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.

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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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MiHUB Cafe

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

(See a later story on MiHUB Cafe here).

MiHUB Cafe has lived at other places and on other, more numerous days of the week.

But it’s been at its current address in Werribee for about a year and is, for the time being, open only on Sundays – from about 10am ’til 3pm.

My visit is absolutely guaranteed to be the first of many.

There are kids running everywhere.

Everyone is smiling. Everyone is friendly.

The food is great.

The people are even better.

All up, this glorious community initiative – in the courtyard of a brick house that is Migrant Hub HQ – feels pretty much like the very essence of what Consider The Sauce is all about.

Today there are stalls selling incredibly cheap Indonesian, Singaporean and Chinese (congee) food.

At other times there have been and will be the likes of Indian, Pakistani and even Tongan tucker.

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Chicken curry with roti ($6) makes a fine start.

The curry looks on the mean side quantity-wise, but is surprisingly filling. It’s quite oily mind you, but the gravy is rich, sticky and delicious, while the meat on the two small drumsticks comes from the bones easily to complete a curry that is quite unlike any I’ve had in a south-east Asian eatery.

Heading here from Yarraville, I’d been quietly hoping for home-cooked food – as opposed to restaurant food.

It seems I’m in luck in that regard.

Potato curry puffs ($1.50 each) are crisp and delightful.

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Two of the lovely people I meet are cafe manager/cook Nora and Migrant Hub president Walter.

She’s originally from Malaysia, he from the Philippines.

Walter explains to me the cafe is just part of what the hub does in working to help migrants of all sorts make their way in Australia.

Part of that is not just about familiarising them with Australian ways but also the ways of other migrant communities – and the cafe seems like an ideal way to facilitate that particular objective.

Walter also talks with me about the health issues facing migrant communities.

These include bringing with them from their countries of origin cooking styles often based largely around a scarcity of meat and landing in an affluent country where it’s easy for just about anyone to eat more (too much) meat and other prized (unhealthy) ingredients.

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The curry and puffs have done for me food-wise, but no way can I say “no” when Walter organises a plate of gado gado ($5) for me.

It’s the spiciest gado gado I’ve ever eaten.

It’s also – by quite a considerable margin – the BEST I’ve ever eaten.

Chewy omelette, tofu, potato, bean sprouts, cucumber, carrot and half a hard-boiled egg are smothered by a superb, dark and sticky peanut sauce.

Wow, it’s good!

I’ll diet tomorrow – honest!

Mihub Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Lazat Malaysian Restaurant

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Lazat Malaysian Restaurant, 495 Ballarat Rd, Sunshine. Phone: 9312 7880

Lazat is a new Malaysian eatery in Sunshine, and a very welcome in that it is the suburb’s first of that denomination – AFAIK.

It’s accessed from an always busy and unlovely stretch of Ballarat Rd – miss the turn-off an you’ll be going around the block. Although we’re pleased to learn there is also access from Hampshire Rd – turn off at Chinese restaurant Golf Leaf.

Lazat occupies a building formerly home to a short-lived place called Grills Plus and, before that, a Souvlaki Hut (I think …)

Some of that fast-food vibe lives on in the set-up and decor, but we enjoy a lovely and late (for us) lunch.

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Moreover, the service is spot on, our food arrives with admirable speed and there is a welcoming presence in the form of manager Francis, who has landed here after helping launch Chef Lagenda in Deer Park.

Perhaps best of all, in an area where late-opening joints are difficult to find, Lazat is open until 10pm every night of the week except Saturdays and Sundays – on which it is open until 11pm!

There’s outdoor seating and a function room available.

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We enjoy having our pal Carl, a former Geelong Advertiser colleague of mine, along for the ride so can go a bit further than just a bowl of noodles or rice each.

On the other hand, us hungry boys plump for regular Malaysian eatery mainstays that mostly satisfy without really setting our worlds on fire. With one fine exception …

Curry puffs ($5.80), prawn dumplings ($6) and lobak $5.50) – all are average in the good sense of the word and are gobbled up with glee.

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The star of our show is beef rendang ($16.80).

The is very mildly spiced but the gravy is deep, dark and rich and the meat is fall-apart tender.

Better yet, it’s of a far better quality than we’re mostly familiar with when ordering this dish – there’s no gristle or fat here. At all.

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Our gado gado is a cause for puzzlement.

The mix of tofu, hard-boiled egg, snow peas, bok choy and broccoli is good mixed with a nice peanutty sauce.

But $14.80 seems a really steep price for such a dish.

No matter – we’ve enjoyed our feed, and Bennie and I suspect we’ll be back soonish to try such Malaysian benchmarks as Hainan chicken rice and/or mee goreng.

