A monarch among Melbourne’s laksas (2)

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Kitchen Inn, 469 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9328 2562

Appointment in the city, park at Vic Market, left enough for time for a quick lunch – of course!

I have no great plans or destinations in mind.

Indeed, this stretch of Elizabeth Street is so busy at lunch time I’m happy to get a seat just about anywhere.

I have no plans to write or take pictures.

But then I get Kitchen Inn’s Sarawak laksa ($10.90).

CTS has been here before.

I’ve even had the laksa here on another occasion.

But …

I don’t remember it being THIS good!!!

Gravy that looks like a rich chocolate milkshake. Spice/heat levels that are just right and plenty of deep, dusky flavour – quite unlike the more regular laksas around town.

Vermicelli only in terms of noodles, which is real nice for a change.

And the extravagant goodies … oh my!

Shredded chicken, two monster pieces of chewy tofu sucking up that amazing gravy, fish cake, bean sprouts, quite a few very good prawns, noodle-like strips of omelette.

And – best of all – stacks of salty pork belly/crackling that is wonderfully crunchy to begin with but that becomes equally wonderfully soggy as the eating of my meal unfolds.

Wow.

This is a 10/10 laksa – a masterpiece of Melbourne cheap eats.

See earlier Melbourne laksa monarch post here.

 

Kitchen Inn on Urbanspoon

 

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China Bar 24 hours a day

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China Bar, 257-259 Swanston Street, Melbourne. Phone: 9639 6988

Because of a pre-fatherhood, pre-western sojourn spent living in the CBD, the Russell Street China Bar became a much-loved and endlessly reliable and enjoyable eating place.

So it’s a little difficult for me to think of China Bar as a franchise chain.

But there it is, right on the group’s website.

They’re everywhere.

And – this I did not know – the group also encompasses Claypot King and Dessert Story.

Not that that should come as any surprise – there is a marked similarity in branding.

And another surprise – according to Urbanspoon, the Russell Street branch (the original?) is “closed temporarily”.

We’re back from our Friday CBD adventure, so have no way of knowing what this means.

Maybe a short-lived closure to enable a no-doubt badly needed tart-up?

No matter … after witnessing the Melbourne Storm down the Brisbane Broncos in an exciting, tough game at AAMI Park, Bennie likes the idea of trying out the newish “24-hour” China Bar.

As we amble up Swanston Street, we seem to be amidst the wind-down of the end-of-working-week crowd, with the night-owl activity soon to be ramping up.

 

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Inside China Bar, all is China Bar – even if the physical surroundings themselves are different.

Many people are eating, staff members – some of them with familiar faces – are bustling about.

That bustle and buzz is a big part of the attraction, as it is just about anywhere in Chinatown.

There seems to be more customers than I would normally expect chowing down on dumplings and smaller dishes.

But we go with the familiar.

 

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My Hainanese crispy chicken rice costs $12.90 and stacks up thusly …

Rice – good chicken flavour but it’s packed so tightly into the bowl that it has become almost a like a pudding that needs carving.

Soup – warm only but good

Chilli, ginger/garlic/oil and cucumber accessories – oh dear, simply not enough zing.

Chicken – very crispy, very good, with a serving size that (as is so often the case) eats bigger than it appears. I could live without the gooey sauce underneath.

So … a little underwhelming considering the high esteem in which I hold the Russell Street branch, which I last visited late at night just a few months’ back.

Does this meal diminish my warm feelings for China Bar?

Just a little …

 

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Bennie is quite smug in his certainty that his “seasoning salt spare ribs with rice” ($12.90) is the superior choice of our two meals.

He may be right.

I don’t try the chicken but the accompanying jumble of onion, capsicum and spices tastes OK.

But when asked if what he’s eating is as good as the same dish at a certain Chinese joint in Sunshine, his answer is: “No!”

 

China Bar on Urbanspoon

 

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Superb spicy Chinese

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Hon’s Kitchen, 228 Union Road, Ascot Vale. Phone: 9041 4680

At first blush it would be easy to conclude the arrival of Hon’s Kitchen on Union Road is merely a case of one nondescript, generic noodle bar replacing another.

But a solo visit by yours truly – during which a rather fine beef noodle soup, a bit like pho but without the more pronounced seasoning in the broth, was enjoyed – has us thinking Hon’s Kitchen has hidden depths and riches.

Specifically, we have hunch that while black bean beef or sweet ‘n’ sour whatever may be the stock in trade here, careful menu selection may result in the sort of wonderful, top-class yet affordable Cantonese tucker we get from Dragon Express.

