Sunday, 21 October 2012

Review - Kitchen Inn

Fri, 19th Oct 2012 (visit #1)
Sat, 20th Oct 2012 (visit #2)

Kitchen Inn
469 Elizabeth St

Cuisine: Sarawak (Malaysian)
Taste Rating: 7.5/10   Value Rating: 8/10

Kitchen Inn on Urbanspoon

Kitchen Inn opened on 18th Oct 2012. The cuisine served here is particular to a state in East Malaysia called Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo. Sarawak has a colourful history, being ruled by the White Rajahs in its early years.  Sarawak has rainforest, orang utans, diverse ethnic groups as well as large Chinese and Malay populations. The Kitchen Inn menu has dishes popular in two Sarawakian cities, Kuching the capital of Sarawak, and Sibu. The owners of Kitchen Inn hail from Sibu; there is another Kitchen Inn in Perth, also run by the same family, I've been informed. 

So on to the food at Kitchen Inn. The focus is on dishes of Chinese origin. Kolo Mee and Sarawak Laksa are popular in Kuching, where Hokkien is a common Chinese dialect. Kampua Mee is popular in Sibu, where Foochow is a commonly spoken Chinese dialect. There is also Penang style Fried Kuey Teow, from an island state in West Malaysia.

Fri, 19th Oct 2012 (Visit #1) 

On a glorious Melbourne spring day, I went with two friends for lunch. It was the second day of trading. We were very fortunate as we only waited for about five minutes before a table became available, and we had it to ourselves. A queue formed shortly after and people were waiting for quite a while. There is indoor seating and footpath seating under awnings, and some tables are close enough that they are communal. 

Kitchen Inn

Outdoor Seating

Queue at Lunch time




We ordered Kolo Mee Special ($11), Sarawak Laksa ($10.90) and Penang Fried Kuey Teow ($8.90).  For the first three days of trading, select free drinks are included with the Kolo Mee and Sarawak Laksa - we had Iced Kopi and Iced Lemon Tea.

The Kolo Mee was good. I am relieved as this is the main reason I came to this restaurant. The noodles sat in a small amount of light sauce for you to mix in - this had the right amount of savouriness and slight sweetness, and was not as oily as would be the case in its country of origin which suits me just fine. What would have lifted the taste even more would be some cut chillies in a vinegar sauce - this is not available but there is a jar of sambal chilli on each table for adding to other dishes.  The noodle texture was good. If they can do a more skinny and curly noodle, this would be sublime! Sitting on top was a generous serve of minced pork which tasted great; the marinade is sweet so those who don't like sweet-tasting meats may not like this. There were also slices of lean char siu (BBQ pork). The Kolo Mee Special comes with 3 medium-sized prawns - this is the only point of difference with the regular Kolo Mee ($8.50). The prawns didn't particularly stand out in taste and it is debatable if the extra $2.50 is worth it. But this is detracting from my enjoyment of the Kolo Mee! If nothing else, I will go back for the Kolo Mee. And I like the traditional looking cockerel bowl that it is served in.

Kolo Mee Special

Cockerel Bowl

The Sarawak Laksa was another reason I came along to try this restaurant. The first impression was good. It had the right scent of Sarawak laksa. But on tucking in, I find the gravy was weaker than I would have liked. It was a generous serve with the gravy filling most of the large bowl. This dish could be tweaked by making the gravy less diluted thereby concentrating the savoury taste. If cost is an issue, there does not need to be so much gravy in the bowl - less is more, i.e., less amount but more concentrated. Interestingly, the gravy on the first visit had a heavier layer of oil on top than the one on the second visit. I always spoon aside the layer of oil in any soups. One thing that jumps out are these ingredients on top - half a hard boiled egg and three generous fried tofu pillows; these are not typical of Sarawak Laksa and are more typical of Curry Laksas such as those found in West Malaysia and Singapore. The noodles were vermicelli noodles.  Other ingredients are prawns and fish cake. Another surprise ingredient is char siu slices (BBQ pork) which are not normally found in Sarawak Laksa. Missing are strips of omelette and chicken which are typically found in this laksa, and a half Asian lime with a dash of sambal belachan. Overall, the taste could be stronger, the serve of noodles/toppings/gravy is generous, the price is reasonable.

Sarawak Laksa

Kolo Mee Special, Sarawak Laksa

Next is the Penang Fried Kuey Teow. There are various spellings for this dish, including Kuay Teow or Kway Teow. The friends I was with really liked this dish and though not from an Asian background, they have tried many Char Kuey Teows (CKTs) over the years. The rice noodle is skinnier than in the usual CKTs. There are good amounts of prawns, fish cake, egg and clams. The chilli heat seemed to be light on the first visit and about medium on the second visit. What I didn't really like is the taste of pork fat in the noodles. Pork lard or fried croutons of pork fat are found in authentic CKTs so the purists wouldn't complain but it is not for me. The Kolo Mee might have pork fat as well in the mixing oil, but I am prepared to ignore this one!

