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.