We take Carl to La Morenita for coffee before calling it a day.

 Lazat Malaysian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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Penang Road

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Penang Road, 177 Clarendon St, South Melbourne. Phone: 9690 0536

My non-blogging journalism career seems to be mirroring, in its own way, the rapidly changing nature of work in Australia and no doubt elsewhere.

After 15 and more years on the one masthead and pretty much two decades with a single employer, I am on to my third workplace in as many years.

I’m finding myself nimble enough to keep pace with changing circumstances and enjoying the various challenges.

Even better, a far higher number of the stories I am working with are to do with coffee and/or food and/or restaurants than has previously been the case, even if mostly they’re about places I am not viscerally interested in or can afford.

At my new South Melbourne office, home of the The Weekly Review and associated enterprises, there are a few familiar faces from other places and times, but a lot of shared history even with those I have never met before.

Ironically, the one staff member with whom I share a deep and lengthy job history went unnoticed by me, so long had it been since we worked together.

It was only when partaking in a discussion of the local lunch options that he reminded me of all that and the metaphorical penny dropped. Turns out he’s hip to Consider The Sauce, too!

Ben is deeply involved in the business development side of things and is the office wine writer/guru to boot, so not so coincidentally likes a good feed, too.

So when he robustly enthuses about the Malaysian place just around the corner, I take notice for sure.

Still, work continues to be deadline-driven, so opportunities for lunch escapes are not that common.

Finally, though, we escape for a brief but spectacularly fine Malaysian lunch.

Penang Road has a modest facade, so gives little away about what goes on within.

Stepping through the door, though, I am pleasantly surprised to find a cheerfully busy restaurant with quite classy dark wood furniture, a step up from, say, Coconut House.

Penang Road has all he expected bases covered – laksas, rice dishes, noodles and snacks.

The place is quite crowded but we quickly score a table and get down to perusing the menu, placing our orders at the counter and getting our “number”.

Our food arrives with gratifying haste – and it’s brilliant!

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Ben’s chicken rice ($9.60) looks fabulous.

Very good rice and plain soup/broth with what I suspect are chicken balls floating in it – neither of us get around to finding out, so intent are we on the meatier side of things and a wide-ranging conversation.

Best of all, the all-important mix of soy sauce, oil, chicken broth, ginger and garlic in which his boneless chicken resides is way more plentiful than is the norm in Melbourne’s Malaysian cheap eats joints.

And it’s tasty, too.

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My “chicken chop with rice” ($9.90) is superb, though it’s a nutritionist’s nightmare in almost every conceivable and excellent way.

Same fine chicken rice and broth, albeit minus the balls.

Good fried egg atop the rice.

Plenty of chilli sauce of just the right heat levels on the side.

And the chicken?

This is truly “OMG fried chicken” of a kind to make the Colonel blush with shame.

It’s boneless (despite being described as “chop”), crispy, wonderfully chewy, ungreasy and so plentiful that I am unable to devour it all, despite rampant deliciousness.

The garlicky, spicy tang of our lunch lingers with gusto deep into a hard-working afternoon.

I find it thrilling that such a beaut Melbourne cheap eats experience has eventuated through evolving changes in the media landscape.

Than again, it’s not surprising at all … and how about those prices?

Penang Road on Urbanspoon

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Lazat: Malaysian food for Sunshine

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SEE REVIEW HERE.

Lazat, 495 Ballarat Rd, Sunshine. Phone: 9312 7880

Once upon a time, not so long ago and outside of Flemington, there was nary a trace of Malaysian food in the western suburbs.

Then arrived Wok Noodle in Seddon.

And then, more recently, Chef Lagenda hung out its shingle in Deer Park to wild applause of most who live in the vicinity.

Now those two are to be joined by another Malaysian joint, on a busy, unlovely bit of Ballarat Rd just up from the Gold Leaf eatery of Chinese persuasion.

When I drop in to get the lowdown, things are in a state of disarray, but management tells me they’ll be up and running in about a week – and even, “hopefully”, by Monday, December 2.

The building they’re taking over was most recently sporting signage that said something along the lines of “Grills Plus”, but it was closed down by the time I noticed it and so have no idea what, if anything, was cooking when it was running.

If it ever was.

The menus the Lazat folk provide me hold little by way of surprises but are reassuringly stacked with familiar faves – the usual noodles about the $11 mark, soft shell crabs two for $12.80, Hainan chicken rice at $9.80, roast meats, lobak for $5 and so on.

One word: Yummy!

