Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe, 157 Rathdowne St, Carlton. Phone: 9347 1739
Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe was among my first – maybe even the very first – experience with Asian cheap eats in Melbourne.
The place had been around 10 years before that, too – they hung their shingle out 10 years before I ever stepped through the door, opening for business in 1976.
Nothing has changed.
Oh sure, the prices have crept up – but you can still get a brilliant feed for $10.
The kids have grown up, but the main couple who run the place – he over the woks, she running about taking care of all the other business – seem as ageless as their restaurant.
I suspect there are locals who have been eating here – or taking away – on a weekly basis for decades.
There’s no doubt others, too, such as myself who once lived nearby, have moved on and out, but who still find it worth the drive.
The welcome is wonderfully friendly for all.
There are only three tables – two that can seat four at a pinch, and another that handles two diners.
Better, though, are any one of the half-dozen or stools at the bar, from where you can watch all the cooking action unfold.
It’s such a fixture and monument to great food – in my mind and doubtless the minds of the many loyal customers – that I find it extraordinary that there are no reviews of any kind for it at Urbanspoon and that I am able to find only one other blogger who has written it up.
The “Chinese” in the eatery’s name is a little misleading – yes, they do heaps of straight-up noodle dishes that can be described as Chinese, as well as won ton soups and so on.
But they also do the likes of mee goreng, Hainan chicken rice and laksas.
But here’s the thing – and what make this place and its food so darn magical …
Regardless of the original national identity of any of these dishes – Malaysian, Singaporean, whatever – the folk at Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe do them their way, with individuality and personality, and caring not a whit for any traditions.
It’s almost as if this family restaurant has lived happily since its opening in its own space, going about its business in its own way as the city – and its food – has changed.
Just for instance …
The Singapore fried noodles – which I’ve been led to believe have only the most tenuous with Singapore in the first place – here come with a great brown dollop of peanut sauce on top that is quite unlike anything you’ll find in a Thai restaurant.
Similarly, the Hainan chicken rice is utterly like anything I’ve eaten under that name anywhere. Though, based on my one experience with it, I wouldn’t recommend it anyway.
One of fellow diners is eating a laksa that is a lurid yellow instead of the golden brown you’re more likely to find in Flemington.
Bennie loves the longish snack menu for one simple reason – they’re almost all deep fried!
Poppiah, sui mai (pork and beef), won tons, stuffed bean curd and more – they’re all good.
My two won tons (70 cents a pop) and a beef curry puff ($2.20) are sooper dooper crispy crunchy and astonishingly oil-free
This is a place of long-held routines, so I suspect that just about all those who come here have their favourites and mostly likely wouldn’t even think of ordering anything else.
For me, that’s the beef curry with noodles ($9.80).
It’s rare that in doing more than 200 posts for this blog that I’ve struggled to find the words.
But in casting about for the right ones to do this magnificent meal justice, I’m daunted for sure!
Like some dishes already mentioned, this a Carlton Chinese Noodle Cafe dish – and one that is quite unlike any curry I’ve had elsewhere around town.
You could say it’s sort-of in the Malaysian tradition, but without the coconut.
But that doesn’t quite nail it, either.
The gravy is incredibly rich and deep of flavour, but not at all heavy. It has a bit more of spice kick than found in most Malaysian places these days, too
The many beef pieces are almost totally fat-free and fall-apart tender.
And fall apart they do, as the eating progresses, adding to the richness of the gravy.
Likewise, my couple of potato pieces are tender and soaked in the magic.
Three pieces of bok choy sit atop, but soon they’re swimming in it, too, along with some chopped lettuce and bean sprouts buried under heaps of slippery egg noodles.
You can order this with rice if you so desire, and there’s fine chicken curry as well, but I find the bone factor tiresome.
But how stupendously wonderful is it that what could quite possibly be Melbourne’s best curry meal is to be found in a humble Chinese noodle joint?