Chef Lagenda, Shop 9/10, 835A Ballarat Rd, Deer Park. Phone: 8358 5389
Why on earth order a vegetarian laksa?
Well, I can think of a couple of really good reasons, actually.
For one thing, to get more than just the single piece of eggplant that customarily accompanies laksa soup/noodles of the chicken or seafood varieties.
For another, sometimes – and just like most carnivores of various kinds I know – I just feel like vegetables.
My Chef Lagenda vegetarian laksa ($8.90) scores highly in both regards.
My TWO pieces of eggplant are magnificent – larger than is usually the case, slippery, tender, tasty and with a luscious smokiness.
The laksa broth is very creamy and of only mild spiciness, but has fine depth of house-made flavour.
There’s vegetable galore – bok choy, broccoli, bean sprouts, along with plenty of chewy leather-skinned cubes of tofu sopping with gravy juices.
This Chef Lagenda is, of course, a sister restaurant for the establishment of the same name in Flemington, the one that often seems as famous for its symbiotic and/or competitive relationship with its neighbour, Laksa King, as it is for its food.
The Deer Park joint’s menu is mostly the same as the one in Flemo, but there seems to be a whole lot more room here – perhaps because it’s a single room, as opposed to the Crooked House dynamics in Flemington.
When I visit for lunch it’s only the second day of operation.
The manager, Francis, tells me that while this lunchtime is slow, on opening night they were 70 per cent full without any advertising at all.
Meanwhile, whatever tricks I’d played on my mind – if not my digestive system – by ordering a non-meat dish are soon brought undone.
For by this time, unsurprisingly, Francis and her enthusiastic staff have twigged that I am writer, reviewer, blogger or some other sort of busybody.
So I am presented with a complementary sampler plate of the house-made roast meats.
Now, I may be able to summon a sufficiently straight to face to claim that had I been asked if I wanted this freebie, I would’ve replied in the negative.
But when the goodies are already right in front of me?
No way, Jose!
And I’m ever so glad.
Roast duck, roast pork, crackling pork – all really good, smoky, salty, tender. Better, in fact, than most places that specialise in such meaty goodies.
I gobble it all up yet am unable to finish my huge serve of laksa.
And FWIW, I doubt very much that anything I am served is in any way different from what is served to any other customer.
I see no reason that Chef Lagenda shouldn’t be riotously successful.
For starters, as far as I’m aware it’s the only Malaysian restaurant for 10km in any direction – maybe even 20km.
For another, and based on what I have for lunch, the place comes with the already well-established Chef Lagenda reputation for consistency and quality.
Locals are no doubt wildly happy about this opening.
As for the rest of us, it’s worth the trip.
For the time being, and very much so when compared to Flemington, the car parking is a breeze.
Before hunkering down for lunch, I’d strolled the entire Deer Park strip and was gratified by the potential riches I had noted – including a couple of classy kebab joints, one with a killer-looking lamb shank soup and chilli dip; an interesting and cheap Viet/Chinese off the main strip; and a fine-looking deli.