Kitchen Inn

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Kitchen Inn, 471 Elizabeth St , Melbourne. Phone: 3330 0023

Kitchen Inn – at peak times – is no doubt already as mad busy as Coconut House, just up Elizabeth St about a block.

Evidently, there is significant interest in this newish place’s specialty – the food of Sarawak, a state on Borneo in Malaysia.

That Kitchen Inn has created a buzz among Sarawakian students and expats of various kinds is eloquently and expertly testified to by bloggers Kimba’s Kitchen, Arrow Foodie and Yellow Eggs, whose reviews are no doubt far more authoritative than my own will be.

Nevertheless, it is with a keen sense of adventure that I hit the place for lunch.

In our world, anything that fosters regional specialties has a good chance of going to the top of the “to do” list. It’s not just food but also things like music and languages that are being sorely strained, often to the point of extinction, by the forces of globalisation.

It’s a small eating house with a bottleneck at the cash register, where people paying for their meals dodge staff delivering food to customers yet to eat – or pay.

The longish menu has some familiar names – Hainan chicken rice, Singapore fried vermicelli and nasi lemak.

But I wouldn’t expect them to be routine offerings – the Sarawak laksa, for instance, looks and sounds quite different to the norm.

From what I can gather, if Sarawak was a nation, the national dish might well be kolo mee, so that’s what I order.

The Wikipedia entry for the city of Kuching describes kolo mee as “egg noodles, flash-boiled, then classically served with crushed garlic and shallot, minced pork or beef, white vinegar, either vegetable oil, pork oil or peanut oil, and sliced barbecue pork known as char siu or beef”.

The kolo mee special, at $11, is $2.50 more than the regular, for which extra money you get three plump prawns. “Deal 4″ at $15 gets me kolo mee special with a bowl of “Special Soup”.

The soup’s broth has a quite intense and briny bitterness. It’s OK, I slurp it, but I won’t be in hurry to try it again.

The pork balls are tender tending to mushy, and delicious. The other meat is thin-sliced and has the delicacy and texture of lamb’s tongue.

I subsequently discover it’s actually pork liver.

Would I have ordered it had I known pork liver was involved?

No.

Did I like it?

Yes.

The kolo mee is fine – quite mildly seasoned, it’s much more interesting in the flavour department than it appears.

There’s a heap of thin house-made noodles, with just a enough juice/sauce at the bottom of the bowl to make the dish fly.

The prawns are OK but a bit of an irrelevancy.

The pork mince actually adheres quite well to the noodles, but predictably and delightfully the meal gets better as it is ending as there’s more juice, mince and roast pork to go in to every mouthful.

It’s an engaging taste overall – one I’ll inaccurately describe as “slightly smoky” because I can’t think a better way of putting it.

Next time?

Maybe I’ll try No.31 –  Marmite chicken ribs with rice.

Kitchen Inn on Urbanspoon

Vy Vy

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Vy Vy, 318 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9372 1426

THIS RESTAURANT IS NOW CLOSED.

The exterior signage says: “Vietnamese, Chinese & Malaysian Cuisine.”

But the internal furniture and fittings give the game – if that’s what it is – away.

This is a Flemington favourite with a Chinese lineage that attempts dishes from other Asian traditions.

And mostly, we’ve found over the years, it does an excellent job – so much so that for us and many regulars, it is preferable for Malaysian food to its far more lauded neighbours around the corner in Pin Oak Crescent or just up the road, or even right next door.

Oddly, for this mid-week dinner, that proves not to be the case – what we get are good plates and bowls that are nonetheless full of food that is only loosely Malaysian as filtered through a Chinese kitchen.

But tonight we care not a whit for authenticity.

It’s cold, we’re hungry, football practice has been long of duration.

Even more auspiciously, just as we’re about to order, a supreme example of humanity enters the restaurant to hand me the $20 note I’d left dangling out of the ATM across the road.

We salute you, Sir!

Our shared lobak ($5) has none of the usual vegetable texture from the likes of carrot.

This is just about all pork of a sublimely chewy kind and, as always, we love the crunchy, crispy tofu outer.

This is a very meaty entree!

Bennie is absolutely adamant – in the face of advice based on infinite wisdom from his dad – that he wants to order the satay fried beef noodles.

Thankfully, our bubbly waitress, Tiffany, talks him out of such a course on the basis of high levels of spiciness.

Instead, he gets hokkien fried noodles ($11.50), which goes down a treat – its array protein keeps the lad happy, while the profusion of greenery mollifies his father.

He rates it a high 8.5 out of 10, but it’s very much a toned-down version of the Malaysian hokkien mee – less dark, less lusty, just less.

