings are smaller and the prices are higher. Also, Seri Malaysia serves much more pungent and more authentic tasting dishes, in my opinion. Sweet Chile Cafe definitely pulled some punches on the spicing.

I do have one other major quibble: They serve all their dishes on plastic plates and use plastic utensils. It cheapens the experience and it isn't very eco-friendly. I gave them my disapproval verbally...hopefully, they will stop using disposable settings.

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  1. Pics
    and Location

    Sweet Chili Cafe
    5438 Victoria Dr, Vancouver, BC V5P, CA

    1. Laksa and Beef Rendang and not supposed to be spicy hot in the first place.

      Laksa is usually complemented with Sambal Chilli which you mix into the broth. Even with the additional Sambal Chilli, it may not be very spicy.

      Good Beef Rendang takes hours to cook. So, I will not trust any restaurant that claim they can make their beef rendang more or less spicy. What cut of meat did they use? I hope not brisket.

      19 Replies
      1. re: kwailan4

        I thought they needed a bit more heat. The spicing was very good though...nice and subtle notes and frangrances. The Sambal chili was blobbed onto the top of the Laksa. The cut wasn't brisket...perhaps chuck.

        If you are on that part of town, check it out...I'd love your feedback on the spicing.

        1. re: fmed

          Will definitely try. Melt-in-your mouth Beef Rendang without using beef brisket is hard to find in Vancouver.

          1. re: kwailan4

            Wow, I didn't realize that it's a no no to use brisket in beef rendang. Why's that?

            1. re: gourmet wife

              I'm curious too. I had a second look at some of my photos...Sweet Chili Cafe could be using brisket, actually.

              1. re: gourmet wife

                In South East Asia, curries, in general, take hours to cook and you get the flavors of the curry into the meat. Overnight curry tastes better for the same reason.

                When I see curries with different meat options, I will usually not order it. They cook the curry first, and add meat later on. Not my type of curry.

                Rendang is supposed to be melt-in-your mouth tender. That takes time. A lot of time. And that's usually how the spices get into the meat. Using brisket is just a short cut, because that's lots of fat in it and it's always tender. I'm not sure what cut of meat is usually used. Personally, I prefer shank.

                1. re: kwailan4

                  I'm not sure how they were able to provide these hotness options...perhaps through the mixing in of some extra sambal? The spiciness was pretty subtle....and it was all the way through the meat.

                  1. re: fmed

                    I just came back from T&T. I saw beef brisket and it was not what I had in mind.

                    I've always thought brisket was the one with lots of fat on it. The ones you get with beef brisket noodle in Chinese restaurants. So, what cut of meat is that?

                    1. re: kwailan4

                      Brisket has long stringy muscle fibers. The fat usually sits on the outside of that whole brisket muscle - surrounding it. (Same cut as pastrami, smoked meat, etc - if you can visualize that.) That fat and sliverskin is probably what you are seeing in Beef Noodle.

                      There isn't a lot of intramuscular fat in brisket which is why you need to cook it low and slow. Good options for long stewing like a rendang would be brisket, chuck, shank, or any other tough cut really.

                      1. re: fmed

                        Thanks. I was refering to brisket with the fat and silver skin.

                        I'll be in the area tomorrow. Hopefully I can find some time to swing over for a bite.

                        1. re: kwailan4

                          I had lunch at Pondok (Commercial Dr) yesterday (I go to Pondok a couple of times a month). The rendang there is very good. The prices are cheaper than Sweet Chili and they serve everything on real plates and cutlery. For preference is strongly to Pondok.

                          1. re: fmed

                            I thot Sweet Chilli (previously dona cata?) is a hole-in-the-wall and Pondok is a sit-down restaurant? Sweet Chilli is more expensive?

                            I take it there's no fat and silver skin in the rendang?

                            1. re: kwailan4

                              Yes...Sweet Chili is more expensive than Pondok during lunchtime. ($7.50 for Rice and Rendang at Pondok...and $7.95 at Sweet Chili).

                              For a "hole in the wall" Sweet Chili is not that competively priced. Tasty, but if you are looking for a good deal overall...Pondok would be my choice.

                              Some pics from a couple of months ago (not rendang, though):

                              There was not fat and silverskin in the rendang at Sweet Chili.

                              1. re: fmed

                                Fmed, have you heard about a Pondok at 950 West Broadway, 2nd floor? My chowish mum got a flyer for it today at work and was wondering...

                                1. re: grayelf

                                  No...that's news to me. I wonder if they are related.

                                  1. re: fmed

                                    They're related - both listed on the same website. I tried to go the other day based on good reviews for their Commercial drive outpost... but unfortunately they weren't open for lunch.

                      2. re: kwailan4

                        T&T sells two types of brisket, the traditional one that's not so fatty and more tough. The other one that a lot chinese people is in their curries and stews is boneless short ribs. The butcher at T&T convinced me to buy a fattier one and when I brought it home, it was actually boneless short rib. Personally I like my slow braising with short rib, can't say no to beef fat hahaha ! Since short ribs are expensive, sometimes I'll use a combination of sr and chuck, which I find works well.

                        Of course this is just my experience with brisket.

                    2. re: kwailan4

                      Agree! I also use beef shank when making rendang and cook it for 3 hours to get it really super soft. I don't know but I really like the tendon when its cooked til its melting like that. I tried using brisket once, but the texture just isn't the same and it doesn't get tender. I make my rendang spicy, I think it tastes better with some kick to it!

                  2. re: kwailan4

                    I had the beef rendang and chicken satay to go earlier this week.

                    I ordered the beef rendang very spicy and I believe they mix in the sambal chilli to spice it up. The sambal chilli itself is pretty good, but I find that it does not blend well with the rendang. I would have preferred the rendang with the sambal on the side.

                    I ate my meal about 2 hours later, and I guess that's why the beef was not melt in your mouth.

              2. We've eaten here a few times over the past few months. I really really REALLY like their lamb curry. It's like POW in my mouth. I don't think they toned down the flavour. I've tried a few of their other dishes, and their lamb curry is my favourite. I wasn't impressed by the laksa. Not as rich and savoury as I like. My wife likes their rendang and I agree it's good. Rich, deep, savoury flavours. We also get their sambal to-go. It's great smeared on fried eggs. That with a stir-fried veg and a bowl of rice, and you're good to go!

                The owner started a Saturday evening buffet. We happened to drop by the night she started it. We were originally just going to order a couple dishes to go, but saw the mini buffet setup and thought it was a pretty good deal and we stayed and got to try out all their stuff...rendang, that tofu salad thing, fish, curry chicken, etc. IMHO ranges from "ok" to "really good". Good to try once to see if you like any of their dishes. Not sure if she's still doing the dinner buffet -- better call and ask.

                I agree the prices are a little high, but worth it (especially for a dish like their curry lamb).

                3 Replies
                1. re: flowbee

                  I should go back to update.

                  Are they still using plastic spoons, forks, and styrofoam plates? That is a deal killer for me.

                  1. re: fmed

                    Oh yeah, real plates and cutlery now!

                    I really feel that if it wasn't for the owner's side-business doing catering, this place wouldn't survive. They're never busy, and it's a shame because that lamb curry is a thing of beauty. The depth of flavour from the spices, the lime leaf, etc, really conveys to me honesty and dedication.

                    1. re: flowbee

                      I'll make a trip out soon. We need to support these little places.