Elizabeth Street from Federation Square to Queen Victoria Market is as noisy, overcrowded and vibrant as any commercial avenue in the world. Think Times Square with its convenience stores, hair salons, tourist shops, electronics and adult stores and ATM machines, with abundant traffic and streetcars noisily making their way. The hustle and bustle were in stark contrast to the tranquility of Torquay and Lorne along The Great Ocean Road only 90 minutes away by car. It is also lined with restaurants and cafés of every imaginable kind, especially Asian, that compete for your meal dollar. There are more southeast Asian eateries here along this Melbourne street than I’ve ever seen anywhere.
Coconut House drew our attention as we were walking back from Victoria Market to the hotel. A Malaysian restaurant, the small space was packed with customers. Only a few storefronts south, there was a Coconut House 2, apparently established to satisfy demand, and it too was filled to the gills with eager eaters, surely a good sign.
Back at the hotel, my wife read that Coconut House is known for its authentic laksa, a spicy curry noodle soup, music to my ears because other than making one in a cooking class, I’ve never had one. Some reviewers on TripAdvisor also raved about its fried chicken chops. When dinnertime rolled around, this was my first choice.
The width of Coconut House 2 is barely 10 feet, seating 25 people or so. The crowd had died down from earlier in the afternoon so we were seated immediately. Other than preparing drinks, we couldn’t figure out the function of the small “kitchen” in the back because the laksa and fried chicken we ordered were delivered to our table from the original location down the street.
My wife’s chicken arrived first, served with bowls of clear and tasty chicken soup and dipping sauce made with plenty of garlic, chile paste, lime juice and perhaps fish sauce. There was also a generous mound of chicken rice. The boneless chicken thigh pieces lived up to their praise, the meat juicy and nicely seasoned and generous batter shatteringly crunchy. Dipped in the garlic sauce, it was even better (☆☆☆).
Laksa is not a pretty soup. Coconut milk and curry fried in oil don’t blend well so the mixture looks more like a Jackson Pollock painting. Still, there is an undeniable attraction to the soup because it is vivid and has tofu puffs, noodles, vegetables and a dollop of sambal on top. My bowl had sliced chicken thigh pieces, green beans, bean sprouts, half a hard-cooked egg, very tender Japanese eggplant and two kinds of pasta—thin rice vermicelli and thicker egg noodles. The first taste of any soup broth is the defining moment, and my laksa’s was excellent with coconut flavor, spicy from red curry paste and savory from most likely shrimp paste (belacan). A very good soup (☆☆☆½).
Coconut House, it seems, is the best among several Malaysian restaurants in Melbourne. It’s almost tempting to go back and try other things, but we’re here only for two more days. What a pity.
Coconut House/Coconut House 2
449 Elizabeth St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9329 6401