At the cheaper end of the market there seem to be mainly two types of Indonesian restaurants in Melbourne: those that serve a variety of dishes from the bain marie where you choose what you want and pay based on how much you order, and those where you order grilled or fried dishes off the menu that are cooked fresh for you. Nelayan and IndoSari are examples of the first, Block M Express and Garamerica fit the second category.
Block M is slightly tucked away down Little Bourke Street, much nearer Hardware Lane than Chinatown. It's apparently named after a fairly dodgy area in Jakarta and is run by an Indonesian guy who moved here to be with his Australian wife (his story is posted on the wall). It's actually much nicer inside than you'd expect based on the type of food and prices: open, well lit and not overcrowded.
Of the four us visiting two were born in Malaysia and one in Brunei (who actually cooks for a Malaysian restaurant in Melbourne) so it was a pretty tough crowd. But Blok M came through with flying colours.
The first thing we all gravitated towards were the fruit shakes, three durian and one jackfruit. These took a little while to arrive as they were all made up fresh with fruit and crushed ice but were worth the wait. They were proceeded by the gentle aroma of durian, bright yellow and with that hard to describe durian flavour (to me like strawberry custard, but I know no one seems to agree).
Nasi Goreng, Indonesian fried rice, has a different taste and colour to the commonly available Chinese style fried rice. It doesn't come with the same combination of shrimp, peas and rice, is more highly spiced and often served with fried egg. It's also more of a dish on its own than one served to complement the other mains, even if we chose it as a complementary dish. The one at Blok M was good, lightly spiced and served with rice crackers on the side.
The second complementary type dish was the gado gado, an Indonesian egg and vegetable salad served with peanut sauce. Unlike the one sampled a couple of nights previously at Selera Singapore Asli this came with a paste like sauce on top of the vegetables rather than salad already sitting in the sauce. Still a lot of sauce but I didn't find it quite as overwhelming. General consensus was that the sauce was very good but it could have used a bit more salad.
My favourite amongst the mains was the ikan belado, deep fried fish in a spicy belado sauce. This was delicious, the skin crispy without the meat going dry and the fish a reasonable size. Because it had been deep fried the smaller bones were crunchable but the head defeated us a bit, as it was hard to get the small amount of flesh from the cheeks.
The other two mains were almost as good. The ayam bakar (grilled chicken) came with three pieces of grilled chicken coated in a mildly spicy sauce. Again the meat was moist, more so that the fish, and the sauce had charred slightly on the chicken skin. The sauce was spicy rather than hot, and added touches of a smoky flavour to the dish.
The final main was the cumi bakar (grilled squid). While good I felt the squid had started to take on a slightly chewy texture, always a danger with squid, and it was drowned a bit under the amount of sauce provided. I think I was in the minority here though as everyone else seemed to like it.
Good, cheap Indonesian food. It straddles that gap between being casual enough to be somewhere you could go to everyday and somewhere a bit special that you could take a visitor. I for one will definitely be returning in order to try some of the other menu dishes. And while some dishes took a little while to come out everything was fresh and hot and service was with a smile. It probably reflects my taste in food but I really enjoyed our visit here.
Food - 8
Service - 7.5
Ambience - 7
Price - 8
380 Little Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9600 2534