6-12 Pin Oak Crescent
Flemington, VIC 3031
03 9372 6383
So I have finally cast my net over the shoal called Laksa King… yes, I have written the place up! The photos aren’t that good, but still, there were things to be said. This post pulls up a bit of history and food memories, and a bit about new encounters. The spark that led to this visit came from the making of a new friend… umm… let’s call him EC (Eating Companion – who wishes to remain anonymous). Haha, I know the nickname’s a bit lame-o, but it’ll be a once-off.
What I liked about EC was how he’d challenge my thought processes. He had a penchant for saying things that would rile me up. For instance, once he discovered my blog, he thought it was good, but also had strong opinions about the things that my blog lacked. First off, he told me how accepting restaurant invites essentially makes me lose all credibility. He also pointed out how I’ve been speaking so much about my ‘journey’ and keep declaring that I’m always asking ‘why?’ but haven’t exactly been delivering those promises in my posts.
It reached a point where it felt like, pretty pictures and good writing aside, my blog has reached a ‘plateau of stupid’ where I’d publish posts amounting to nothing more than describing “here’s where I went, here’s who I dined with, these are the dishes we liked, and here’s a buncha photos”. No journey, no ‘why?’. From the way he made his case, I suddenly felt somewhat deflated. EC was pretty convinced I would ignore his suggestions and still carry on as I normally do. Truth is, it takes time for me to process things, but I do keep feedback like this in mind. EC’s opinions may not be completely right, but I think he had a few good points. I did, however, get quite stroppy when he cheekily mentioned how every 3rd paragraph I composed had the word ‘refreshing’ in it… bitch! Haha!
I don’t know what led to what, but we were choosing a place to go for dinner. He did not mind where we went, so seeing how incredibly popular Laksa King is with local Melbournites, I was curious to see what EC would think of it. I have visited Laksa King quite a few times. As a Singaporean, I have my reservations about the quality and authenticity of the food there. Yet the restaurant continues to thrive. So I wanted the taste opinion from an ang moh (Hokkien for ‘red hair’, an affectionate Singaporean way of saying someone’s a Westerner).
Laksa King used to be located at the back of a dingy arcade, as a small elongated corner shop with white tiles and cheap seating. I didn’t mind visiting the place then, it’s got that hidden coffee shop atmosphere. I thought the food was okay, but never really had the craving or inclination for a return visit, partly because the place was small and often very busy. Since then, the eatery has moved to a much bigger spot down the road and it has become a restaurant, with a commensurately large throng of customers. I am not as fond of the well-oiled, efficient and commercial feel of the new premises.
The wait wasn’t too bad in the end. Turnover was high and we were led to our seats within 15 minutes. The acoustics of the place was incredibly noisy, very much like a busy pub, so conversation proved challenging. We were seated on a long table with other groups of diners to our left and right. Definitely not the kind of place for a quiet dinner of any sort. But a good place if you want to eavesdrop table conversation. ; )
Tsing Tao Beer $6.80
Iced Teh Tarik $3.80
EC had a beer while I couldn’t resist a teh tarik, which is a Malaysian-style hand-pulled milk tea that’s mixed by pouring the mixture repeatedly from a height to create a frothy drink. Teh tarik is a very nice drink back home to go with hawker-style meals. The tea here had good strength, milkiness and it tasted slightly floral. But we were a little disappointed that it completely lacked froth on top, meaning they did not tarik (hand-pull) it.
Roti chicken rolls $12.20
We tried these rolls as entrées. They were big. The filling consisted of chicken accompanied with a peanutty curry sauce and a few strips of vegetables. I found it on the sweet side without much spice action to offset it. Even less exciting was the roti itself, they were doughy, almost rubbery and lacked crispiness.
Vegetarian Curry Laksa $12.80
Curry laksa 咖喱拉沙 is what we are famous for and we are proud to call ourselves the King of Laksa.
Here’s the part about history and food memories. For those of you who have already read my previous rants about Singapore Laksa vs Laksa in Melbourne, the next few paragraphs may sound like I’m flogging the same dead horse.
I’m sorry for being so harsh, but I have previously tried the seafood curry laksa here and did not enjoy it. The famed curry broth was just a really rich, coconutty broth that tasted very salty, lacked chilli heat and doesn’t have the aromatic fragrance of Asian spices in it. And Instead of laksa leaves, they use chopped mint leaves as garnishing. It tasted very different from the laksas that I’ve grown up eating back home. So when it comes to my Singaporean food memory and palate, Laksa King’s broth isn’t up to scratch for me.