We love following our hunches – especially when they come good as spectacularly as they do tonight.

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Special combination fried rice ($9) is good. But really, considering the richnes of our other choices, we should have gone with the identically-priced vego version or just plain rice.

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Spicy chicken ($12.90) … truly superb!

Unlike versions we’ve had elsewhere that involve ribbettes and their bones, this dish is built around boneless chicken pieces deep-fried, with the resulting globules being delicious and marvellously crisp and dry.

Of course, the real prize here is the spicy, dry jumble of goodies that accompanies.

This includes three types of onion – crunchy brown fried shallots, green onion discs and slivers of fresh white onion.

It also includes two types of chilli – crunchy crushed numbers and evil-looking black-red bullets.

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Spicy eggplant ($12.90) is every bit as good and equally chilli-hit, albeit in quite a different way.

This number gets there through deep-frying the raw eggplant chunks and then whipping them into a sauce with chilli, vinegar and some tofu bits.

This dish was started from scratch for us – we saw the eggplant being peeled and chopped.

That such a fine dish resulted so quickly is some sort of magic, the eggplant itself displaying a deluxe lusciousness that beats even Japanese-style eggplant with miso or the slippery big pieces found in laksas.

Perhaps there’s been a mono-dimensional aspect to our meal – chillies rampant in both dishes, both of which have been deep-fried.

But the spiciness has been by no means close to our outer limits and both dishes have been ungreasy.

And while we suspect our selections are most likely among the least frequently ordered at Hon’s Kitchen, their outright excellence just adds weight to our belief that when it comes to Chinese food, some smart ordering at a humble suburban eatery can deliver eats every bit as great as anything to be found in your high-priced CBD palaces.

Hon's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Bits and pieces

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So how’s this for an eye-grabbing sign in Racecourse Road, Flemington?

Nope, can’t say I have … tried camel meat, that is.

Right next door, in the Grand Tofu, I ask Suzanne if she has.

Nope.

In fact, she seems surprised there is even such a sign gracing the halal butcher shop right next door.

What the Grand Tofu, Suzanne, Stephen and their crew do do is serve up a sperb chicken laksa.

Look, I’m quite fond of the two more famous Malaysian eateries just around the corner.

But I don’t like queues and they’re always so busy.

The Grand Tofu is frequently busy, too – but the staff always find time for a bit of a chat or at the very least a warm welcome.

Which can’t always be said of the competition.

And then there’s that chicken laksa (oh my!) – and much more besides.

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Providorable is lovely foodie haven in Williamstown – you can read about it here.

Providorable proprietor Kelly recently posted the following on her business’s Fcebook page:

“Good morning everyone, I’m feeling this morning I need to write this post. I think a lot of the local shop keepers this week would say that things are looking brighter for Xmas sales after a very quiet winter. I urge everyone to support local business. Supermarkets are trying to shut down small business, this is where you get the personal service with product knowledge, not in a supermarket. Also, WHY have the council allowed two farmers markets per month in Willy? Do you realise that now there are two it takes business away from your local shops that are the ones that pay the rates & rents to make strip shopping be still available? Have you questioned any of the stall holders at farmers markets about where some of their products come from? There are genuine items being sold but some are not from their own farms being sold direct to public. Yeah, have one a month but why 2 every two weeks … you go and buy fruit and veg, it affects your local fruit shop, same as butcher, dog treats, coffee shop, jams and relishes etc etc. PLEASE SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESS. By this market being there every two weeks, you are supporting outsiders who don’t pay the huge rents and rates we pay. OK rant over lol and enjoy your day. Williamstown has wonderful shops and fantastic shopkeepers. Keep us all in willy for years to come please.”

What do you think?

We’re quite fond of visiting farmers markets.

But in truth we rarely buy more than a coffee and maybe a snag or other eat-on-the-spot treat.

Fruit, vegetables and other produce?

Hardly ever.

But we do enthusiastically support and enjoy the hell out of our local shops and delis, be they in Williamstown, Altona, Seddon, Footscray, Sunshine or beyond.

Shopping centre Malaysian – really good

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Nyonya House, Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, 300 Point Cook Rd, Point Cook. Phone: 9394 8881

Nyonya House is in Sanctuary Lakes Shopping Centre, so we keep our expectations prudently in check.

No matter the ambitions, we fully expect the necessity of also serving coffee, cake, breakfast and more to compromise – perhaps seriously – the nature of the Malaysian food on offer.

We are dead wrong.

As becomes apparent as we scan the long, illustrated menu (see below), and as is confirmed when we enjoy a fine lunch.

