You’ve probably heard of Iron Chef. Less well known is his Malaysian cousin Ayam Chef (or Chicken Chef in Malay), who produces wonderful Malaysian dishes amongst the sky scraping apartment buildings on Coventry Street in Southbank. I must admit even though I’m a big fan of Malaysian food and have friends who live just around the corner, I’d never heard of Ayam Chef. Surprisingly neither had my friends, even though the restaurant is hardly a secret given the way it rapidly packed out around 6.30pm with a mixture of families and Malaysian expats.
When you enter first impressions are good. Melbourne has a lot of lower end Malaysian restaurants but there is a distinct gap at the middle (and higher) end that Ayam Chef neatly slips into. It’s well decorated and comfortable, nicely lit with interesting wall decorations and polite service. As part of our invitation to try the restaurant Snooze and I were asked to select our choices from the menu and settled on the chicken satays and Hainanese Chicken Rice (mandatory for a place called Ayam Chef), one dish from the Hawker menu (Chow Hor Fun) and from the mains the wok fried buttery coconut prawns.
First to arrive was our chicken satay entrée. Snooze was quite impressed, pronouncing them amongst the best chicken satay she’s had and particularly liking the not too peanut buttery accompanying sauce. While I was in agreement about the sauce, and the satays were nicely cooked, as well as being fat and juicy, I found the flavour a little flat and would have loved the smoky flavour of a traditional charcoal cooked satay.
Again, the Hainanese Chicken Rice featured nice, plump chicken, accompanied by a tasty but not too spicy chilli sauce. The flavour of the rice was more robust than most chicken rices around town and the accompanying sprouts were nice and crunchy. Just a high quality chicken rice.
The last two dishes Snooze and I agreed were the dishes of the day. Of the two Snooze preferred the chow hor fun. This features hor fun noodles fried in the wok with other assorted goodies like pieces of chicken and fish cake, topped with an egg gravy sauce. Lots of wok hei for the noodles and the smooth delicate flavour of the sauce made this a comfort food par excellence.
My favourite though was the prawns. These were fat, juicy and came with just a hint of chilli to get the taste buds fired up, with the coconut crumble adding flavour and texture. Served on what I think was a rice cracker and definitely incredibly morish.
By this stage we were tossing up whether we could add a dessert to our meal, eyeing the durian cake listed on the specials wall. While we thought it would probably be beyond us we did eventually order the sago pudding; little sago balls sitting in coconut milk on top of a layer of palm sugar. Best when all the layers are mixed together, this is a delicious mixture of textures and flavours and one of my favourite Asian sweets.
We had some drinks to go with our meal.
Verdict: we loved it
I suppose one of the biggest complements I can give is after our complementary visit here I immediately arranged a return visit with some Malaysian friends. Excellent food, reasonably priced and a big jump in class from most of the Malaysian restaurants around town, somewhere that could easily hold its head high in Malaysia itself.