Much the same could be said of my beef curry with noodles ($10).

The menu describes the curry as “rendang”, and such has been the case on previous visits.

But not this time – there’s no coconut to speak of and the gravy is soup, and a pretty runny one at that.

The meat is good, but a little on the fatty/gristly side. And I wish I’d gotten hokkien noodles instead of the rather dreary egg noodles I get.

But – surprisingly – the dish as a whole kicks goals.

I love the high chilli levels and plentiful amount of bok choy.

Certainly a curry bowl in which the sum is greater than the parts.

We’ve been here too often to be even slightly deterred by an oddly “un”-Malaysian experience.

As she shows us before and after photographs of her splendid work as a make-up artist, Tiffany tells us that the family business was one of the very first Racecourse Rd eateries.

They’ve been in the current premises for more than 10 years and before that inhabited the building a couple of doors down that still houses Chop Chop and a few others.

Besides, sometimes there’s an awful lot to be said for formica, tiles, smiles and equine artwork.

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Chef Lagenda

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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. 

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The Grand Tofu … again

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Fried squid tentacles ($6.80) at The Grand Tofu.

The Grand Tofu, 314 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9376 0168

It’s been a pleasure attending the first rugby practice for the new season.

Bennie has dug being with his teammates again and running the drills.

The location – Footscray Park below Victoria University – lends itself to heading in various directions for a quick feed before heading home.

Bennie favours Ebi, but I persuade him Flemington is the go by mentioning that friends have tipped us that the fried squid tentacles at The Grand Tofu are hot.

After our recent and first post from there, I have been a little surprised and also gratified to learn – from comments left, other reviews and the tentacle recommendation from two former work colleagues whose family always has a firm grasp of the Flemo eateries – The Grand Tofu is widely regarded as a beaut spot that is more than holding its own with the famous alternatives around the corner in Pin Oak Crescent.

We’re happy to pursue the matter further.

After parking, we pass one of the few non-Asian eateries in the area.

We find it impossible not to glance at the dips combo an inner-city hipster with a Hitler moustache is eating at a window table.

He glares at us.

Much to my surprise, Bennie is largely unmoved by the tentacles – but his dad loves them.

The batter is unoily, crunchy and beautifully seasoned; the tentacles themselves are right on the good side of the chewiness concept.

Beware though – this a big serving, much bigger than it looks in real life or in the photo above.

Really, Bennie and I could share these and a single bowl of noodles for a perfectly filling meal.

Bennie goes for the yong tofu – six pieces, noodles, soup for $10 – his first experience with this particular eating experience.

He rejects the combos available and chooses his own – no surprise he steers strongly towards the meatier dumplings and away from the stuffed vegetables.

At first, this kind of meal seems just right for the lad – hey, it’s just like yum cha for one, right?

But he tires of it quickly and even leaves a couple of the dumplings uneaten. A case of too much of a good thing, perhaps?

His dad chooses the Penang king prawn noodle soup ($12.80).

This is good and a huge serve, but it strikes me as a tad uninspired.

The broth is suitably prawny, though the two fat beasties themselves are a on the doughy side.

Given the price, though, I suspect there are plenty of Grand Tofu dishes that’ll be more to my liking on future visits, while Bennie will definitely want the BBQ pork dry noodle next time around.

We’ve tried too hard, but that lessens not our affection for this establishment.

Bennie’s experience with oysters is minimal but his eyes glitter as spectacular, fiery serves of flaming lemon grass oysters are carried to adjacent tables.

And perhaps this’ll be the place to come when we feel like splashing out on chilli mud crab.

Returning to our wheels, we notice that the inner-city hipster with the Hitler moustache is talking to a lady friend at an outside table.

And having just about as much fun.

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Coconut House

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Coconut House in Elizabeth St, Melbourne.

Coconut House, 449 Elizabeth St, Melbourne. Phone: 9329 6401

Long before Consider The Sauce became a reality and changed our lives in so many ways, we had been sometime visitors to Coconut House and enjoyed some cracking meals along the way.

About the time we started blogging, though, we had a few meals that weren’t bad but barely passed as average.

It seemed then, and sadly still does now, the place is a victim of its own success.

It seems an obvious foodie magnet – cheap Malaysian dishes delivered in their hundreds and thousands in a place packed at just about all times for a price that, even now, finds just about every dish priced at just under $10.

But we had noticed a diminution in our Coconut House experiences – the already frantic and somewhat haphazard service became a case of furrowed brows all round and the food started becoming sloppy and quite often barely warm.

No one expects fine-dining elan in such a joint, but too many rough edges simply drives down the enjoyment levels until you wonder what you’re doing there in the first place.

