Cheap Eat – Mamak House

Ever since I moved to Melbourne 3 weeks ago, I have been eating out. It is hard to cook for one person. That is what my friend tells me. I used to ask him why he always eat out – almost every night. Now I understand why. I am now living on my own. Only for a few months, until my partner comes to join me next year. I am sure a lot of single people out there does the same. It is quite easy especially living in a big city like Melbourne. There are so many places to choose. Lots and lots.

I call it cheap eat if I can get a good meal for less than $10 for lunch and under $20 for dinner. I only eat out if I don’t feel like cooking. Like tonight. I have found some really good cheap eat places for a single person since I moved here. Unfortunately, I have not thought of taking my camera when eating out at this places. I should have because there are lots of single people out there who don’t always cook.

Cheap eat does not have to be the fast food takeaway – ie, Mac Donald, KFC, Food Court, Noodle Takeaway, Pizza Takeaway, Kebab Takeaway etc. I have found several of the Asian restaurants here offers special “cheap lunch” for less than $10! And, they are proper Asian restaurants and cafes serving good and decent meal. Most of these places that I have tried have won me over. They were good and affordable for single person to eat out. But, not every place that I have tried is a winner. Tonight is one of them.

Since I moved here at South Yarra, an inner suburb of Melbourne I have been wandering up and down the famous Chapel Street. But, I have only walked as far as the intersection at Chapel Street and High Street. It is interesting to note that starting from the traffic light junction of Chapel Street/Toorak Road, the many shops along this stretch of Chapel Street are mostly high end fashion boutique shops and stylish restaurants with a famous landmark – Jam Factory. As the shops reached the next suburb of Toorak before Chapel Street and Malvern Road intersection, they become less fashionable, less interesting and more common. But, the area of Toorak is where one will find the famous Toorak Market and Chapel Street Bazaar of little antique stalls. These two landmarks are worth the visits.

Tonight I have decided to venture further down Chapel Street to see what surprises are in store for me. I walked past Chapel Street and High Street intersection towards the next suburb of Windsor. The shops along here become more interesting. They are mostly restaurants, nightclubs, cocktail bars, wine bars and a couple of Op shops. Most of the restaurants and clubs look very trendy and stylish from outside.

It was still early about 7pm when I got to this part of Chapel Street. It was a bit quiet and most people were looking for a place to eat. The crowd scene changed dramatically after 9pm when I finished my dinner. The entire stretch of this street became very lively with trendy crowd in their mid twenties to thirties. Mostly young, single professional and the DINK (Double Income No Kids). It was noisy all along the streets with several clubs and bars opened onto the street. Melbourne is popular with its alfresco style dining and bars. There are lots of them along this street. Almost all of the restaurants and bars opened to the street with tables and chairs. It is all happening here in Chapel Street.

It was here when I saw this bright white neon sign with the word “Mamak”. My immediate instinct is that it has to be either a Malaysian or an Indonesian restaurant. Even from across the street, I could see the inside of the restaurant. It was bright inside. But, I have decided to keep walking until I reached another set of lights before I crossed to the other side to check it out. That is, if I have not found another cheap eat on this side of the street.

Either fortunately or not fortunately, and being spontaneous I ended up at “Mamak House” for my dinner. Mamak House is located at 97 Chapel Street, Windsor, VIC 3181. It is a new Malaysian restaurant (as written on a street sign board placed outside the shop).

I walked into the restaurant. It is more of a cafe than a restaurant. Looks simple compared to the other restaurants along the street. It has many shabby white lampshades with extremely bright light bulbs hanging from the ceiling matched with the loud coloured red, pink and aubergine stripy wallpapers on both sides of the wall. The restaurant has less than 30 seats with maybe 2 or 3 small tables outside.

The two girls working at the front of the house were friendly with a nice well coming smile. I was quite excited about my find. The other customers, most of them just arrived as well, were chatting and having a great time. I looked through the menu. A simple and small menu. The price looked very reasonable. Most of the dishes on the menu sounds Malaysian, and there were a few Thai dishes, including Tom Yum. I thought the sign outside said it was a Malaysian restaurant. Hmm…why added Thai dishes??

I was tossing between eating rice with curry chicken and beef rendang, or a satay entree with a bowl of seafood curry laksa. I chose the later. I was not in the mood for rice.

The satay on the menu cost $5 for 3 sticks of either a chicken satay, a beef satay or a lamb satay. I asked the FOH girl if I can order a combination of one stick each so I can try the three different satay meat. I was glad they were able accommodate my need.

