The name of the restaurant says to eat like a Malaysian, and given my liking for the eclectic mix of food served in Malaysia who am I to disagree.
Chai is an upmarket version of a kopitiam, a chinese-malaysian coffee shop. The colours are warm and I like the unusual brightly coloured bottles used for the table water.
The presentation of the food is more refined than in most Malaysian or Indonesian cafes in the area, and the serving sizes larger. The seafood laksa was generously filled with Hokkien and vermicelli noodles, but a little lacking in other ingredients. Given that prices are a bit higher than average, a couple more prawns, some calamari or some scallops wouldn't have gone astray. It also had more of a 'curry' rather than coconut flavour to it than I am used to, which was different but not unpleasant.
The chicken and mushroom in claypot arrived sizzling hot, as it should. It was filled with large mushrooms and a sweet, sticky sauce, sort of a Malaysian comfort food for the current cold winter nights.
My favourite of the mains was the Bak Kut Teh, pork stewed in a herbal soup. The pork was sweet, the soup tasty if a little light on the herbs (which is my preference), and the size of the dish almost too much for one. It wasn't fatty as it can sometimes be, and only the meat was used not tripe as with some versions. A good introductory version to the dish.
The roti was a little overdone and slightly greasy, but the curry chicken dipping sauce on the side was very good. I think I prefer the roti at Norsiah's just around the corner but the one here is still pretty good.
My favourite item on the menu though wasn't the food but the sour plum soda. I've had this in Malaysia but not here, either because it's not very common or I just don't go to the places that serve it. Sweet, sour and fruity all at the same time, refreshing and great with food.
A wide selection of dishes in a comfortable setting. If I was introducing someone unfamiliar with Malaysian food to what's available around the city this would probably be my first stop.
Ambience - 7.5
Service - 7
Food - 7
Price - 6.5
127 Pelham Street
Carlton VIC 3053
Tel: (03) 9347 7448