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Return of the Laksa King?

For the last couple weeks I've been watching - with a mix of amusement, bemusement and some hope - as one of Flemington's best loved joints re-invented itself. The new signage reminiscent of McDonald's brought a smile - is the King thinking of a dynasty of chain stores? The new location on Pin Oak Crescent is confusing because the existing location was always buzzing and bookings were theoretically possible but often bungled. And the hope? Well, I just wanted the food to be as good as when the King slummed it in a grubby arcade and you came away with change from a tenner for that steaming bowl of Malaysian soup.

We arrived late for our reservation and there was a huge crowd bubbling over into the street. It was opening week and there were floral tributes piling the windows, so I expected we'd be worshipping at the feet of the King for a while before our audience. But I was wrong. The new venue seats 200, so our reservation was honoured and we're zoomed through to meet the rest of our group. The long line gave us some sneers, but the new King favours bookers.

Inside it's nicely done out. The decor is a vast improvement on the cold tiles of the old arcade spot. The walls are muted shades and light fittings are fluid drops from the ceiling with their electricity cords looping off into wall decoration. There's even a garden feature that breaks up the hugeness of the place. We're shown to a low share bench with squat stools. It's not a comfy lounge-around feel which is a shame because unlike the old location you'd like to dawdle over dinner here. The concrete floor and lack of curtains makes it too clamourous for dinner party conversation, but you'll want to linger longer with this new monarch.

And crucially, the food. I order the usual chicken curry laksa with extra eggplant and it's reliably good - replete with two kinds of noodles, charred eggplant and shreds of chicken. Others at our table want to test the new menu. The menu re-think is a good one. They've kept the namesake dishes at the lower end the same but have a fewer higher end dishes to explore. So there's a Peking duck entree at just over twenty and 'Laksa King Selections' like a rockling fillet in sweet chilli tamarind that's just under eighteen dollars. My pescatarian companions go for the sambal fresh calamari that blends tender with a lick of spice. Straight-up vegetarian is limited and you'll find shrimp paste in the belachan veg dishes. But if you're there for their laksa it's reassuring and still a bargain.

The other constant between the two venues is the service. On a busy Friday night we waited just over 30 minutes for some pretty basic mains and roti bread. The larger premises stretch the staff thinner and on busy nights it's going to be tough to keep service consistent across the area. But that just means you have to order up a few more beers, which keeps the bill ticking over...

But these are quibbles of the King. If you're an old fan he remembers your favourites but wants to seduce you into a few new dishes. And if you've never been down with the King then the new venue makes a better first impression. He's certainly thriving in his new realm so rather than plotting revolution he remains a benevolent ruler of the Flemington's culinary kingdom though I'd be disappointed if the power went to his head and he tried to annexe other realms. The King is dead, long live the King.

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