Growing up in Jakarta, David Lim didn’t eat noodles with every meal. But sometimes he came close. “We’d eat them a lot,” he recalls, “and on Saturday my dad would make noodles from scratch for breakfast.”
So when he came to Adelaide to study at Le Cordon Bleu in 2011, he used his father’s recipes to remind himself of home. His studies took him to some of the best restaurants in the country, including a six month placement at Neil Perry’s Rockpool in Sydney. There he began by washing dishes and polishing cutlery before working his way up to become a section waiter.
Next came a stint at Melbourne’s Grossi Florentino. When he returned to Adelaide the restaurant manager recommended Lim to George Kasimitis, and he ended up working at Georges on Waymouth for three years.
But he dreamed of starting his own business, and inspiration came from an unusual quarter. “As well as Georges, I was working at Subway at the time and a thought just hit me,” he recalls. “What if I make handmade noodles but allow customers to choose their noodles, choose their toppings and choose their sides?”
He also wanted one other thing to make him stand out. “In Jakarta, every shop has a different specialty. Some shops specialise in pork, some in dry meats, some in chicken, some in a soy sauce base,” he explains. “It’s similar to ramen in Japan, it’s just not as well known worldwide.”
His own specialty is soy chicken and mushroom noodles. The sweet, slightly salty broth uses traditional Indonesian flavours like ABC kecap manis, a sweet soy sauce thickened with palm sugar that’s found in every Indonesian kitchen.
Thus Bakmi Lim was born (bakmi is the Indonesian word for noodle). With Kasimitis as a mentor, he launched the business and found a permanent home just 50 metres from Georges. Business was so good that a second store in the city soon followed, then one in Unley.
It took almost a year to find the right site for the next store, but on November 1 the fourth Bakmi Lim opened in Parade Central. “Good things take time”, Lim says philosophically, before adding, “the Norwood store is something that I'm very excited about, it’s a great area and I come here all the time.”
All the meats are marinated and cooked onsite, but the fresh noodles are delivered every day. “I want to make sure the quality and consistency is always there,” he says, before adding with a smile “and also keep the recipe secret.”
In truth, the recipe is remarkably simple. It only consists of four ingredients: flour, water, eggs and oil. There’s no MSG or preservatives and the oil gives a slight spring to the dense, pale yellow noodles.
As the business has expanded, Lim has begun spending more time in the office. Fortunately his brother has joined him in Adelaide and makes 300 kg of noodles a week to their father’s recipe. He also makes the chilli sauce, beginning with a “very spicy little chilli” which is blended and cooked with fresh tomatoes, salt, sugar and oil to soften the spice a little.
This simplicity is a hallmark of Bakmi Lim. The menu is easy to navigate but does include some rice-based options and bao because unlike Lim, “some people can’t have noodles every day”. And as for the man that inspired the business? “He came here and tasted the noodles,” Lim says before pausing to deliver the verdict: “he was very happy with them.”