Five minutes with Marcel and Aline of Northcote restaurant Merah

Inside the new Northcote restaurant serving modern Malaysian

Despite their young age, Aline Viravouth and Marcel Nantharath are seasoned restaurateurs, with their new Northcote restaurant their third (and biggest) venture.

The couple first tried their hand at running their own restaurant with a dumpling bar in Carlton, which they sold in 2014. Next was cult Malaysian favourite Nasi Lemak House in Carlton, which the pair still run today. But I think their latest creation, just quietly, is the most impressive yet.

Merah‘ (which is Malay for ‘red’) is the newest addition to High St Northcote and in good company with fellow newcomer Fort Green.

The lunch and dinner venue serves up the most delicious modern Malaysian cuisine. My personal favourites? The soft shell crab bao, the ‘Merah’ fried chicken with kelantan mayo and the beef rendang – SO good!

The team make every dish from scratch using locally-sourced produce and they have even started bottling their family recipe sambal (made famous at Nasi Lemak House) for diners to take home!

The 30 seat venue is minimal, light and bright with subtle references to the pair’s cultural background, while the meals are served on gorgeous, organic-looking Made in Japan tableware.

Let’s hand over to Aline and Marcel to tell us how Merah came to be…

Where did the idea for Merah come from? 

We were looking for the second location for our first restaurant concept Nasi Lemak House in Carlton. We came across this little gem in Northcote, loved the space immediately. When we were researching the area, we had to change our original concept. This gave us a chance to show Northcote and Melbourne for that matter, a refined Malaysian concept.

Tell us about the concept behind the interiors?  

The interior was designed by ODO Studios in Abbotsford, and the construction was done by Adept Solutions.

Whilst referencing the history and heritage of asian dining, the space will have a clean, bright, and vibrant feel. contemporary materials and furniture will come together to create a fresh experience.

Inspiration is taken from a pastel material palette; an abstract representation of the colours, the cultural elements, and the ingredients that come together to make our chilli sambal.

The green waiter’s station represents banana leaves and the rattan feature wall is very traditional.

What has been the most challenging thing about opening your new business so far? 

I would say, trying to get bums on seats during the first couple of months. When you have staff on, with no one in the dining room, your mind starts to go into panic mode.

We always have to remind ourselves that its a process, just make sure your product is superb, staff are getting trained and get feedback from our customers (taking them all on board is a another thing HAHA).

Our sales are increasing each week, which is great.

And what about the most rewarding part? 

Customers’ eyes rolling back after taking a bite. Coming up to the counter praising our food and service. Leaving large tips while saying they will be back. So satisfying.

What is your big dream for Merah? 

Get a hat from the Good Food Guide.

Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you can share?! 

Oh Emily. Where do I begin haha.

More restaurants, more collaborations, more life!

You can find Merah at 238 High Street, Northcote and online at merah.com.au.

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Images courtesy of Merah.

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