Saturday 25 May 2013

Monk & Me (Malaysian Restaurant)

9 Evans Place, Hawthorn East, VIC 3123

Monk & Me on Urbanspoon
This fully licensed restaurant has been around for a while and is pretty much an icon in this area. It seems to have the formula right with a upmarket feel and look, jazz music and a good variety of dishes. It gets busy and noisy and yet continues to achieve on relatively low Urbanspoon Scores. So, what's the story? I think the key is in understanding the clientale. I have to say, the food here is not bad, which is not to say it is authentic or that it is the best Malaysian in Melbourne.  

Tables are close to each other
The Place
The space is pleasant enough though it suffers from bad sound insulation when it gets crowded. There is nothing to indicate that it is a Malaysian restaurant - the vaguely Asian deco and artworks are not specifically Malaysian - though it does hint of exotica (just enough - not too much). For a restaurant of its calibre, it does still space diners rather closely to each other. The tables are all moveable for different configurations to fit differently sized groups of diners. There's usually heaps of parking around, either on Campberwell Road, the car park around the shopping area and The Well.  

Things to do Nearby: Shops of the area, heaps to explore.  

The Food
This restaurant focuses on shared mains rather than popular hawker dishes. The food is not bad. It is relatively tasty but the truth is, it is not all that authentic, and is somewhat watered down in terms of spices. Here's an example, the Mee Goreng (which was a very generous portion) was really tasty but did not have a kick and was very sweet. If I were to judge it on the basis of noodle dish, I'd say that it's rather nice. However, if I were to compare it to what I know is authentic Malaysian Indian Mee Goreng, this dish would fail and might even cause a minor shock with the sweetness.
Sweet Mee Goreng (tasty tasty)

In short the range of dishes here are not bad, but the level of authenticity is lower than expected. It lacks the richness of spices or the kick from the chillies. It appeals to a westernised audience and does very well on that level.
A range of appetisers - the lohbak (Meat Spring Rolls in the foregound) is good and reminiscent of Penang LohBak
The Service
For the set up and for what it charges, the service here is far from desirable. Smiling is at a premium and there's just no effort to engage anyone in any sort of way other than to take your order, bring your food and collect your money with a very hollow "Thank You". This is really unfortunate and the attitude and complete of facial expressions from different wait staff is rather offputting. It gave a sense that they were doing me a huge favour and that I was really an inconvenience... errrr, ok, maybe I won't bother you again in the future.

It's not my go-to place for Malaysian but once in a while, I'd come to see if it has changed. This is however, very doubtful but I still would come anyway because even if I don't get my authentic Malaysian fix, I can still expect some good "Malaysian inspired" dishes - IF I feel like putting up with unsmiling unengaging wait staff.

Cultural Moment
Not all Mee Gorengs are equal. To my knowledge, when people from SEAsia talk abotu Mee Goreng, they can refer to either the Indian Mee Goreng, or the Indonesian Mee/Mie Goreng.  I will talk about the two here.

The Indian Mee Goreng is also known as Mamak Mee Goreng. Mamak refers to Indian Muslims who inspire this dish in Malaysia and Singapore. This style of mee goreng uses Hokkien Noodles, and contains various de-seeded chillies, a little bit of sweet soy/oyster/tomato sauces combined, tomatoes and curry powder as well. This is on top of the usual garlic, shallots, spring onions, onions, bean shoots and sometimes, shredded cabbage. It can be a bit greasy but is usually a balance of pungent, sweet, tangy, and curry flavours with a bit of kick from the chillies. When you have a Chinese cooked Indiam Mee Goreng, it can be overly sweet sometimes.

Indonesian Mee Goreng is clearly different because firstly, it uses thing egg noodles (ramen style) or even instant noodles on occasion. It doesn't usually use tomato sauce or curry powder. Instead of bean shoots, they usually use shredded carrots mostly and cabbage only. They also tend to use more garlic and black pepper in this dish and sometimes, are more liberal with the thick caramalised soy sauce and kecap manis (Sweet soy).

Here's the thing though - lots of people might argue that if you just throw similar ingredients in - you have mee goreng. If you google it, you will probably find all sorts of recipes that completely mix up the two styles and make it all indistinguishable. You see, that's just not right. That's just different ways of frying noodles. The fact is, you'd find it difficult to get Indian Mee Goreng in most of Indonesia, just as, if you ordered Mee Goreng from an Indian Stall in Malaysia or Singapore, you are not likely to get Indonesian Mee Goreng.

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