Reliable, excellent Malaysian

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Chef Lagenda, Shop 9-10/835A Ballarat Road, Deer park. Phone:8358 5389

Consider The Sauce is facing a very busy – but happy – few Saturday hours.

Kung fu class in Carlton from 11am to noon.

A 2pm appointment in Toolern Vale for a frolic at the Dingo Discovery Sanctuary and Research Centre with some dingo pups.

Do we have time for a quick bite of lunch in between?

Of course!

Though, mindful that there’s a bit of driving to do in a somewhat hicuppy car, I make sure we get a long way to our rural destination before parking at Deer Park.

There we pass by – for once – our regular Deer Park favourite and head for Chef Lagenda.

CTS reviewed this place way back in 2012 soon after it had opened.

These days there are four in the Chef Lagenda family – the most famous in Flemington, as well as Deer Park, Hawthorn and Richmond.

At the time it opened in Deer Park, there was a good deal of excitement in that neighbourhood.

Since then, the Deer Park strip has bloomed considerably in terms of food – is Chef Lagenda holding its own?

The answer is emphatic: “Yes!”

All we’re after is a quick, simple, affordable and tasty feed – and we succeed admirably.

The place is obviously a popular local stalwart, as it’s doing very brisk trade at 12.30pm on a Saturday afternoon.

Nothing much appears to have changed since our earlier visit – the bicycle is still on the wall and the service (cash only) is fine.

Chef Lagenda may be ostensibly Malaysian of food, but it roasts, Chinese-style, its own meats.

But we pass by those options and pragmatically opt for some straightahead Malaysian favourites.

 

 

Achar ($5.80) could do with a bit more spice and vinegary tang, but is fine nonetheless.

We pretty much automatically give a hearty thumbs up to any dish that involves cauliflower.

 

 

Bennie’s koay teow ($11.50) is a superb rendition – significantly less oily than some we’ve had and fully redolent of wok hai.

 

 

My regular curry laksa ($9.80) is, well, regulation.

But it’s also very, very good.

There’s a good handful of tasty, plump prawns in there.

The plentiful chicken meat is way superior to the scraggly chook that sometimes manifests itself in laksa outings.

Best of all is the eggplant.

I always eagerly look forward to the eggplant portion of a curry laksa.

But sometimes it can be bitter and not very attractive to eat at all.

This Chef Lagenda laksa has just a  single piece – to the left of the bowl.

But it’s long, meltingly tender and 100 per cent delicious.

In recent weeks, Bennie and I have discussed how prices have risen since CTS started.

Outside of a couple of banh mi, the days of a meal that covers us both for $20 seem long gone.

Yet, here in Deer Park, we’ve had a grand cheap feast when we weren’t even looking for a blog-worthy meal.

The total bill – including two mains, a side dish and two cans of soda pop – is $34.10.

And we reckon that’s excellent.

 

Real good Malaysian

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Ya’Salam Restaurant, 2/14 Lavinia Drive, Tarneit. Phone: 9748 6860

We enjoyed our visit to Ya’Salam when the premises was being used to operate a Somalian eatery – though truth be told it was a bit too much of a drive to become a regular haunt.

Now there’s new management in the place.

They’ve retained the name – and even a page of Somalian food at the back of their new menu.

But the rest is all about terrific Malaysian food.

In fact, based on two visits we reckon this is some of the best, cheapest and most authentic Malaysian food you’ll find in all of Melbourne.

And word appears to have gotten out – we note with assured pleasure the happy, hungry tables on our visits.

 

 

Chicken laksa ($10, top photograph) is unlike any I’ve eaten – and as good as any, too.

The chicken is so finely shredded that it’s pretty much subsumed into the gravy, but that’s fine when the soup base is so funky, house-made and delicious.

Protein oomph is provided by two hardboiled egg halves and there’s plenty of cucumber and other veg bits to provide texture and crunch to go with the fat, short udon-style noodles.

 

 

Roti canai ($5) is a wonder.

Accompanying a just-right bowl of runny chicken curry (with a dob of sambal paste) are the two lightest, flakiest and best flatbreads of the Malaysian style we’ve ever eaten.

Simply: Wow.

 

 

Char kuey teow ($10) is a bit like our laksa – unlike any we’ve before tried.

This one comes in a bowl and – appropriately – is more like a hearty, thick soup than the drier dish we’ve been expecting.

No problems, though – because while the wok hei factor is predictably muted, there’s no doubting the flavours and all-round yumminess.

 

 

Given the obvious real-deal vibe of everything served us thus far, we are keen to try the Ya’Salam satays.

They’re unavailable, though, so we happily settle for these two fine curry puffs ($1 each).

Again, these are a far cry from your usual curry puffs.

The rich short pastry is stuffed with an extremely toothsome jumble of chicken mince and vegetables.

They could’ve been a tad hotter, however.

The Ya’Salam food we’ve tried has been really fine.

We’re usually not much concerned about notions of authenticity – but they have heaps of it here.

