As common as the phrase is, there aren’t places that really fit the definition of ‘a hole in the wall’. The term implies someplace that’s small, cosy, and hard to find, but most restaurants and bars that I hear about are just the latter. If you need to use Google Maps to get it it’s not a hole in the wall. It’s a hole in the wall if, like my sister, you pace up and down the street it’s supposed to be in and you just can’t see it. This happened twice, if not three times, and that’s what Kuya really is. Sandwiched between an 8tillLate convenience shop and an Optika store. So what’s this hole in the wall like?
Starters: Kuya’s Steamed Pork Buns & Prawn Dim Sum
These are, simply put divine. Kuya’s Steamed Pork Buns were the very first thing I’d ever tried at the restaurant and they’re the very first thing I order every time I go. They’re served in the standard bamboo basket and a large plume of steam rises in front of you when you lift the lid to reveal…heaven in a bite.
These buns, the exact ethnicity of which I haven’t been able to ascertain yet, are a wonderful combination of contrasting textures. The dough itself develops a tight stretchy skin that makes for excellent chopstick work, but this is just the very outside of the bun itself. When you take a bite the very outermost layer gives way to an incredibly soft and fluffy dough and a filling of soft rich pork. Whether you dip these buns in sauce or not is up to you, but they’re so good I’m always tempted to order these four times over and skip the mains.
It’s a similar story with the prawn dim sum. The dumplings have a texture unlike anything I’ve ever tasted in Western cuisine. I still can’t wrap my head around how something so thin can be so tight and elastic and soft and airy at the same time – within a millimetre of dough.
The prawn filling has a much more subtle flavour. It is prawn after all, and in pretty small quantities, so you wouldn’t expect the flavour to be as strong as pork. Unlike the steamed pork buns I definitely recommend dipping these dim sum into their dipping sauce!
Mains: Baby Pork Ribs with Noodles
The starters, for me, are a known quantity, and it’s always the mains that take some thinking. There are some items on the menu, like their Bang Bang Chicken or Crispy Fried Beef, that’s always a safe bet. There are plenty of other items that you won’t find anywhere else and sometime’s you just need to trust that the chef knows what he’s doing.
I mean, when you’re ordering pork ribs at a restaurant where you primarily eat with chopsticks, you need a have a little faith.
For whatever reason, I pictured getting a nice plate of noodles and salad and ribs on a side plate. Or else noodles tossed with sauce and rib meat. Instead what I got was a bowl of noodles and salad and a rack of four ribs, doused in sauce, lying temptingly on top.
I couldn’t help but draw a sharp breath as I picked up my chopsticks and tentatively prodded at the ribs, ready to jab at the bones and tear away at the meat. The reality?
The chopsticks went right through the meat, I gripped the bone, and pulled it right out. I’ve had more trouble grabbing sweet and sour chicken with chopsticks, so I was utterly amazed at how easy it was here. When ribs are this tender it’s a no-brainer. They’re soft, succulent, and slathered in a delicious Japanese BBQ sauce that’s wonderfully sweet and tangy. It’s absolutely fantastic.
Dessert: Not Banoffee Pie
When the starters and main have been this good no matter how full you are you’re going to consider dessert, and even here Kuya doesn’t fail to surprise.
Who doesn’t love banoffee pie, right? This is the only translation of a classic banoffee pie that’s as good, or even better in this heat, than the original, as it’s completely deconstructed. Hell, you can think of it as an American-style banoffee float. A whole banana forms is the foundation of this dessert, and it’s set on a bed of caramel and crumbly biscuits. It’s then covered in caramel syrup and hard sugar, and a large dollop of ice cream.
I can wax lyrical about this for ages, but I can only say it one way: it’s amazing.