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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Laksa King

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laksa4

 

6-12 Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington. Phone: 9372 6383

The old Laksa King was one of the places that spoke so eloquently of Melbourne food culture.

Not in terms of quality or high-falutin’ style or world renown.

Nope, its place was along the lines of Melbourne food personality – think Pellegrini’s, Stalactites, the bratwurst stall at Vic Market, the Waiters Restaurant and so on.

Unfortunately, Laksa King was also a dumpy old thing, drab and more than a little down at heel.

Moreover, we never ate there because – whatever it might have lacked in sparkle and swish – it was very popular, so whenever we were in the vicinity there always seemed to be a queue of six or more.

The contrast to the new Laksa King – around the corner, and adjacent the train station – could not be greater.

The new place is gorgeous!

It’s big and bright, packed with lovely wooden chairs and tables, and the many black T-shirted and on-the-ball staff scurry around on a polished cement floor while a you-beaut sign adorns the roof..

Given the substantial upgrade, it’s a pleasure to note that Laksa King has nevertheless kept its prices well within the cheap eats realm. Most single person dishes – ranging from Hainanese chicken rice to mee goreng – fall a tick or two either side of $10.

We’ve been twice in the past couple of weeks.

First up was a rather frantic Friday night, with waiting times for our main courses stretching out to about 15 minutes.

We got by in the meantime with a beaut lobak ($6.20), the crunchy bean curd skin encasing minced pork that also had a delightful crunch about it thanks to being studded with carrot and water chestnut. The achar (pickled vegetables, $5.20) was OK, but a little on the bland side.

We regretted our conservative choice of mains.

Bennie let his love of dumplings rule, and while his prawn dumpling noodles were fine – OK stock, OK dumplings, OK noodles – they seemed to lack a little zing.

My roasted chicken rice was lacklustre. The chook was dry, the rice passable, the soup OK and – worst of all – the chilli sauce tame and dull, while its expected partner of an oily ginger/green onion mix did not turn up at all.

Our return visit was made more agreeable by sticking to tried, true and a little more spicy, and by eschewing side dishes and soft drinks – keeping the price tag down to a very excellent $19.70.

The beef curry laksa ($9.20) was a brightly coloured bowl of more tender beef slices than we could eat and mild spiciness. Its highlight was a large and silky eggplant slice of magnificent flavour. I swear I’ll rue the day Bennie decides to dig eggplant!

The curry chicken noodles ($10.20) were also mildly spiced, with plentiful chicken and bok choy sitting on thin egg noodles that at first seemed as though they were going to require the attentions of a knife and fork, so enamoured were they of each other’s company. But there was plenty of gravy, which mixed with the noodles in a fine fashion to become a sort of Malaysian pasta dish.

Still, after two visits we remain underwhelmed.

Given the homely surrounds we mostly inhabit in pursuit of great cheap eats, it’s quite a thrill to send time in  a place that proudly boasts a bit of flash, a bit of a wow factor.

But the food, as we have thus far experienced it, leaves an impression of hedging its bets for the broadest possible reach in terms of customers. Of the four mains and two starters we had in two visits, only the lobak sparkled.

Nothing wrong with that – and the crowds vindicate such a policy. I’ll concede, too, we made rather conservative choices – but there’s not much further you can go on the menu.

But I can’t help but feel we’ll continue to find more fire and passion in the more humble likes of Vy Vy, around the corner on Racecourse Rd.

You can read more reviews of the new Laksa King at Jeroxie and Saint-ism.

Laksa King has been reviewed by The Age.

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