Next time we’ll be sure to try one of the many nasi goreng variations.

Check out the Ya’Salam menu here.

Lovely Malaysian in Newport

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Hawkers Lane, 12 Hall Street, Newport. Phone: 9391 0611

“I’ve never seen so many depressed people in one place!”

That’s the desolate text message I receive from Bennie.

He’s stranded in Laverton and the trains are not running.

Neither he, nor anyone else it seems, knows what is going on.

In the meantime, he’s directed me to Newport for pick-up duties – prematurely as it turns out.

But as we await transport clarification, I get the chance to scope out the Hall Street shops and businesses – including the Malaysian place I’d heard about.

 

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It’s small and tidy – not much more than a glorified take-away, really, with one tall and small table and a bunch of counter/window stools.

Still, something about the place feels just right – an exciting impression given ooomph by the surreptitious looks I grab of two different meals I see being eaten.

Our stay-at-home dinner options are happily jettisoned for another night and – once the tricky transport logistics are finally resolved at Footscray Station – it’s back to Newport we head.

The Hawkers Lane menu (see below) covers much familiar territory, from curry puffs (including a sardine option) and rotis through to noodles (wok, wet and soup), one-person rice dishes and full-serve mains such as beef rendang and Nyonya fish curry.

I’ve heard there is a link between this place and Wok Noodle in Seddon, though how deep I do not know. Nor, on this occasion, do I pursue the matter.

 

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Rotis can be served plain or with the likes of peanut sauce, beef rendang and chicken curry, or as wraps.

Our fine roti with potato curry ($9) is all good, though the curry is rather more runny than we’d like – a more sticky gravy that sticks to the flat bread would be just the ticket.

 

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Bennie makes quick work of his mee goreng ($12.50).

It’s a solid, well-cooked outing.

My chicken kari laksa ($15, top photo) is a variation on your regular chicken laksa.

The curry sauce blends with the laksa soup to create a very flavoursome brew, while the chicken pieces are heftier and much tastier than the diced or shredded chook routinely found in laksas.

For veg, there’s just a single, longish chunk of eggplant – no beans or broccoli or the like.

But that matters not, as the chicken, the tofu, two halves of golden boiled egg and mix of two curry gravies combine with the noodles and bean sprouts to produce a top-notch laksa.

 

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Hawkers Lane is a real find.

The locals must be thrilled.

The bare-bones set-up means eating in feels more like just grabbing a quick, unfussy bite and less like going through the whole restaurant ritual.

Yet the service and food quality shine.

Hawkers Lane is a cash-only operation, does not do deliveries and is closed on Sundays.

 

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Malaysian gem

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Sambal Kampung, 38-46 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 9317 7171

Words and photographs: ERIKA JONSSON

I fell in love with Malaysia during my first trip to Kuala Lumpur in 2009.

Being able to choose between great Indian, Chinese or Nyonya cuisine meant loads of variety – classic dishes tasted different but awesome no matter where we went.

Three years later we returned with our first son (then aged two) and found even more to love in Penang, where the laksa was fishy and bitter and the spices were fresh and local.

Since then we’ve struggled to find Malaysian food in the west that lives up to those glorious memories of eating chicken skewers by the side of a road drinking a cold teh tarik.

When we find ourselves in Maribyrnong around lunchtime on a rare lovely day, I remember a tip from a friend to try Sambal Kampung, her preferred Malay restaurant. The other half doesn’t take much convincing.

We are warmly welcomed and grab a high chair for our little guy.

Our waitress brings him over a plastic bowl, cup, fork and spoon – a welcome surprise that no doubt benefits all parties concerned.

The little guy tucks in quickly to some roti canai. The rich, delicious curry sauce is just a bit spicy for him, but we are happy to ensure it isn’t wasted.

 

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The other half orders the chicken laksa with hokkien and vermicelli noodles ($11).

Laksa often takes a little while to fully appreciate – the first mouthful of broth doesn’t always reveal the full richness of flavour that builds as you get further in.

This is certainly the case here. There is a stronger fishiness than most places dare to serve, and the other half is thrilled.

 

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I go for the kung pao chicken with rice from the list of specials ($9).

The sauce is slightly sweeter than I’m used to – it’s a winner in my book.

Roasted cashews add crunch and the dish isn’t overly spicy (until I eat up the whole chillies for some welcome heat).

The other half has to fight with our offspring for the cold teh tarik, which is strong and nicely sweet, while I just grab a soft drink. All up our bill comes to $32 and we can barely finish the roti.

Sambal Kampung is a family gem – like so many Asian restaurants it welcomes kids without needing to cater specifically for them.

The food arrives quickly and the prices are terrific.

We will be back with our older son very soon.

Meal of the week No.32: Old Town White Coffee

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A couple of times a month, various affairs draw me into the CBD.

Whatever the business at hand, the city adventure always seems something of a failure unless I manage to secure a beaut lunch.

Which is pretty bloody silly, as the CBD is by no means familiar to me these days – particularly Elizabeth Street, where I invariably end up searching and eating.

