108 Little Lonsdale St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9663 194
Some of you may remember my laksa mission early last year. Basically, I couldn’t find a good bowl that tasted like home. Laksas in Melbourne are generally too rich, salty, and they taste almost like chicken curry with added noodles.
So I went back to Singapore and decided to re-taste and understand what is it about Singapore laksas that’s different. Next, I attempted to cook Singapore laksa from scratch and held a laksa party, which I thought was a bit of a fail too. Yes, bowls of laksa remain accessible in Melbourne… you certainly can find them, but a good bowl remains elusive. I can’t find it outside, I can’t cook it at home.
Then, in comes Laksa Bar, a new player in the laksa community. I first heard about this newcomer through Temasek, who cutely titled his post “CBA Friday at the Laksa Bar“. Fellow food blogger, Lauren, quickly got wind of it and we arranged with fakegf to try out this promising new venture on a Monday night.
Fit-out and space is a little bit more modern than other Asian eateries, but I must say that the unpainted cement wall made the place feel a little cold and unfinished. Very bare bones, like a modern cave with civilised furniture.
The menu has a base selection of house curry, skinny kampong (using skinny milk) and white curry (non-spicy) laksas. On a rotational daily basis, they feature a special laksa. That Monday it was assam laksa, my favourite! There were other rice dishes and wok-fried noodle dishes on the menu too, so you aren’t limited to just laksa. Ordering and payment is done upfront at the counter. While ordering, you can even specify if you want your laksa extra spicy.<
We shared an entrée portion of the satay tofu $5.9. Fakegf and I were hoping it was going to taste like tauhu goreng (Malay: fried tofu). Tauhu goreng in Malaysia and Singapore usually has fried tofu accompanied with said veggies in the picture above, and then topped with a spicy, peanutty satay sauce.
The fried tofu itself here was delicious, but the sauce tasted sweet and odd to us, with hints of curry powder. Hence it did not hit the mark for fakegf and I. Fakegf deemed it an utter fail, while I kept trying to find things to like about it… maybe the sauce here is Indonesian style…
The Nasi Lemak with house (tamarind) sambal and fried chicken drumstick $11.90 was actually not bad! All components looked authentic, the chicken and the ikan bilis (Malay: dried anchovies) were fried until they were very gareng (Malay: crispy). The coconut rice was fragrant without being overly rich. Lauren really enjoyed this dish, and me too, though the coconut rice could’ve been just a touch saltier.
The sambal was admittedly not so authentic though… it was runny, too sweet and not spicy enough. I did not mind that as it still went pretty well with the dish. But for fakegf, she rendered the dish a fail because sambal’s the most important element that brings a good nasi lemak dish together. Lol, Singaporean diners can be so strict!
Cold cold ciders with spicy laksas, a perfect match? Discuss…
Here comes the reason why we’re here, the house curry seafood laksa $15.9. All I can say is, the toppings and ingredients used were really odd!! Fakegf and I nearly laughed when we saw that slice of lemon on top of everything. On the good side, this dish was chock full of ingredients, including weird ones like said lemon slice, fried wonton skins, calamari, battered fish fillets, marinated dried cockles and mussels.
They used egg noodles and thin rice vermicelli, which is the correct Malaysian style, but the noodles were on the soggy side. The curry was really creamy thick and not soupy enough. It had an odd plasticky aftertaste that I somehow did not mind. I think it is passable as a non-laksa dish, the ingredients were generous and the rich curry was somewhat tasty. But I cannot bring myself to say that this dish is a laksa, that would be very salah (Malay: wrong).
Fakegf completely failed this dish as a laksa, she hardly touched it. Unfortunately, Lauren also did not like it. So I’m afraid both Singaporean and Australian palates have not been too impressed with the house laksa. In the end, I ate into this dish the most, but we still left half the bowl uneaten.
One could argue that maybe this particular house laksa comes from a region in Asia where laksas are made this way, and I agree that that’s possible. But I suspect it is more just the style here, or maybe it has been adapted for a Westernised palate.
Having been to Penang, I’m quite familiar with assam laksas. So while we may give the house laksa the benefit of doubt in terms of authenticity, with the Asam Laksa $13.9 – sour tamarind and fish soup served w/ fish and thick rice noodle, I actually do have some basis for comparison.Sadly, the assam laksa also tasted weird to us. On first sip, fakegf thought the broth was okay. But I personally found the broth too thick and on the sweet side, it should be tangier and spicier. The noodles were also strangely thick, even thicker than udon noodles, and they had a strange chewy texture. They would’ve been better off sourcing and using the type of rice noodle that’s used in Vietnamese bún bò huế, that’d be closer to the mark.These laksas normally come topped with shredded mint as a flavour counterpoint, which weren’t present here. Also, whole segments of bunga kantan (Malay: ginger buds) were floating in the soup, Lauren found that a little off-putting. Once again, we poked at this bowl half-heartedly…
To be honest, I did not really want to blog about Laksa Bar because we seemed to have only enjoyed the nasi lemak, a non-laksa dish! The place was quite empty that Monday, a negative blog post might just affect business further and that would sit quite heavily on my conscience.
However, I walked past Laksa Bar 2 days later on a Wednesday night and it was packed! So it looks like they’ve got their loyal customers who actually like their style of laksa. A quick check on Urbanspoon also showed that most of the blogger and user reviews were quite positive. This made me feel less guilty about writing up how I really feel about the food here. It is, after all, just my opinion and that of my companions.
Malaysians and Singaporeans can be incredibly fussy when it comes to Malaysian-style food, I’ve dined with many (myself included) who can be so straight-laced and adamant about how the food should taste and how “this dish isn’t authentic”. I’m beginning to see the big picture now. I think some restaurants don’t really aim for authenticity because it’s sometimes impossible to please that audience.
As a Singaporean, I know I’m quite a purist when it comes to laksas, but I sense the younger generation now have adaptive palates. They seem more accepting of the newer types of laksas that are more commonly found in Melbourne. Migrants from Southeast Asia who’d lived the first 15-20 years of their lives in Asia will probably not appreciate the laksas here as much, I think they’ll find it weird. But I suspect we’re not their target market anyway. I sense that Laksa Bar’s recipes are made to appeal to a wider crowd in Melbourne. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
You may be interested in reading my previous laksa posts: Singapore Laksa Story is all about how laksa had evolved in Singapore. And the post Laksa Party describes my own attempts to make laksa from scratch.