Penang Fried Kuey Teow

The gesture of complimentary iced drinks is appreciated. The Iced Kopi was not bad. But I didn't like the Iced Lemon Tea - it tasted too much like cordial. The Chinese tea is complimentary. Tea was commonly free in Chinese restaurants but in the last few years, many restaurants have started charging for them.

Iced Kopi, Iced Lemon Tea

Place is so new that tea cups still have barcodes on them!
As far as I know, Kitchen Inn is the first restaurant to serve Kolo Mee in Melbourne (happy to be corrected on this!). Looking around on both my visits there, many tables had ordered this dish. The other popular dishes were Sarawak Laksa and the Kampua Mee. There are variations of Sarawak Laksa in Melbourne but it is hard to get the same flavours as in its place of origin. For example, Laksa Bar in Melbourne has East Malaysian Laksa - while this is a great dish in its own right, it is not Sarawak Laksa.

The food and drink prices are reasonable. While the Perth prices seem to be cheaper, the Melbourne prices are still not bad. $8.50 for a Kolo Mee is great. The Sarawak Laksa is a large serve, for example. I hear that on being queried why the tofu in the Perth Sarawak Laksa is smaller than the Melbourne Sarawak laksa, the Kitchen Inn owner in Perth replied that the Melbourne people pay more so get bigger tofu. That is funny!

The staff seemed to be doing a good job on the whole, for a business in its first days of trading and coping with a hungry, curious crowd.  These are the dry stats on my first visit (as logged in the timestamps on my photos) which shows we had a good run with the service:
12.20pm  Arrive at Kitchen Inn
12.25pm  Table available
12.30pm  Ordered
12.32pm  Iced Kopi, Iced Lemon Tea served

12.43pm  Sarawak Laksa served
12.47pm  Kolo Mee served
1.02pm    Penang Kuey Teow served

Sat, 20th Oct 2012  (Visit #2)

I have written heaps now so will just give a quick description of visit #2. This time, there were four of us.  Again, we were fortunate to get a table immediately upon arrival at about 2.20pm, with a short queue forming later. People coming in even though it was late is a good sign for their business. We ordered 2 x Kolo Mee ($8.50), Sarawak Laksa ($10.90), Penang Fried Kuey Teow and Foochow Fried Hand made Noodle - Dry style($8.90). Five dishes for four of us, including two Kolo Mees. You can tell I like the Kolo Mee! This time I ordered the regular one without the prawns. Tastes just as nice as the one I had the day before. The Foochow noodle dish was not bad. Easy to eat, nice sauce, good ingredients. I can't speak for the authenticity but I will be happy to order this again. 

For drinks, we ordered Teh C Special but they were out of this. We also had complimentary Iced Milo and Iced Lemon Tea as part of the opening promotion mentioned earlier. I had the Iced Milo. They ran out of ice for the second Iced Milo but it was chilled so tasted okay.

Kolo Mee

 Sarawak Laksa - gravy has less oil today

Penang Fried Kuey Teow

Foochow Fried Hand made Noodles - Dry style

 The Menu


  1. Great review! I can't wait to try out this restaurant.

  2. Hi Donald,

    Thanks! Hope you enjoy your meal.


  3. Excellent review, thanks. Your attention to detail and evocative descriptions made me feel as if I were right there with you.

  4. Hi Gusteroonie,

    I am glad you like the review. Thanks for letting me know.

    Have a great day!


  5. Hi Arrow thanks for the Kuching's food in Melb. My hubby "ta pou" the kolo mee back for me yesterday it looks nice but when i tried it kind of missing something and it was not the same. I am not sure maybe not enough of the garlic or onion with oil and also I dont taste the vinegar too but i must say the topping is v good. For the Kuching Laksa I like authentic Laksa, your topping like the curry laksa topping etc may be you modified it over here and as I said before when came to Laksa and Kolo Mee i prefer authentic types and that is why it make Kuching food so special.

  6. Hi Anon,

    Thanks for the feedback! Yes, for the Kolo Mee, it would be nicer if the oil for mixing is more savoury or vinegary. That is one reason I miss the condiment with cut chillies and a bit of vinegar. For the Sarawak Laksa, I heard later that the owners wanted to put more variety into the toppings to cater for the taste of the "locals" in Melbourne. I believe, however, that people who are familiar with Sarawak Laksa would appreciate it being true to the original toppings, and would not miss the extras like tofu.