Kitchen Inn


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?


Did I like it?


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


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


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.

Vy Vy on Urbanspoon

Chef Lagenda


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. 

Chef Lagenda on Urbanspoon

Coconut House


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.

Coconut House on Urbanspoon

Laksa King




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.

Laksa King on Urbanspoon