All this occurred about the same time as I was starting to spend quite a lot of time checking out other blogs and reviews, so I knew we were not alone.

While there were and are plenty of raves for this popular place, by and large the collective opinion seems to be that it’s a hit-and-miss affair – with the accent on the misses.

So it goes … our Sunday lunch does nothing to improve our opinions.

The opening of a second premises a few doors down – to which meals are ferried – does not seem to have alleviated the cramped, chaotic feel.

And the staff still seem to be working so very, very hard that they almost seem to impart an air of joylessness.

All this would be fine if the food was really first-rate.

But it’s not.

I’d love to be able to say our lunch was super or even just plain old good – but in truth it was average verging on mediocre.

The menu has grown since our earlier visits – there’s a variety of claypots and even some Thai dishes.

But Bennie and I stick with our regular faves, mostly to see how Coconut House is faring these days – one blog discussion I remember stated that management were aware of customers complaints and disenchantment, and were working to fix the causes.

Bennie has his egg noodles with BBQ pork and roast chicken.

The noodles arrive in one big clump and are barely warm. It takes some effort to untangle some of them and toss them around in the soy-based sauce. Drab is the appropriate word.

He likes the pork – but then, he always does.

His chook tastes pretty good to me but he’s not impressed.

He doesn’t touch the egg – not his go even when they’re not dyed dark.

The rice part of my chicken rice is overwhelming in it garlickness.

Is this a normal variation of this great dish?

I’ve never been to Malaysia, nor any other part of South-East Asia where I might order chicken rice, but I’ve enjoyed many, many versions all over Melbourne and I’ve never come across “garlic rice”.

In any case, the garlic flavour is so powerful – in an unappealing way – that it lingers hours after we arrive home.

The chicken is beautifully tender and expertly devoid of bones, but gosh it’s lacking any kind of chooky flavour at all.

Or maybe it’s being shouted down by the “garlic rice”!

In both meals, the chilli mash accompanying is the best of our lunch.

The soup, we both find, is uninspired, with oil slicks and mushy peanuts.

I suspect much of Coconut House’s appeal and rampant popularity can be attributed to its clever variations-on-a-theme menu.

If we return, however, I’ll be sure to order one of the usually reliable laksas.

In the meantime, while they may not have the same innovative menu configuration, there are five places in Flemington where much the same food can be had – of higher quality, at similarly low prices and in a less harried atmosphere.

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The Grand Tofu

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Yong tofu goodies at the Grand Tofu in Flemington.

The Grand Tofu, 314 Racecourse Rd, Flemington. Phone: 9376 0168

A more recent review can be found here.

Restaurant experience or eat-and-run?

That’s what hungry hordes descending on Flemington may ponder, particularly if they find full-to-overflowing the fabled Laksa King and the already storied Chef Lagenda, both just around the corner, but still desire Malaysian food.

They’re likely to find themselves entering The Grand Tofu, being well fed in a beaut joint and deciding that Plan C is the preferred option after all.

I suspect that’ll certainly be the case with us.

At Laksa King, in particular, they try to do the right thing by having a staff member you to your table, issuing menus, returning to take your order – the whole nine yards, which is fine really.

But, honestly, sometimes all I want is a bowl of something. Now.

Actually, describing The Grand Tofu as an eat-and-run place is a little unkind as the routine is pretty much the same – but there’s an ease and immediacy about it that I dig..

Sure, there’s a wall of those photos and a robust lunchtime crowd that appears to agree with my positive assessment.

The place is kitted out with nice dark-stain furniture, mirrors and hand-written specials notifications on paper.

But the smiling service is every bit as obliging and efficient as that of their two famous neighbours, the prices appear to near-identical and The Grand Tofu appears to have all their bases covered … and more.

For there’s a lot to try here.

As well as lobak on the entree menu, they have dumplings and entree-size soups of four denominations for about $4.50

As well as all the expected noodle, rice, soup and curry offerings, there’s the likes of Penang king prawn noodle soup ($12.80) and even butter chicken ($16.80) – described as deep-fried chicken w/ chef special sauce”.

Gosh – what’s that all about, I wonder? Indo-Malaysian?

Yong tofu with curry sauce base at The Grad Tofu in Flemington.

And then there’s the yong tofu lineup, which I choose to constitute my lunch in honour of the place’s name.

The glistening, glowing spread is all made in-house, I am assured.

You can go with one of three pre-chosen combos of six pieces each to go with your stock, curry or tom yum soup and noodles.

Or you can be real daring and go custom-built.

Both versions cost a fine $10.

