Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Laksa Bar, CBD


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My husband migrated here in 2006.  He brought a fresh eye to Melbourne - looking for something to do, he would exclaim, "Let's go get an Italian ice [gelati] and walk along the Yarra!"  Um, people who live here don't do that - much to our detriment in fact, as it's indeed a lovely thing to do.  For dinner, he loved to go to "Chinatown", usually to eat Singapore noodles with gusto, much to my chagrin.

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I love going into town now.  I still get a buzz now going in on the train, seeing the Heavenly Queen gazing benevolently over the Maribyrnong, then screeching round the bend from Spencer Street, high up all Bladerunner-like.  This visit I found Little Lonsdale particularly lovely to wander up, from QV and the State Library to this peaceful block with spreading trees...leading up to Laksa Bar.

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This place has been getting a bit of buzz and for enticing reason.  They purport to offer eight regional variations of laksa.  In a laksa-mad city, this seems a particularly smart business move.

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The fitout is smart, if a bit concrete bunker-like, with exposed bulbs and silver-shiny industrial trimmings.  Order at the counter where candlenuts and cinnamon quills are displayed in apothecary-like glass bottles, hinting at aromatic alchemy in the kitchen.

tofu
Satay tofu (entree), $5.80

Lovely, juicy cubes of lightly-fried tofu with refreshing onion, cucumber and pineapple, nestling under a cosy cloak of "generation recipe" satay sauce.  This was quite yummy, very sweet and tangy with tamarind, although not all that peanutty.

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Nasi lemak with house sambal and fried chicken, $11.90

Nasi lemak ("rich rice") is coconut rice with trimmings, including crispy anchovies and peanuts, perhaps some fried chicken or fish, and plenty of sambal - house-blend chilli sauce.  All the components of this were promising.  The coconut rice was luscious (not at all like gluggy suburban Thai joints - this was light, the grains were separate and it melted in the mouth).  The ikan bilis and peanuts gave fantastic crunch and the garguantuan chicken drumstick was tasty.  I liked the sweet sambal, despite it not being very hot at all, although apparently it wasn't very "correct" by Malaysian/Singaporean standards.

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Asam laksa, $13.90

This famous dish from Assam features mackeral, tamarind and tomato for a tangy, fishy, spicy, dark soup.  This was a disappointment, overly sweet with no mackeral flavour and really tasting just like tom yum.  The (presumably defrosted) ginger flowers had an unpleasant flaccid texture.  Jo and Bryan, Singapore food connoisseurs, agree that one of the best Assam sauces in Melbourne can be found on White Lotus' mock fish, of all places!!!

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House curry laksa (seafood), $15.90

The moment of truth!  We stared.  We spun the bowl.  Cue giggles.  Fried wonton skins, a chopped fried egg, a wedge of lemon, battered fish?  The toppings are certainly untraditional, save for the generous helping of cockles, tiny blood-coloured crustaceans that are an essential element in authentic Singaporean-style laksa and char kway teow.  The broth was very mild, extremely creamy with warming spices like cinnamon and cumin but no chilli heat or seafood flavour (we did ask for the menu's promised "higher level of spiciness" but none ensued).  The bowl was so chockers with noodles (half yellow Hokkien, half rice vermicelli) and toppings that there wasn't much broth to sample at all.

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Bryan's authentic home-made Singapore-style laksa - drool over it here
You can also read about authentic Singapore laksa here

I don't really know what to make of this laksa.  It is like craving chocolate mud cake - dark, dense chocolate cake, where the fork cuts through it just like a spade through rich, dark loam.  The "give" of the chocolate ganache icing on top - swipe it through a little cream for rich, luscious perfection.  To order chocolate mud cake and then be presented with a chocolate sponge with cream in the middle, perhaps covered in chocolate shavings.  "Oh," you say.  "This is nice, but I really wanted thick, rich mud cake."  "Well," replies the waiter, not unkindly, "that's how we do our mud cake".  You see my quandary - it was well made but not laksa as I know it!

On leaving, I could see a chef in the open kitchen gently shaking candlenuts into a commercial food processor.  I do believe they make the spice bases, the sambal and the sauces from scratch.  While the satay tofu and nasi lemak were good, in the case of laksa, I'm just not sure it really does what it says on the tin.

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TOM YUM LAKSA??!!  That's like having Christmas Easter eggs!  Oh wait - don't tell me they've done that already?

You might like to follow me on Twitter (@msbaklover)

Check out Bryan's recollections (and much better photos) and Temasek's cheerful and positive thoughts

Laksa Bar on Urbanspoon

Laksa Bar (Facebook)
1/108 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne
Phone:  9663 1941
Hours:  Mon-Fri 11am-10pm, Sat & Sun 5pm-10pm



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20 comments:

  1. Hi Lauren,

    Thanks for your latest post. Wonderful as ever.
    Hmm, need to visit Laksa Bar.