All that said, EC went and chose this vegetarian laksa for dinner. I was secretly excited. I thought to myself “Finally! I’ll have an ang moh’s opinion about the the King’s laksa!” The vegetarian laksa featured stalks of buk choy, broccoli, squash, eggplant, tofu and champignons. The curry was the same rich and mild broth as I’d described above, but with the added flavour of peanut sauce to it.
I closely scrutinised EC as he took his first sip. There was a pause… and then he simply said “It reminds me of when I was growing up in Penang”. Sounds promising…! Mid-way through the meal, he muttered “I like my laksa a lot hotter”. Like me, EC found the broth very rich and filling, and he could only finish half the bowl. I think it sat uncomfortably in his tummy after that, with hands on belly and a strained smile, he looked a touch queasy. EC also found some of the eggplant pieces unpleasantly oily. I asked what he thought of it overall, and he politely told me it tasted good, but not memorable.
Laksa King curry fish head $21.80 咖喱鱼头
fresh rockling fish head, lady finger, eggplant, tomato, pineapple in a special curry sauce
I think quite a number of eyes bulged in horror when my dish arrived at our table. I have previously tried a few non-laksa hawker dishes at the new premises and they were okay. But this time, I had fish head curry cravings and decided to try Laksa King’s version. This dish is supposed to be shared between two or more people, but my Eating Companion isn’t a seafood person. This meant I had the whole dish to myself. The friendly waitress said I could always choose to takeaway the leftovers.
Strange thing about about Melbourne fish head curries, you get multiple smallish deep-fried rockling heads in the dish, rather than just one large fish head. So the dish may look big, but it’s basically lots and lots of fish skeletons and skin, and not all that much flesh. The rockling flesh tasted alright though. But that’s where my positive thoughts about this dish ends, read on…
To put it simply, the curry was disappointing. They once again used the same laksa broth! But this time, with the slight variation of mild added tanginess using pineapples and maybe a hint of tamarind. And guess what’s used to garnish the dish again? Yep… chopped mint leaves! That’s a lot of repetition between two different dishes. This tasted nothing like the Singapore fish head curry I’ve enjoyed eating back home. The curry basically tasted rich, not spicy enough and not tangy enough for me. Seeing that Westerners are unlikely to order this dish, I’d expected the flavours to be more authentic. Even Chillipadi Mamak Kopitiam down the road serves up a pretty damn good fish head curry dish that sings much more truly towards the flavours of home by comparison.
It doesn’t end there. I normally love eggplants and okra in my curry dishes because these vegetables soak up the curries so delightfully. Well guess what? The vegetables here are pre-fried in oil (I think) and then tossed into the curry before serving. Meaning you don’t even get a squirt of curry inside the vegetables, you get oily vegetables instead.
I’m normally a lot more polite with my restaurant write-ups, but sadly, a place as crazy popular as this just needs somebody to voice out a different song for once. Service was efficient and friendly, but the food did not please both my Singaporean palate and EC’s Western palate. And using (what I believe is) the same laksa broth and garnishing for the fish head curry dish shows they’re not putting enough effort into menu planning, customers’ needs, and dish quality.
As we paid up and were leaving the place, EC commented that from the dishes we had that evening, he doesn’t understand why Laksa King is so popular and is ranked as the number 2 restaurant on Urbanspoon. I suppose there’s another way you can look at this: maybe Urbanspoon is no longer a reliable indicator of how good a restaurant really is.
I try to believe that there should be fairness and balance in nature and life. I am puzzled why I got so heated up writing up this post. In reality, I have already ruminated over the issues of authenticity and Fusion in Australia, and have come to terms that fusion is inevitable. However, in the case of Laksa King, I feel that the fusion has gone in a direction that no longer rings true to my Asian sensibilities. Laksa King used to be better when it was at its old premises.
We’ll end on a slightly happier, yet also bittersweet note. EC bought me this incredibly adorable Easter chocolate on the day we dined at the King. Look! The egg has hatched into a confused bird!!
I should’ve read the signs correctly, but I think EC was hanging out with me because he fancied me and wanted to date. In retrospect, I couldn’t have chosen a more inappropriate venue than Laksa King to go on a ‘quiet and intimate’ dinner ala dating-style. Haha! Either way, we cleared the air that very night and I soon learnt that he doesn’t want to be just friends, and since I did not feel the same way, he prefers not to to stay in touch.
I’ll be eating out with Fakegf tonight… and when I get home, my apartment will be dark and quiet aside for a friendly cat. I’ll then unwrap EC’s hatched Easter gift. I can imagine the bird will have a few things to say to me…