It’s all a bit of a lottery, really.

And it’s got both easier and harder because the number of cheap Asian eateries on Elizabeth, roughly between Bourke and Abeckett, seems to have doubled or more in the past year or so.

Anyway, this year I’ve endured some truly rubbish meals in the area.

But today I get lucky and have a fine lunch.

Old Town White Coffee (303 Elizabeth Street) – I don’t stick around long enough to find out the cultural and/or food history of the name – is smartly done out, as are the staff.

The patrons – the place is busy but not hyper so – appear to be enjoying what look like fine Malaysian-based meals.

The menu is quite extensive and features many familiar dishes, but here they are packaged in rather imaginative ways.

I don’t even get through the longish list before making my choice – Old Town Fried Chicken Beriani ($14.90).

It’s very enjoyable.

The papadums are crisp and unoily.

The achaar is most splendid – I wish there was more of it!

The rice is indeed redolent, in an enjoyably vague sort of way, of the Indian rice classic from which my lunch draws its inspiration.

The curry has spud pieces and the gravy/sauce is very heavily perfumed with cardamom.

The two chicken pieces look over-cooked and tied, but are juicy, meaty and fine.

 

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For sure, I’ll happily return here on my next CBD foray to explore the menu further.

However, a word of warning:

Old Town is one of the starker examples I have come across of the menu photos really, really not matching what is served.

Check out the above photo – pictured is the beef rendang version of my chicken-based lunch.

Notice the difference?

 

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Pork ribs you can afford

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Gorilla Grill, 36 Edgewater Boulevard, Maribyrnong. Phone: 0401 830 800

It’s opening day – or, rather, night – at Gorilla Grill, the bricks-and-mortar carnation of the food truck of the same name.

With the recent opening of splendid Japanese eatery Shinmai Tasty just a few doors away, Edgewater Boulevard has, effectively for the first time, got something of a foodie buzz about it.

 

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The Gorillas are churning out fries, burgers, fried chook and more – some, but not all, with a Korean touch – with rush-hour steeliness.

The place is smokin’.

Those who followed CTS BBQ adventures of the past couple of years – at, say, Smokehouse 101 or Up In Smokemay have noted we have a cost-based aversion to pork ribs.

We love ’em!

But the cost, including bones, inevitably seems out of whack compared to other available goodies such as brisket.

At Gorilla Grill, we feel liberated.

Here, a half rack costs $18 and a full rack $27 – both served with chips.

 

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Hoorah!

Our half rack is excellent and is a goodly sized slab of meat.

There’s a heap of terrific, juicy meat on those bones, the sauce is excellent and the chips are fine, too.

This just about does the pair of us – for $18, it presents as a cracking meal for one.

OK, this is ribs in a fast-food setting, but we do not care.

Lip-smacking good is the verdict.

 

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Coleslaw ($3) is nicely crisp jumble of white and red cabbage daubed with mayo; good but not a knock-out.

 

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I’m so rapt with our ribs that I barely notice our Krusty Burger ($12) with its nice, crunchy chunk of chook, salady bits and bacon, though Bennie gives it a firm thumbs up.

 

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Life goes on at Berkshire Road

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Madam Curry, 71 Berkshire Road, Sunshine North.

Ah well, that’s the end of an era in western suburbs food history.

Marco and Maria from Latin Food and Wines (frequently referred to as La Morenita in the many stories we have run about them) have moved from their long-time North Sunshine redoubt for a great new home in Deer Park.

There’ll be more about them and that right here at CTS in due course …

It seems the sleepy Berkshire Road shopping strip that has been such a big part of our lives for so many years will become even more somnolent.

But food things there are still ticking over.

The newest arrival is the roti-producing outfit called Madam Curry, which has moved from Sunshine Plaza into the premises formerly occupied by a failed South American eatery.

 

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My understanding is that for the Madam Curry operation, serving walk-up customers curries, rotis and the like is strictly a second-string affair to the contracts they have to supply rotis across the city.

Thus as I arrive at their new digs for lunch I am wondering who will actually be stepping up for a lunch-time feed in the back streets of North Sunshine.

So I am happily surprised that as I am lunching, two different groups of local workers/businessmen come and go.

Madam Curry’s stock in trade may be supplying rotis to the Melbourne hospitality industry but it seems catering to the lunch trade in a neighbourhood where there is not much food to be had is a smart move.

The eat-in/takeaway menu (see below) covers a tight range of reasonably priced starters, roti canai dishes, wraps and noodles.

 

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Prawn dumplings ($5.50) are nice – plump and flavoursome – without having the oomph to be expected from a top-line yum cha joint.

 

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The prominent appearance of curry leaves is a good sign of home-cooking in my chicken curry with roti cani ($9.90).

The curry IS good, made so far as I can tell from thigh meat and featuring a goodly number of spud bits in a tasty, mild curry sauce.

The roti is OK but does have something of a mass-produced taste/feel to it.

 

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