Which is what do by ordering lightly fried pork and seafood ball, seafood stuffed eggplant, chicken dumpling, prawn dumpling, stuffed chilli and chicken-stuffed doughnut with curry soup and rice noodles.

As you can see, I erred on the side of naughtiness in ordering, but I doubt the vegetable options here are any more healthy than the meat or seafood alternatives.

In any case, they’re all good.

The dumplings all have a nice sogginess going on by  the time I get to them.

I leave the eggplant until last, only to find it’s cooked wonderfully in the soup and is slippery slithery delicious.

The curry soup is no great shakes, but I’m heartened by finding a curry leaf, which I hope denotes it’s a house-made brew.

Besides, I get a nice kick from the stuffed chilli, which is both spicy and juicy.

The rice noodles are a nice alternative to the egg noodles I usually have with this sort of fare.

This a big meal – I don’t finish the noodles or soup.

I’m dead keen to return here with Bennie in tow – I like their style.

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Chef Lagenda revisted

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16 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2668

Since out earlier visits to Chef Lagenda and its cheek-by-jowl neighbour Laksa King, our incessant orbiting has found us looking elsewhere for our jollies.

In the meantime, it’s been a bunch of fun reading myriad comments about both – comparing them, weighing up the various pluses and minuses, sometimes opining that one is superior to the other and even pondering the politics/relationship between the two.

We care nothing for that last point, and if we rate one above the other – and after today’s lunch, we most certainly do – it seems beyond dispute to us that whatever the rivalry between the Flemington neighbours, it is actually good for the business of both in the long-term.

A feature of the Chef Lagenda menu is the Meal Deal.

For $9.50, they offer a choice of two meats (steamed chicken, roast chicken, BBQ pork, soya duck), noodles or rice (flat rice noodles, hokkien noodles, vermicelli, egg noodles, chicken rice) and soup (clear chicken, laksa, tom yum, soya sauce (dry)).

Bennie goes BBQ pork, roast chicken, hokkien and tom yum and loves it, slurping and sipping with gusto.

As far as I’m aware this his first prolonged exposure to tom yum and it’s mild enough to be no problem, though it seems a little on the sweet side to me and he tires of it before the end.

The meats are in biggish chunks and, oddly, taste more like Western roasts than is usual in Asian eateries, and a little on the dry side, too. No matter – there’s plenty of moisture going on, including the bed of yummy wilted bean sprouts on which the meats reside.

The Meal Deal is a good deal, especially I suspect for kids.

I go for the straight-up bog standard curry laksa ($9.20) – and it’s a beauty.

At first glance, it lacks the devastating and lusty oomph of the laksa swooned over this year at Nasi Lemak House.

But it is of broader and deeper appeal.

Rather than usual couple of prawn tails, this rendition features something like half a dozen fat doozies full of flavour. Exceptional! (I’d already scarfed a couple before I realised this laksa’s prawn count was unusual, so cannot be more precise …)

Likewise, the fish cake is more thickly sliced than is the norm.

There’s ample bits of chicken and chewy juicy tofu, and the soup/gravy is good, though on the mild side.

The crowning glory is the largish slice of eggplant sitting atop the lot – it’s slippery, delicious and Bennie gets none of it.  Ha!

We like the quirky crooked-house layout of Chef Lagenda, and the service is just as good as the food.

The Chef Lagenda website is here.

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China Bar

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10 Pratt St, Moonee Ponds. Phone: 9370 1188

Like Kuni’s, the China Bar in Russell St was a familiar and regular part of my routine when working and living in the CBD.

It was and is a popular place, its reputation seemingly built on consistency and late opening hours.

China Bar, is of course, something of a misnomer, as most customers at the outlets spread across Melbourne order food that has its origins in Malaysia or even Thailand.

In any case, the China Bar in Moonee Ponds has never caught our eye in the same way.

Maybe that’s just down to change or to some unsatisfactory experiences at the Highpoint China Bar.

But a few weeks back we stopped by the Ponds joint to grab some barbecue pork to takeaway, if only to save ourselves making another stop, in Footscray, on the way home.

While there, we saw some pretty keen-looking tucker being consumed and made a mental note.

A return for a Sunday lunch was a surprise that maybe shouldn’t have been a surprise at all.

One of the dishes I almost always ordered at Russell St was the achar, so I am pleased to see it still on the menu.

 The price has crept up ($6), though. Should I?

Curiosity wins out, and I’m ever so glad.

It’s got carrot, pineapple, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber and sesame seeds.

It’s chilled, crunchy, only a little oily, with profound vinegar flavour but only a mild chilli hit.

It’s perfect in every way.

