Melbourne’s Elizabeth Street, Coconut House for Dinner (Melbourne, VIC)

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 (☆☆☆).

Fried chicken chop with chicken rice

Fried chicken chop with chicken rice

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).

Chicken laksa

Chicken laksa

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

Lunch at Kiwi Country Fast Food (Auckland, NZ)

We could easily have passed by Kiwi Country, a Chinese-Malay restaurant in the basement of a building near Albert Park. Wide stairs from street level pointed us down to the front door. Once inside, we were faced with a very extensive menu on the wall with pictures to help us decide. Next to each item were slips on which were written the name of the item; you can take one to the cashier when you’re ready to order. The interior space is large. We were the only customers except for one other party.

Pictures and item slips help when ready to place an order

The broth in the Spicy Laksa Noodles with Vegetables was very tasty and spicy, a meat-based stock though the dish had no meat in it. Depending on what’s available at the grocers, the vegetables may vary. Since this was the dead of winter, today’s selection included broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and sliced radishes, with tofu and shredded carrots and green cabbage as garnish. The picture on the wall showed a garnish of cilantro, but there was none today since there wouldn’t be any available for another few months yet.

Spicy Laksa Noodles with Vegetables

Tasty Wonton Noodle Soup included nicely made pork wonton and accompanied by broccoli, carrots and cabbage.

Wonton Noodle Soup

The prices were reasonable and the selection enormous. If it’s your first time, don’t be surprised if it takes you a while to decide.

Kiwi Country Fast Food
3/189 Queen Street
Auckland, New Zealand 1010
09 379 8889