Laksa King

6/10-12 Pin Oak Crescent Flemington, VIC 3031

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Opening hours Daily 11.30am-3pm,Sun-Thurs 5pm-10pm,Fri-Sat 5pm-10.30pm
Features BYO
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Phone 03 9372 6383

FOR 12 years, Laksa King occupied its dingy quarters at the back of a no-frills arcade in downtown Flemington, the Malaysian stronghold beloved by its subjects with a Soup Nazi kind of zeal.

Eight weeks ago, the King opened its flash new premises — a bright, spacious and modern dining-room with polished-concrete floors, a big shopfront window and its own loos (no more sharing the arcade's facilities).
Indonesian designer Vian Risanto and MNE Architects have done a bang-up job in creating the new-look Laksa King, which has been primped and groomed to an almost unrecognisable state.

On the chocolate-brown feature wall, noodles unfurl from a giant stylised bowl. A clutch of round light globes dangles from the ceiling, the exposed cords a continuation of the noodle strands.

Down the back, the outdoors is brought stylishly in, with exposed brick and a sexy indoor partition of louvre windows and bamboo, beautifully lit with a big skylight. Mirrors create the illusion of more space; if only it were true — even with 140 seats (90 more than the old shop) there are still nightly queues but at least now the wait times are shorter. Long communal tables accommodate the hordes, creating a mess hall-type vibe, and the low-slung, chunky wooden seats are deliberately uncomfortable to keep bums on seats but not for too long — this is high-turnover dining.

In the open kitchen, an all-Asian team of chefs churn out typical Malaysian Chinese dishes with a hawker bent.
Twice-cooked pork belly is steamed and braised in a soy-based sauce, sweet with rock sugar and flavoured with cinnamon and star anise.

It is a worthy chef's special. Same with the home-made tofu, made (not on the premises) by bean-curd-maker Mr Wong as a sideline to his normal job. Four big, wobbly rectangles are silken and supple, lightly fried, with king oyster, shiitake and button mushrooms. It is delicious and the pick of what we ate.

The fish head curry, a jumble of beady-eyed rockling in a yellow coconut-based sauce with pineapple, okra, eggplant and tomato, was also pretty tasty, and the char kway teow, with the option to add clams, super-smoky (almost too much so).
As for the seafood laksa, I hate to say, I was a little disappointed. The two types of noodle (thin vermicelli, thick egg) were good and there was a wide spread of seafood (ling, prawn, fish cake, mussel and squid) but it didn't seem as bountiful as in previous tastings. The signature chunk of fried eggplant was there, and plenty of tofu, but the coconut broth was a bit one-dimensional, without enough chilli heat. It was still a solid performer but just seemed to lack a bit of love.

But who cares, right? The King is what it is — a place for a quick, cheap feed where you know exactly what you're getting every time. Does the King still reign? Sure — and now its new fitout is princely.

nrousseau@theage.com.au