Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Straits Cafe, Doncaster by Big Fil

I've been told for over a year now that I must visit Straits Café. According to Ms Counting her Calories it's the place in Melbourne for Assam Laksa and Char Hor Fun, as well as selling Fresh Kueh (Nyonya sweets). (Fresh Kueh's a favourite of Mmmm as well.) But with no nearby train or tram line and Jade Kingdom being so convenient for friends it just hadn't happened. Finally last Saturday we took a last minute decision and made the plunge for lunch.

From the outside it would be really easy to miss Straits Café. It's got a plain blue shopfront, looking as much like the local tax agent's office as a café.

As far as dining experiences go it's not exactly the Ritz. Inside is fairly plain with 1970's style décor, a few tables quite close together and customers wading into bowls of laksa and plates of noodles and chicken rice. It's very much a weekend get together sort of place for friends and families and the majority of diners appeared to be Chinese Malaysian or Singaporean with only one Caucasian (me).

Based on Ms Counting her Calories recommendations we went for the Assam Laksa, the Char Hor Fun and the Hainanese Chicken Rice. While not on the menu on Saturdays, Straits Café also does Popiah, sort of like a large steamed spring roll.

First dish to arrive was the chicken rice. The good part was chicken itself, which was very smooth and silky just like it should be. I did find the rice a bit tasteless though. With a really good Hainanese chicken rice you should almost be able to eat the rice as a meal by itself. Not the case here.

I thought the Assam laksa was better. Piping hot when it arrived and a popular choice at other tables, it was both sweeter and less spicy than I've had in Penang (Ms CHC indicated she normally asks for it spicy). The flavours of the mint and pineapple came through nicely though and I'd agree that it’s the best I've tried in Melbourne (that’s not such a big call though, it's kind of hard to find here).

Also pretty good was the char hor fun, rice noodles in an egg based gravy. This is one of our favourite Malaysian dishes, with the gravy adding a smooth velvety texture to this dish.

Popiah was something I'd heard of but never tried before. I was very curious to try it but ended up a little disappointed. While the filling and sauce were fine the whole thing showed a tendency to fall apart, so you ended up with popiah skin on your chopsticks and filling trailing across the plate. Shui thought that could be because the popiah skins weren't fresh but prepacked. Still, it was good to finally get around to trying them.

For dessert we went for the Bubur Itam (black rice in coconut milk) and the Bengka kueh (baked cassava cake). I'd never had Benkga Kueh before but these were seriously good. Golden in colour, moist in texture and rich in taste, a new addition to my list of favourite kueh.

I quite like Bubur Itam but one of fellow diners thought that it was a bit too starchy.

Good solid Malaysian Café with good food, helpful staff and supersonic service at reasonable prices but pretty lacking in the ambience stakes. It's not a place to linger, more one to order, eat and leave or to get takeaway. Best thing about it though is the fresh kueh, which is quite hard to find in Melbourne.

Food - 7.5
Service - 8
Ambience - 5.5
Price - 7

694 Doncaster Road
Doncaster VIC 3108
Tel: (03) 9848 1605

Straits Cafe on Urbanspoon

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