Homemade Nero burger with lamb patties.
Grilled chicken chop served with black pepper sauce, coleslaw and mashed potato.

Fish is caught and cooked on the spot. Zara Zaaba feasts on fresh tilapia

I LOVE meat. Fish, especially fresh water fish, has never been my first choice of a meal. The fishy smell often puts me off. But the fish dish at Nero Bianco Deli is exceptional.

I stumble upon this restaurant’s huge signage as I drive along the road to Janda Baik, a small hill resort in Pahang.

As I get closer, I am startled by the hip and trendy black and white metal container-like design of the restaurant in the middle of a small community housing area. The black and white theme spills over to the table covers and canopies. I love the setup and the music is also inviting.

I am eager to see the menu. Just as I had expected earlier, it’s not something that you can usually get in secluded areas, surrounded by villages, jungles and farms.

Nero Bianco Deli serves mostly western cuisine, such as burgers, hotdogs, spaghetti and lasagna but one item awakens my senses; I see an aquarium with a big sign above it which reads: Fresh Water Fish. Tilapia Niloticus (red tilapia) or Tilapia Mossambicus (black tilapia) cooked in spices of salsa style served with white rice, salted egg and salad.

I tell a waitress that I would like to order the tilapia. A few minutes later, a man with a friendly smile comes over to my table. Chef Zamri Nadzri asks me: “Which tilapia would you like to have?” I ask him which is better, the red or the black?

He recommends the red tilapia as its flesh is softer and sweeter than the black variety. Having to choose your own “live” fish for your meal is exciting.

Zamri scoops a medium-size fish from the aquarium and deftly holds it, to the delighted squeals of my two little nephews who join me on the day trip to Janda Baik.

He weighs the fish and tells me the price, RM28, which is okay with me. The fish is sold at RM7.50 per kg. The price of the grilled fish includes white rice, salted egg, salad and salsa as the dipping sauce.

I wait anxiously. About 15 minutes later, my order is ready and served. It is a nicely presented set.

Traditionally, grilled fish is served with air asam, a sour dipping sauce made from tamarind juice, soya sauce, sliced chilli and onions.

The salsa in place of the air asam is unexpected. With its vibrant colours from finely chopped tomato, red onion and cilantro, and with a squeeze from half a lemon, apple cider and a teaspoon of fish sauce, the tangy salsa goes surprisingly well with the grilled fish.

The fragrance of 17 types of spices used to quickly marinade the fish hits my sense of smell instantly. I gently squeeze some lemon juice on the fish and dip a piece of its juicy white flesh into the salsa, pop it into my mouth and ooh la la, it’s heaven. No unpleasant fishy smell and no bad after taste, which you often get after eating fresh water fish.

Zamri says the fish are locally bred. He gets his supply from a pond just next to his restaurant. He tells me that Nero Bianco is a Latin word, which means black and white. These are also the colours of the Pahang flag.

Having worked for over 30 years as chef in several five-star hotels in the Klang Valley, Zamri’s culinary skills are obvious, from the superb taste of his dishes to the plating.

“When I retired a year ago, I decided to balik kampung, no, not my kampung, but my wife’s kampung,” says the chef who is from Taiping, Perak.

He takes delight in having some regular villagers coming to his deli to have bruschetta with salsa. There are also regular holidaymakers from the big cities stopping by to enjoy the chef’s “masterpieces”.

Highly recommended is the grilled tilapia but the western dishes are a must-try too. It’s definitely a thumbs-up for his absolutely delicious and creamy fresh mushroom soup.

He says he prepares it from scratch, using four different types of mushrooms, including shiitake and oyster mushrooms. A bowl is RM6 and comes with garlic bread.

Grilled chicken chop served with black pepper sauce, coleslaw and a choice of mashed potato or fries is RM10.50. German sausage, another winner, is made using Zamri’s own sausage recipe. The jumbo sausage costs RM14.50 each. Homemade Nero burgers, with a choice of beef, chicken or lamb patties, are succulent and flavourful. The burgers cost RM9 each.

NERO BIANCO DELI

WHERE
Lot 5474, Kampung Cherengin Tengah, Janda Baik

28750 Bentong, Pahang

017-881 3450

OPENING HOURS
11am-11pm, Tuesday to Sunday

Closed on Monday.

GETTING THERE
Head up to Janda Baik, 45km north of Kuala Lumpur and 1.5 hour’s drive from the city via Karak Highway. Follow the main road to the hill. Drive past an arch towards Kg Cherengin Tengah. You won’t miss the huge Nero Bianco Deli signage on the roadside.

WHAT’S COOKING
Western and Asian food.

MUST TRY
Red or black tilapia grilled with spicy paste, served with salsa, white rice, salted egg and salad, fresh mushroom soup, Nero burgers and jumbo German sausage.

YOU’LL PAY
Tilapia is RM7.50 per kg. Western dishes cost no more than RM23.

ATMOSPHERE
A peaceful place to chill out and enjoy great food.

FACILITIES
Basic with open-air seating and adequate parking space.

THE LOO
Good.

SERVICE
Friendly and welcoming.

OVERALL VERDICT
Must try.