Rangoon Ruby: Bland and rather pricey
Serving Burmese cuisine, Rangoon Ruby is the svelte younger sister of The Bodhi Tree, which shifted to Ilam after the earthquakes.
Rangoon Ruby opened in January, close to The Bodhi Tree's original site, in the slowly rejuvenating central city. In a new building on the corner of Peterborough and Colombo streets, we are seated at a gold velvety banquette by the window.
Large market umbrellas and parasols in orange and red hang from the ceiling, and a mezzanine floor is ready for when the place gets busy.
The restaurant, which holds about 60, is so new it doesn't have a liquor licence at the time of our visit, so we choose a delicate, not-too-sweet elderflower fizz ($4.50), ginger beer ($5) and cranberry juice ($4.50).
We are advised by the waiter that two dishes per person to share should be ample, with rice ($3 each). Our table of four complies, ordering eight dishes to share.
From the "nibbly bits" section, Le Pet Thoke (tea salad $14.50) is a well-known Burmese dish featuring fermented tea leaves and crunchy legumes, although some might find the pickled aroma slightly off-putting.
The Ciandi Thoke (eggplant salad with sesame seeds, chilli, olive oil, shallots and coriander $12.50) appears to be grey sludge, but offers a tasty sweet-savoury mix.
Be warned: Burmese curry is far milder and more subtle than Indian or Thai. If you are expecting a spicy kick, you're in the wrong place.
A whole charred chilli in the garlic prawns ($21) was divided between daredevils Ben and Ken, but they were disappointed it had no bite. The squid pieces with basil, chilli and onion (Biay-jingajo, $16) lacked flavour and were disappointing.
The two sauces accompanying our chosen skewered dishes looked identical, but were very different flavours; lemongrass coriander sauce to go with the seafood skewers, and chilli-mint sauce with the lamb skewers.
The seafood skewer was Liz's fave, while Ben liked the lamb skewers and pork stew (Wetda Seebian, $16). Ken liked the chilli garlic prawns, but with the strong coriander of the fish skewer sauce. "I don't know if they were supposed to be mixed together, but it worked for me."
We'd forgotten to count, so when the fried chicken (Jetda Jo $16) came out later than everything else, it was a surprise to us. "The chef is still new," the waiter explained, a tad bashfully. We were full, but decided we'd better try it, since we'd ordered it.
Desserts include tamarind sorbet ($7.50) and Shwe Ji Mot, a coconut and semolina cake ($10), which Ben enjoyed, despite its grey tone, for its delicate coconut flavour and interesting texture.
I went for the distinctly non-Burmese creme brulee ($11), which was gorgeously vanilla creamy beneath its perfectly burnt sugar top, while Ken chose the impressive-looking Cointreau flambeed creme brulee option ($13).
Fans of The Bodhi Tree will find familiar favourites on the menu. For our party of four, the dipping sauces were the highlight, bringing flavour to some pretty bland dishes. At $194, it was a rather pricey lesson in Burmese.
Much as I'd like to declare Rangoon Ruby a hidden gem, it's truer to say it's a diamond in the rough.
Where: 819 Colombo St, central city.
Service: Keen young things.
Prices: Nibbly things $14.50-$16, main dishes $12-$18, desserts $7.50-$13.
Ambience: Uncluttered, no noticeable music.