This augurs well for my main fare, another dish remembered with fondness from Russell St forays, one with which we’ve had hit and miss experience in the west – hainannese chicken rice ($10.80).

The soup is of perfect hotness, not too salty and tasty in a way that strongly suggests flavour enhancers. I care not.

The rice isn’t quite as super as I recall, but more than adequate.

The chicken is tender and flavoursome. I don’t mind chicken being bone-in, but if it’s bone-free I expect, demand that it be scrupulously so – as it is here.

There’s plenty of soy sauce-flavoured water under my chook to pour in the rice, along with an OK and mildish chili sauce and a lovely, coarse mash of spring onion, ginger and oil. The remnants of the soup also go on the rice.

It’s very, very good – even if just a smidgeon short of the achar’s outstandingness.

Maybe it just goes to show … nostalgia IS what it used to be and familiarity with the China Bar brand has bred some unjustified contempt.

On the basis of this visit, it seems the Moonee Ponds China Bar has the wood over those two much talked and blogged about Malaysian establishments in Flemington, Chef Lagenda and Laksa King.

If the achar and chicken rice are so good, there seems no reason why other Malay staples aren’t just as hot.

China Bar may not offer the same “eating out” vibe as those two Flemo places, but that’s of little concern to us.

I suspect we’ll be back soon.

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Nasi Lemak House

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115 Grattan St, Carlton. Phone: 9663 1555

Is there a difference between health food and healthy food?

For me, the former conjures up images of alfalfa sprouts and boringly earnest bean casseroles.

The latter, I guess, is anything we eats that’s good for us.

My $10.90 curry laksa is very definitely neither.

The curry gravy is creamy and oily.

There are egg noodles only; none of your rice noodles here.

The only trace of greenery are scarce segments of green onion.

Gad, the chunky chicken pieces are even fried!

But it’s the best laksa I’ve ever devoured.

Well, at least since the last time I had a best ever-laksa.

Nasi Lemak House is a wildly and deservedly popular place a block from Lygon St that sells straight-up Malaysian food widely revered for its authenticity.

Given its location at uni central, it’s a regular student hang-out.

Subsequently, it can get a bit mad at rush hour.

Which is why I figure dead on noon on a public holiday Monday is good time to front up, with a visit to the neat secondhand bookshop around the corner in Swanston St to follow.

I’m right, as things are a little less frantic than usual, though by 12.30 the place is pretty much full anyhow.

At a table across from me, a big group of young chow hounds do like me and photograph their food. Are they bloggers, photography students, merely food nuts? I don’t ask.

I bypass the obvious – there seems to be several dozen variations on the nasi lemak theme, ranging from the straightahead with fried chicken drumsticks to an array of vegetarian options.

As well there are noodles such as char kuay teow; and ban mien, which is two-plate affair of Shanghai noodles alongside a separate dish of fishballs, chicken and vegetables in a chicken soup. Pretty good deal for $9.80! That’s for me next time.

But today it’s the laksa, and not for the first time, either.

It really is mighty, having the pungency and kick for which laksa aficionados crave.

It’s topped with a couple of papadams, which are good either still crunchy or soaked in the soup. In and around them are the fried shallots.

Further down, in addition to big chunks of the bone-free and incredibly tender/chewy chicken, are a couple of fish balls, delightfully soggy tofu, bean sprouts and probably some stuff I forget.

I fail to finish the noodles or the soup on account of being full and not wanting to spoil a fine lunch.

Nasi Lemak House is a Melbourne cheap eats classic, but it pays to time your visit to periods of what passes here for slow.

The Nasi Lemak House website is very good, with the photos giving a real sense of what the food here looks like.

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Chef Lagenda

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16 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington. Phone: 9376 2668

New Chef Lagenda review here.

The Flemington foodie strip of Racecourse Rd/Pin Oak Cres has been a rare destination for us in the past year, where once it was quite the regular.

Maybe it’s to do with the demise of the wonderful Big Chopstix. What was once a cracking Chinese/Malaysian joint has been replaced by a mostly Sino place of much less distinction.

Or maybe it’s to do with the lingering memory of another Chinese place that replaced prawn dumplings still hard frozen in the centre with … more prawn dumplings still hard frozen in the centre.

In any case, it’s a bunch of fun to be taking my time taking in the sights and menus on this Thursday lunch time. It’s a day off, it’s pay day, the sun is shining and I’m in the mood.

It’s been a while since we visited the new-look, new premises Laksa King, but this time around I settle on its next door neighbour, Chef Lagenda.

It’s dead on noon, or thereabouts, but there’s several tables already taken – all by folks of the Asian persuasion. Which fact I take as a Good Sign.