This is some serious stuff going on here, the Malaysian menu seeming to have quite a notable Singaporean influence.

All the expected bases and dishes are covered, but there are a few unusual and intriguing items as well.

But with a couple of exceptions, we stick to standard dishes.

Our choices are served promptly and the service from a handful of different staff members is full of smiles and patience with our many questions.

The decor and ambiance are bog standard shopping centre, but the food vibe is of a much loftier standard.

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Char koay teow ($11.80) is average in a good way.

It’s less greasy than the norm and light on wok hei, but the spice level is a little higher than normal and the $2 extra we pay for inclusion of Chinese sausage is well spent.

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Jala are lace-like crepes – see recipe here.

They’re so delicate – eating them is akin to enjoying a meal of Sri Lankan hoppers.

We have them with chicken curry sauce for $6.80, but they’re also available as a full serve with chicken curry for $12.80. Maybe next time!

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Chicken nasi goreng ($12.80) is OK, but as ever seems to me just glorified fried rice with not much zing. Still, it suffices as a base for all else on our table.

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Achar ($6.80) is fantastic.

All Malaysian restaurants should serve this, but we don’t see it that often.

More to the point, this is a great version – sweet and sour, crunchy, and it’s a good-sized serving, too, with plenty to go round a table of four.

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Beef rendang ($16.80) is another big hit with everyone at our table.

Yet it’s unlike any previous rendang any of us have tried.

There’s no discernible coconut, for starters.

Instead, the rich, smooth gravy is heavy with black pepper, while the large chunks of beef are fat-free, firm and even a little crusty on some of the extremities.

It comes across as curried, Asian-style take on a hearty beef stew from Italy or central Europe.

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For company today we have Courtney and James.

We met them at the Paella Party, where they told me they routinely rely on Consider The Sauce and Footscray Food Blog to know where to go to eat.

My immediate thought on being told that was: “Stuff that! Time to rope these guys into helping us do some of the heavy lifting!”

Turns out they’re definitely not your passive blog readers, are in fact zealous and adventurous in pursuit of mostly cheap but always funky foodiness, and are thoroughly hip to and appreciative of Malaysian food.

Even better, as the four of us chow down it becomes clear that we have more than food in common, with the conversation zooming from science fiction and fantasy writing to anime and manga, various football codes, politics, travel, films, comics and more.

I even come away from our meal with a short but enticing list of books titles to explore.

Meeting them was a gas; having lunch with them has been even better.

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James and I mostly leave the “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” over our desserts to Bennie and Courtney.

Sago pudding ($2) is quite firm but very nice, with the caramelised sugar adding a lusty touch.

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Iced kachang ($5.80) is all about Bennie, with no comment from his dad necessary.

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Muar chee ($5.80) are cute, bursty, gnocchi-like dumplings made from glutinous rice and coated with finely chopped peanuts and sugar and sesame seeds.

Courtney loves them; I’ll sit on the fence.

What a find Nyonya House is – it strikes me as easily the equal or better of anything thing in Flemington, or Melbourne generally.

There’s plenty of scope to be more adventurous on future visits.

I’m keen to try out some of the one-for-lunch dishes such as laksa, chicken rice or the aforementioned jala with chicken curry.

And I wonder how crash-hot the $13.80 lobak or the $4.80 wonton soup might be …

Nyonya House on Urbanspoon

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Weather-proof smiles in Werribee

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MiHUB Cafe, 12 Synnot St, Werribee. Phone: 9731 7877

The Consider The Sauce men are on a mission.

We’ve been told by our “eyes and ears” in the area about a cool little Sri Lankan joint in suburban Werribee.

But we get waylaid by other plans as we’re tooling through the Werribee CBD.

As we’re passing it, I say to Bennie: “That’s MiHUB Cafe over there …”

His immediate response is: “That’s where I’d like to go!”

But, but, but … his dad has the scent of the unknown and possibly delicious in his nostrils and is in a hunting mood.

But then again, OK, let’s do it your way, Mr Five Bowls.

Whatever the imperatives of new places and blog posts, I know fully well enough by now to relax and chill when appropriate, to let Bennie have his way – sometimes he evinces wisdom far superior to that of his father in such matters.

And the Sri Lankan place will still be standing by the time we get there.

Since first writing about this marvellous Sundays-only migrant-based operation, I have returned to MiHUB Cafe just for the sheer pleasure of it, but this is Bennie’s first visit.

He ends up enjoying it just as much as I do.

Bennie takes my adamant advice and goes for the gado gado ($5).