I sat there with my iPhone. Googled Mamak House, and found a blog post and 3 other reviews. All sounded positive. So must be good, which build up my expectation while eagerly waiting for my satay and laksa. I waited and waited. One of the table of a family of four ordered before me. Another table of six friends ordered after me. Then there were a couple of takeaway orders. The family of four were waiting for their meal as well. 15 minutes later, one of their entree arrived – “ManTau with stuffed duck”. I was a bit tempted to order this at first. 5 minutes later their Char Koay Teow arrived. I looked at it. Another 5 minutes later their seafood laksa arrived followed by another dish (which I wasn’t sure what it was). Strange to have each of their meal arrived separately.

I continue to wait for my satay and laksa. So, was the other table of six friends. Other customers walked in. A table of two and another table of two. Then a family of six and another couple of two. Finally my laksa arrived. 45 minutes later. The girl was very apologetic. I told her not to worry because I was not in a rush. My satay which was meant to be an entree arrived few minutes later.

I looked at the 3 sticks of satay and almost cried. They looked pathetic and dried up from over grilling. There were little meat on each stick. The taste and flavour were alright. The little spoonful of satay sauce on the little white saucer placed on a big square white plate made the dish looked so unappetizing. Then there were a little shredded carrots and 2 slices of red onion on the side as garnishes. But, then this entree was only $5. I would rather pay $8 or $9 for a chunkier and juicy meat on the skewer and a bit more satay sauce on the side of the plate.

The laksa was served in a shallow oval shaped white bowl. It was topped with lots of julienne carrots, cucumber and red onion. Too much slices of red onion for my liking. I have never seen a Malaysian laksa served in this manner. There were two quarters of fried puff tofu, a few small prawns, one mussel and 2 calamari rings with Hokkien noodle and bean sprouts. Cost $11.90. I was actually quite disappointed with this laksa. The laksa stock was a bit thick and powdery. The curry laksa paste was not freshly made. In my opinion there are two versions – a chef made laksa paste using fresh ingredients and an imitation version of using ready made paste or powder. I can understand a noodle takeaway shop using the imitation paste which nowadays one can get a really good one from an Asian supermarket. But I would expect a restaurant serving laksa to make their own paste to make a difference.

Mamak House is new. I guess they have a lot of lessons to learn from kitchen operation to the order system. The FOH service was good. I pity the girls who have to serve the customers. The kitchen seems chaotic, which I can see from my seat. They have mixed up order. That poor table of six friends who ordered after me were still waiting after I finished my meal, an hour or so later. Two of the friends have got their order, but the other four were still waiting and waiting. Then, there was the newly arrived customers and a few takeaways! I really empathised with the staff who probably were feeling very stressed out by the time I finished my meal. I can certainly sense and see the other customers looking a bit grumpier and annoyed by the delay of their food

I admire the young staff and whoever were working in the kitchen at time for opening this new Malaysian restaurant in the busy and competitive Chapel Street of Windsor. I wish them the best and hope they will learn quickly and recify their problems and systems before loosing any customers.


About Victor

I live in Melbourne. Blogging as a pleasure. Sharing my thoughts, mostly on food and places I find interesting. I am on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook Page which you can follow by clicking on the link on my blog page.
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5 Responses to Cheap Eat – Mamak House

  1. Philip Theobald says:

    Hi Victor, glad to read you are settling into the cosmopolitan life style of Melbourne. What you describe is so typical of many restaurants, The front of house is good but no back up from the kitchen or its the other way. The kitchen is great but the trainee hospitality students in the front are a let down.
    I ate last week at Trattoria Pagotto in Limore where the husband and wife team were fantastic. He was the chef and she was front of house and take away Pizza. I think families are the key to success in the small eats market.

  2. Jay-P. says:

    Nice to see you’re living new adventures! Enjoy them.
    From our side: not much posting now.
    We had to make a rush trip to Penang as a close relative passed away. She lived a long and mostly good life though but was getting very frail lately.
    Of course it’s always sad to have to let go. May she rest in peace.
    Anyway, hopefully we’ll return visiting and posting about Penang soon after everything is taken care of.

    • Victor says:

      Hi JP, it’s always hard to be miles apart. I remembered when my dad passed away suddenly, it was very difficult for me. I hope you and your wife will overcome the unfortunate news and find life back to normal soon. We will be in Penang mid next month for 2 weeks. Really looking forward because I will probably not able to go home that often with this new job. Cheers, Victor

      • Jay-P. says:

        Thanks for your support and you have a great stay when returning home. We’ll be back in some time soon as well as there is some adminstration, local burocracy-red-tape and banking stuff that has to be looked after. I like Malaysia a lot but their red-tape is even worse than in Mainland China… or Belgium for that matter.

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