I don't know about you, but often when I enter a Malaysian restaurant, the first thing that comes to mind is bingo. See, you walk in and everybody is just head down, eyes on the prize (be it that slippery last prawn in the laksa or that elusive "legs eleven"). When you finally surface, it may be with a big contented sigh, not a shout of "bingo!" - but the buzz afterwards is just as good.
At least that's what we were chasing when we popped into Chef Lagenda for a quick and tasty lunch. This skinny-fronted restaurant is neighbours with Laksa King, probably Melbourne's most famous Malaysian restaurant. There's a lot of mythology about the relationship between the two, with stories about chefs or staff decamping between the two, but let's just say Flemington is spoilt when it comes to Malaysian options.
It's a funny, slightly poky setup inside - almost like a skinny Victorian has had all its walls pulled out and been converted into a restaurant. From memory there's a semi-enclosed courtyard upstairs.
Warm, slightly astringent Chinese tea comes standard. Lagenda's got a mammoth menu, but if you want something really authentic, skip the chicken and cashews and flip to the stir-fried noodle and noodle soup sections for hawker classics.
Fried noodles with egg sauce, $11.20
This is one of my favourite Malaysian dishes. It's usually called "wat tan hor". Wide flat rice noodles are tossed with a little soy in a searing wok, given them a special smoky taste. Next, rather peculiarly, they're completely covered with a very thick, starchy gravy mixed with beaten egg in which hovers prawns, fish cake, a few bits of veg, maybe some chicken and other good things. I'll be the first to admit it looks like a dog's breakfast, but the taste is hot diggity dog. The secret is getting the noodles infused with LOTS of smoky "wok hei" (the special hot work taste), otherwise it all just tastes gluggy and awful. Maybe a touch more wok hei in Lagenda's version wouldn't have gone astray, and some of the egg pieces were a bit chunky, but it was a pretty good rendition nonetheless.
Sambal kangkung, $14.50
This sambal kangkung was disappointing, though. Maybe it's a seasonal thing but the kangkung (a spinach-like aquatic vegetable) was slightly tough and woody. The sambal was a bit flat in flavour, rather than being its usual slightly sweet and hot self. Oh well.
I've had quite a few really good meals at Lagenda. Their laksa is delicious, as is their salted fish and chicken fried rice, and I've had a good smoky char kway teow there too. Next time you're lining up to pay your respects to the King, consider giving Lagenda a shot instead.
16 Pin Oak Cr, Flemington (9376 2668)
Second store at Shop 9/10, 835A Ballarat Rd, Deer Park (8358 5389)