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He loves it a lot.

And it’s as I recall – a lively mix of vegetables, tofu and hard-boiled egg topped with superbly rich, dark and spicy peanut sauce unlike any found on your typical restaurant gado gado around Melbourne.

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My own plate of mixed curries with rice ($10) is less all-round successful, with the two vegetable dishes being somewhat forgettable.

The beef rendang is a winner, though.

And the highlight is a beautiful chicken curry, light on the spiciness but ultra-fragrant with lemongrass.

One problem with eating outside on such a chilly day – everyone present is pretty much rugged-up – is the food tends to go cold quickly.

But really, food is just part of the story here – the smiles and the friendliness are weather-proof.

While we’re lunching, any number of people wave hello with big smiles or come up and chat to us about, say, a Malaysian village planned for Broadmeadows or a planned venue move for the MiHUB Cafe operation itself.

We’ll keep you posted about both.

Mihub Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Feeling the love in Hoppers Crossing

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Glory We Cafe, 3/76 Old Geelong Rd, Hoppers Crossing. Phone: 9394 8845

While we enjoyed our first visit to Glory We Cafe, the chances of return visits seemed slim at best, especially given the options we have in the greater western suburbs for the sort of food it serves.

But since that visit, a few things have happened – with the upshot being the Glory We crew have earned our return custom through their goodwill, sincerity and dedication in engaging with their customers.

For one thing, they have made the switch from plastic, disposable implements and receptacles to those of a more re-usuable variety.

We don’t know or care if Consider The Sauce had anything to do with them making that change – we are simply happy that they have.

For another, we couldn’t help but notice the regular updates on their Facebook page in which they have been introducing new, alluring and seemingly authentic dishes of a Singaporean and Malaysian nature.

So off we go for Sunday lunch!

That Glory We remains a rather charmless, utilitarian space is well and truly compensated for by depth of the warm and caring service that is bestowed upon us on our return visit, service way above that we commonly expect from such places.

Combined with reliably good and sometimes very good food and the lack of alternatives in this general neighbourhood, we reckon Glory We fully deserves whatever good reputation it is earning as a westie hotspot.

The same photos that have appeared on the joint’s Facebook page grace the walls of the restaurant, so we take only a few minutes to make our selections.

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Mee goreng ($9.50) looks nothing special – like what might get served in any old shopping centre food court, in fact.

But this wet version tastes a whole lot better than that.

A wonderfully gooey fried egg sits atop lovely al dente egg noodles, with calamari, prawns, egg and tofu complemented by crunchy onion slivers and some greenery.

It’s simple, homely and fine.

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Our second dish is the subject of today’s Glory We Facebook post: “XO Sauce Fried Carrot Cake – Introducing our NEW weekend delicacy which is a common dish in Singapore which Singaporeans eat throughout the day whether at breakfast, lunch, dinner or even supper. This dish consist of stir-fried cubes of raddish cake. You can order it fried with or without sweet black sauce. To order one fried with sweet black sauce, you have to tell our friendly staff you want it ‘black’.”

This is a new one on us, so we had sought advice from Ms Baklover, who spent a week or so eating her away around the island state a while back and so whom we consider an oracle of all things Singaporean.

She told us it’s a delicious dish “when made right”, but to be cautious when it comes to the “black” version as she finds it a bit on the cloying side herself.

So we order and don’t ask for dark – and end up with the dark variety ($9.50) anyway.

It’s OK and Bennie likes it but, truthfully, I do find it too rich and oily.

Our bemusement over what we’ve been provided sparks some charming back-and-forth dialogue with the staff, with the chef explaining that the dark version is a Singaporean preference and light a Malaysian one.

“That’s OK – we’re Malaysian,” I proclaim.

(Cue much laughter all ’round …)

So we’re served a plate of the lighter variety of the Glory We Cafe XO Sauce Fried Carrot Cake at no charge.

(It’s important to acknowledge that this generosity and level of customer care would have been afforded us no matter who we were or that the staff members eventually twigged that we were food bloggers or some other sort of busybodies.)

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Ahhh, this is more like it – and much more to both our liking.

There’s a lighter touch going on here and much more textural variety, with the raddish cake pieces having nicely tanned and crisped exteriors.

At this stage of our meal, though, it’s more than we can consume so what’s left goes home with us.

If this dish, no matter how good, is unlikely to become a firm CTS favourite, we’ve had such a fine time at Glory We that this place already is.

Check out the Glory We Cafe Facebook page here.

Glory We Cafe on Urbanspoon

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