    Quality of Laksa King has been vexing me lately, and hearing increasing good buzz about Laksa Bar.

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    1. Hi Daniel, thank you! I would be interested to know your thoughts. Laksa King might be getting complacent - perhaps a peasant uprising is called for!

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    2. Hi Lauren. Serves seem a bit smaller, seems to be less bits in the laksa. Last couple of times in the last few weeks. Have been a real champion of Laksa King. Just reconsidering my stance ;)

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    3. Hmm, sounds like a pretty reasonable survey, ie not just a one-off. I have been meaning to do a laksa-off at least between Chef Lagenda and Laksa King. Do they still do that fried eggplant in the Laksa King laksa - yummy........

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  2. It's tough when you just want the classics and then they play around with it. Still the fact that they make everything from scratch makes me very keen to try it out.

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    1. The non-soup dishes were definitely delicious.

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  3. I might be boring, but in my opinion Laksa King has the best laksa in Melbourne - when I find what I like I tend to stick to it, so while I'm still enjoying Laksa King I think I'll remain a loyal customer. Great post though - looks like a fun place to check out for other dishes.

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    1. And fair enough too, anon. I haven't been to Laksa King for a while, but not for lack of trying - they are always absolutely crammed!

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  4. Thanks for linking me, Lauren! We should also remember that Singapore laksa is one of many regional variations of laksa. Maybe this place is trying to create a new Melbourne-style laksa. It seems popular enough as it is.

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    1. Yes, absolutely. There's a fine line between experimentation and bastardisation, and so many much-loved things are reinterpretations of traditional dishes that eventually became dishes in their own right. Eg, Vietnamese meatball roll (banh mi xu mai) from Cantonese shu mai dumplings, and even the banh mi itself from the French baguette sandwich. So yes, if it tastes right, the people will come and it will flourish, I guess!

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  5. Jeebus. How much did you order?!?!

    Anyways, havent been here yet but one of the better laksas I've tasted is the one at BBQ King in the Target Food court in the city (cnr Swanston/Burke).
    It's pretty good.

    I'll try this one later in the week.

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    Replies
    1. Haha dieters we are not! Ooh, thanks for the city laksa tip. I also saw Laksa House in Mid City Arcade near Dessert House that I was curious about. I'd love to know your thoughts on Laksa Bar!

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  6. "cheerful and positive thoughts" lol ... some may say unrefined and uneducated thoughts. Lets give them the benefit of regional doubt!

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    1. Not at all! I liked your approach. I felt a bit like that with Dragon Express recently. Daggy but genuine - and to you, Laksa Bar might have been technically not authentic but it is heartfelt.

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  7. I gave Laksa Bar the flick for my birthday lunch near work and ordered take away from Miss Chu on Exhibition Street. It was so good! Steve and I ate in the Exhibition Gardens. Had crispy delicious pork spring rolls, beef fillet noodle salad (salad was a bit Aussie - salad mix - but still very yummy), chicken satay rice paper rolls (couldn't taste the satay but they were the best rice paper rolls I've had) and a yummo pork bun. Mmmm.

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    1. I just had a look at some blogs about Miss Chu and it looks gorgeous! Thanks for the tip Bec. Love your description of the salad, haha. I've been to Ethiopian places too that were rocking the Aussie salad mix.

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  8. Hi
    Just like to point out that the BBQ King, Laksa King laksas has its roots in 1 man, he now owns Chef Lagenda...just curious w ppl saying Laksa King's laksa is better than Lagenda, since the recipe was "sold" to the new Laksa King owners!

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    1. Actually oompa, I have heard for a while now that Laksa King's laksa isn't 100% all that. People say it's very very creamy and really toned down on spice. I have been meaning to go back to Chef Lagenda for absolutely forever - look forward to trying to laksa there soon!

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  9. Love love love this place, and am lucky enough to work very close. The satay tofu is great and other dishes fantastic. Laksa was nice, but tooooo much, so I prefer the other dishes actually. Yum yum yum.
    PS- I've tried Laksa King and wasn't that keen.

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    1. Hooray! Isn't that interesting (and great) to hear. Actually, my sister loves this place too - she thinks the laksa is delish, but didn't like the kampong laksa, I think it was. Lots of different horses for courses. I must say I thought the non-laksa dishes were worth exploring.

      You know, I have been meaning to try Laksa King laksa again as it has been an inordinately long time but I have a feeling I will be disappointed...

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