189-193 Barkly Street Footscray, Victoria 301103 9078 8878
|Opening hours||Sun-Thurs, 10.30am-9.30pm; Fri-Sat 10am-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||Mastercard, Visa, eftpos|
Melbourne has its share of celebrity chefs, but can any of them twirl roti canai in time to Chinese pop? Roti Road hosts the most-talked-about chef Footscray has seen in a long while: Awi, a master roti maker, and he is brilliant to watch.
From his kitchen station, behind glass, he spreads an oiled ball of dough, lifts and slaps it back down in a circular motion to airy thinness before launching it above his head and twirling it ceilingwards without making a tear or tiny hole. Then, he lays it back down on the bench and folds in its ends to make an envelope of air. It's cooked quickly on the hotplate, then plumped (like a stubborn cushion).
He may even do an extended version, freestyling with that roti, almost leading it around and boomeranging it, depending on how many people are watching. You'd be amazed how many people watch the telly mounted on the opposite wall, screening MasterChef when they could be watching a real-life master chef, in the flesh.
Even without the show, the roti is great. It's served on a tin plate with rich, hot sambal, thin-bodied earthy dhal, and curry sauce with a chilli grin. Tear up the flaky, chewy roti and swipe it through the sauces.
Other Malaysian staples include deeply warming laksa. The veg version is based on a decent coconut curry broth with lurking spices. It's flush with slippery egg noodles and topped with spongy slabs of tofu that slurp up the broth, string beans, eggplant pieces and sodden bok choy. It's pretty good.
Char kwai teow - that dark, glistening mass of flat noodles with a deliciously smoky fug - are a little one-dimensional here, missing some spice, and with no char-flavour on the pine-cone-cut calamari. But, a serve of sambal is never far away.
There are dim sum both as entree and as yum cha (until 3pm). These come from the mum of one of the three owners, who had a dumpling business here before this place.
The boys have fitted out Roti Road to look almost cafe-like with its wooden wall-mounted shadow boxes filled with plants and red banquettes. But, it's a distinctive brand of cafe where the plants are plastic, the floor is glossy tiles and the service often evaporates once the food arrives.
Roti Road is a big, double-fronted restaurant with two dining rooms. If you're in the room without the window to the kitchen, there's a chance the kitchen will come to you. Awi may bust out of the kitchen and bust moves to music. While he's working the floor, six other chefs are toiling over a broad offering of dishes, from fish-head curry to Maggi noodle mee goring, nasi lemak and an awesome crackly-skinned fried chicken. Whatever you do, take the roti road.
Do … Bring the whole family; it's an all-ages show.
Don't … Watch telly in a restaurant.
Dish … Roti canai.
Vibe … Malaysian diner.