The place is done out using recycled wood and brick, and looks very fine.

The crockery is even embossed with the restaurant’s logo.

It’s kind of pokey, though. There’s steps, stairs and inclines that no doubt are a stress factor for new waiting staff.


I’d entered with laksa on my mind, but surprise myself by ordering the Roti Canai Special.

I know I shouldn’t, but order a serve of achar as well.

My plates are of a type that means they’re both on my table within five minutes.

The achar ($4.90)  is less tangy and pickled than those I remember from earlier years and other places. Still, it’s a nice jumble of cabbage, cauliflower, onion, cucumber and carrot with a bit of chilli kick and sesame seeds. In a nice touch, it’s served on top of a bed of cucumber spaghetti, which gives the whole dish a really nice crunchy, healthy feel.

Like many of its kind, the curry and roti combo looks a means serving for $10.20. But I know from frequent practice that looks can be deceiving.

So it is in this case.

I know not if the bread is housemade or not, but it’s still good. It’s unoily, and stays moist and pliable until the last shred.

The bowl of beef rendang has four large pieces of wonderfully tender meat. But as aficionados of this dish know, it’s not the meat that counts – it’s the gravy, and delicious use thereof for mopping up with the roti.

On that basis, I’m on a winner here. The gravy is rich, mildly spicy and beautifully integrated. By that I mean that it may be really oily but doesn’t appear to be so. It’s delicious, especially once the meat starts falling apart and mixing in.

It’s a super good meal, so much so that I am unsurprised that the quantity of roti precisely matches that needed to wipe out the last of the curry with a final mouthful of bread.


Still, I’m just a tad regretful that I hadn’t ordered one of the dishes I see whizzing about me as the place fills up. The Hainanese chicken rice ($8.50) looks especially toothsome – something to look forward to. Everyone loves it, but really great versions are not that easy to find in Melbourne.

For me, and based on a single visit, Chef Lagenda has the edge on Laksa King.

Read more about Chef Lagenda, the source of its rotis and other speculation/opinions at Urbanspoon here.

Chef Lagenda on Urbanspoon


Wok Noodle

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Shop 1/92 Charles St, Seddon. Phone: 9689 9475

Noel, Wok Noodle’s front man, reckons his joint is the first Malaysian restaurant in the western suburbs – and I reckon he’s right.

There’s a few places in Foostcray central, and a few more in Williamstown, from whence you can order a laksa or a mee goreng, but often the only relationship such dishes ordered in such places have with Malaysia is strictly nominal.

The nearest dinkum Malaysian, and really fine Malaysian at that, is to be had in Flemington – well within Consider The Sauce territory but not, as Noel points out, strictly speaking in the western suburbs.

So Wok Noodle is it – and very welcome it is, too.

In fact, it seems truly bizarre in a neighbourhood wherein within a few kilometres one can dine Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian and various African styles that it has taken this long for a Malaysian eatery to set up shop.

The previous inhabitant of these Charles St premises had lived a relatively long but obviously hard-going life as an awkward compromise between a snacky cafe and one of those places that sells pre-made meals for heating up at home. But their curries, stews, salads and soups always seemed so preposterously over-priced that I am suspicious of Wok Noodle in case there is connection or hangover from the previous tenants.

No, there is not.

Indeed, the prices are all ball park for this kind of food – soup and wok noodles all $10.50, Hainan chicken rice for $11.50, sambal dishes for $14.50 and up depending on your taste in seafood, two curry puffs for $5.

A plain roti costs $3.50, or you can have it with potato ($7) or chicken curry ($8.50), or peanut sauce ($6).

Gado gado costs $9.50.

As the above illustrates, the menu range at Wok Noodle is orthodox Malaysian – but that’s fine by us, particularly if the food is as consistently good as that presented us in our first meal.

The interior is bright and breezy, there is a good view of the kitchen action and chilled water is delivered unasked to our table.

My mee goreng is minus the tomato tang often part of this dish, and very mildly spiced, but nevertheless delicious. Big and bursty prawns, fishcake, tofu, chicken, egg, sprouts, some greenery all dance delightedly with a lip-smackingly fine dark brown curry gravy and egg noodles. It’s topped with shredded lettuce, while a slice of lemon on the side does good work near the end of my meal, tarting things up just when needed.

Not for the first time, Bennie finds the lure of both dumplings AND roast pork impossible to ignore, so orders the wonton broth – a basic brew of thin egg noodles with very good dumplings and slices of pig, greenery courtesy of choy sum, all in chicken broth. It’s plain but satisfying.

And that’s our first of what is likely to be many meals at Wok Noodle.

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