If you’ve strolled along High Street in Northcote, Melbourne, you’ve quite possibly walked past Yuni’s Kitchen without knowing it. You’re probably not looking down the side of the Uniting Church for a tiny Indonesian restaurant – which is a shame if you’re a fan of laksa and traditional dishes steamed in banana leaves. Or perhaps you’ve spotted the red poster featuring an Indonesian woman, chilli between her teeth like a tango dancer with a rose, and already know about this hidden neighbourhood gem.
Yuni and Matthew Kenwrick opened Yuni’s Kitchen in 2014 in what used to be an old church hall. She heads the kitchen with no more than two other cooks at a time; he’s in charge of the floor and runs the business. The couple met in Jakarta more than 20 years ago when Matthew went to visit his mother who was teaching there.
Yuni doesn’t have professional kitchen experience but grew up cooking beside her mother to help feed her six siblings. When she told her parents towards the end of high school that she wanted to pursue cooking as a career, they discouraged her. Later, Yuni moved to Cairns with Matthew and worked in a nursing home, catering for the Indonesian community in her spare time.
“I was thinking maybe it was time for me to move from my job, and then I said to Matthew that I wanted to have just a small restaurant, that’s what I wanted, nothing else. Suddenly he decided, 'Okay then, we’ll move to Melbourne'!”
While it was tough being off the main strip at the start, now 70 per cent of customers come in through word of mouth. Most are local, followed by Singaporean and Malaysian customers who visit on weekends from suburbs further away.
"I said to Matthew that I wanted to have just a small restaurant, that’s what I wanted, nothing else. Suddenly he decided, 'Okay then, we’ll move to Melbourne'!"
Yuni’s dishes are mostly Javanese. Those that aren’t have been passed down from an ibu (a polite way to refer to married women in Indonesia) during trips home to visit relatives. Matthew estimates that a quarter of customers order laksa, which has a vegan base – no fish stock, shrimp paste or MSG. Meat is added later for those who want it.
Indonesian customers order dishes that aren’t often seen in other restaurants because they’re too time-consuming to make, such as nasi bakar (rice and chicken cooked in banana leaves with Indonesian accompaniments), bebek dishes (duck) or ikan pepes (fish steamed in banana leaves).
But Yuni’s favourite thing to cook is her satay.
“The peanut sauce I make is really home-style. We make everything from scratch, so that’s why I’m so proud of the peanuts. Even the girls in the back, if there’s some left over, they always eat it,” says Yuni.
The Kenwricks do everything themselves, including daily visits to Preston Market where Yuni picks out ingredients. “It’s a bit old-school, but it makes a difference,” says Matthew. “We’re first in, last out. We still mop our floors ourselves. I often say when someone else is mopping the floor, that’s when we’ll know we’ve made it.”
251 High Street, Northcote, VIC, 0455 337 666
Wed - Fri 5:30 pm - 10 pm
Sat midday - 3 pm, 5:30 pm - 10 pm
Sun midday - 3 pm, 5:30 pm - 9 pm
This simple Indonesian recipe for corn, mung beans and pumpkin is teamed with a quick and easy chilli sauce for a fresh and fiery side dish.
A vibrant Indonesian salad that's full of protein (thanks, eggs and tofu) and that dense peanut sauce is what will tip this dish over the delicious edge.