Restoran Nilla runs two outlets in old-town JB, each located within a stone’s throw of the other. Assuming you can throw stones around corners, that is. One faces the instantly recognisable Raja Maha Mariamman Temple on Jalan Ungku Puan, whilst the other is around the corner on Jalan Trus. Whilst they look pretty much identical (both have designated vegetarian and non-vegetarian counters), I chose the Jalan Trus outlet as it seemed a little quieter. Curry consumption requires my utmost concentration y’know? Y’hear me? Good.
Nilla’s claims to serve “the best banana leaf food in town”, and i’m inclined to agree with them. It’s a well-oiled machine; the servers are all blokes and unfailingly willing to help. Not in a sycophantic way, but in a way that shows that they just want to do their jobs well. This, combined with the excellent variety and quality of food on offer, makes for a good experience all-round. Excellent, even.
As you can probably guess, I had the vegetarian banana leaf rice and curry with a small side dish of tofu (MYR 7.50 for everything). One of the things you will/should immediately notice from the picture above is the absolute, unwavering, 100% devotion to curry. No faffing around with some raita here, a little rasam there, a few pickles for good measure – no. The focus is on the good stuff, the curries. This is a place that means business.
Where do I start? Maybe the papadums. The paps were saltier than usual and, as a result, indescribably tasty. The tastiest I have ever had in fact (no joke). And one of the best parts was that they kept topping them up once I had depleted my stock – I must have crunched through about six or seven of these bad boys in total. Fantastic start.
Next up, the dhal. Beautiful. It was creamy and delicately perfumed with curry leaves, cumin seeds, and delicious chunks of carrot. As is the hallmark of any good dhal, after tasting it I felt like I didn’t need any of the other curries. Indeed, the others played something of a supporting role. The jackfruit and lentil curry (the yellow one) was smooth and a little bland, the spinach curry (green one) was chokingly spicy (unexpectedly so!), whilst the bitter gourd (red one) looked fiery, but turned out to be rather tame. Tame in a good way, especially when sat next to the sadistic spinach!
Tofu is not normally included in the arsenal of Indian foods, which is a shame, given that 1) vegan’s can’t really eat tofu’s (dairy) Indian substitute (paneer), and 2) Indian-style tofu is blooming superb. Really, this stuff was the cat’s pyjamas. Big and visually satisfying chunks of firm tofu (tau kwa-like) sat in a deliciously tangy tomato and turmeric sauce. A rare treat to eat tofu this good in an Indian eatery, believe me.
Overall, Restoran Nilla’s was mouth-tinglingly good experience. The best Indian eatery in JB? So far, yes. I loved it. Every last bite.
109 Jalan Trus, Johor Bahru
+60 7-227 5722
Open 07:00-22:00 daily
Lonely Planet’s review