YET another Malaysian restaurant has opened in Melbourne. But can you have too much of a good thing? Joanne Koh reviews the latest contender, Kitchen Inn.
For years, Malaysian international students have vented their frustrations about not being able to find decent Malaysian food in Melbourne. The general consensus is that the food here is incomparable to what’s on offer back home, especially when it comes to char kuey teow, curry laksa and nasi lemak.
But a steady increase in the number of Malaysian restaurants in Melbourne has begun to sway the faithful majority of dissenters. Nowadays, if you’re craving good ol’ Malaysian food, you probably won’t be disappointed with restaurants like Coconut House, Pappa Rich, Jalan Alor and Old Town Kopitiam.
So when Kitchen Inn opened its doors in Elizabeth St recently, I was excited.
Kitchen Inn offers traditional Sarawakian cuisine like kampua mee and Sarawak laksa. Its signature dish is the kolo mee, a popular noodle dish in Sarawak with sliced barbecue pork (char siew), minced roast pork and dry egg noodles tossed in a mixture of sauces, oils and white vinegar and sprinkled with spring onions and fried onions.
Getting a table for dinner at 6pm wasn’t easy. There was already a sizeable crowd gathered outside the fully occupied restaurant. Then again, Kitchen Inn has the doubled boon of being new and being mere steps from other popular joints Coconut House and Rose Garden.
My friend and I had to wait about 10 minutes to get a table. When we sat down, I asked the waitress to recommend the best dishes. She suggested the kolo mee, Sarawak laksa, mee mamak, hot teh tarik and barley ice. Perhaps the most surprising thing was how quickly our meal arrived. Barely five minutes had passed and we were already eating.
We dug into the kolo mee (pictured above) first. Oh. My. Gosh. The flavours were well balanced, offering a gentle yet sophisticated taste, not too salty or sweet. The meat came in generous portions and was cooked to perfection. The noodles had an elasticity that made chewing a joy.
Considering that Kitchen Inn is the first restaurant in Melbourne to serve Sarawak handmade noodles, the quality was excellent. The dish even had the right level of oiliness to it. All in all, it was better than the ones I’ve tried back home in Malaysia.
We tried the Sarawak laksa next. First impressions were positive. The abundance of prawns and meat was delightful and it looked red hot (literally). I expected to get burnt, but fortunately (unfortunately?), it was nowhere close to spicy. This was surprising as, by the looks of it, it had all the elements of an intense (in other words spicy) laksa, but I soon found out the Sarawak laksa isn’t a curry laksa at all.
Upon hearing me complain, the man on the next table (a Sarawak native) decided to enlighten me. The broth has a base of sambal belacan, tamarind, galangal, lemongrass and just a little bit of coconut milk.
For those who are accustomed to the normal curry laksa, you might find this dish a little disappointing as it fails to deliver that spicy punch. Also, it’s not as aromatic as the standard curry laksa as it has significantly less coconut milk. So for me, it was a bit of a letdown. However if you are accustomed to sarawak laksa, it’s not a bad find according to that man on the next table.
Next up was the mee mamak. This is a Malaysian street food staple and I was eager to test it, but when it was served, my friend and I exchanged looks. Was this really mee mamak?
What was with the gravy? The noodles were swimming in it. Usually mee mamak noodles are lightly tossed in mixture of sauces – light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, oyster sauce and salt to taste. There should be a slight crispness to the noodles, but this dish wasn’t crisp at all. It didn’t taste like a dense mee mamak either.
That said, it was still a decent dish, but in my opinion, it should have been named something else.
Our last dish was hot teh tarik. If any drink is quintessentially Malaysian, it’s this one and Kitchen Inn did a good job of it. I have had teh tarik in different Malaysian restaurants around Melbourne and a lot of them don’t give you that authentic layer of foam. This did, and was even served in the traditional cup they use at coffee shops back home, so you really feel like you’re sipping on a teh tarik in Malaysia. It was a nice way to end the meal.
Although by no means the best Malaysian restaurant in Melbourne, Kitchen Inn is a great place to go if you want to satisfy your cravings for East Malaysian food. The best dishes were definitely the kolo mee and kampua mee varieties. I recommend giving the mee mamak a try though.
Kitchen Inn is located at 469, Elizabeth St in Melbourne.