When Ayam Goreng 99 first opened 17 years ago, nobody came. There was hardly anything like it in Sydney. Now Anzac Parade is cluttered with Indonesian restaurants, most of them constantly busy, but none have the same cult popularity as Ayam Goreng 99. Every day the restaurant is bustling with international students, Indonesian expats and food explorers. There are two reasons they keep coming back: chicken and sambal.

There are three styles of chicken – charcoal grilled, deep-fried and a sweeter Javanese style deep-fry. They are all ordered by the piece. Any cursory glance around the restaurant’s retro interior and you’ll see a distinct divide on the tables – Indonesians eating thigh and white folk eating breasts, so if you want to eat like an Indonesian, you know what to order.

While each of the three cooking styles is quite different in taste and texture, they all rely on the same preparation to keep the chicken juicy, tender and rich in flavour. “We cook them in the marinades for four-to-six hours on a low heat,” says Augustine Sathia, restaurant manager and daughter of owner Junaedy Sathia. “There's a lot of ingredients; turmeric, garlic, ginger, galangal.” Despite the restaurant’s name (it means fried chicken), it’s the grilled chicken it’s most proud of. It’s slowly charred over hot charcoals and when it’s turned over, it gets generously brushed with a rich mix of kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce), onion, garlic and spices, giving it a sticky and spicy glaze.

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Sathia says when it first opened there was a more extensive menu, with Indonesian noodle soups, and peanut salads. But after seeing the incredible popularity of the grilled chicken and sambal, it decided to concentrate on that. The short menu is mostly made up of chicken support dishes and other Indonesian street snacks, such as nasi goreng, some outrageously luscious satay and pepes, long, finger-like banana-leaf roasted-packages of tofu, anchovies or mushrooms.

Sathia says the most classically Indonesian combination is to get grilled chicken with tempeh, deep fried bits of liver and giblets, a plate of coconut and lemongrass rice and sayur assam, a sour vegetable soup. The sourness of the sayur assam – which is based on a tamarind concentrate – balances out the fatty, sweet taste of the chicken. Everything is to be eaten with both kecap manis and sambal. All the Indonesians we talked to swear it’s the best sambal in Sydney.

Many of these dishes are commonly served with intensely sweet Indonesian drink-desserts like es cendol, with pandan jelly, palm sugar and coconut milk or es campur, with shaved ice with mixed jellies, condensed milk and syrup.

Ayam Goreng 99
464 Anzac Parade, Kingsford
(02) 9697 0030

Wed–Sun 11.30am–4pm and 6pm–9pm

Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve. See the rest of the series here.