Kitchen Inn Cafe, Thornlie
We're really excited to find another suburban Perth cafe that serves Malaysian hawker-style food for brunch, including specialty dishes that are hard to find locally. On Sunday morning, we visit one-week-old Kitchen Inn Cafe at Thornlie Square shopping centre on Spencer Road.
Jac's favourite breakfast dish of nasi lemak is on the menu but not available at the time, so she orders the Port Klang bak kut teh (AU$7.90).
Bak kut teh is a homestyle Chinese soup popular in Malaysia and Singapore. The name "bak kut teh" literally means "meat bone tea". The dish is made with pork, usually spare ribs, sometimes pork belly too, simmered for hours in a broth flavoured with herbs and spices, including star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves, liquorice root, garlic and cloves. Optional ingredients include offal, mushrooms and beancurd.
Port Klang, in the state of Selangor, Malaysia, is said to be the home of bak kut teh, where it was traditionally eaten by Chinese migrant port workers as a hearty breakfast dish before a hard day's labour. It was eaten not only for its unique flavour but for the medicinal and nourishing properties of the richly flavoured broth.
Kitchen Inn's bak kut teh includes tender meaty pork ribs and foo chok (beancurd skin) and is served with steamed rice.
It's a warming, comforting pot of goodness that reminds me of Malaysia and my late grandmother, who used to make a great bak kut teh. The sweet, dark broth is served scalding hot (yes, I burn my tongue within seconds). It's wonderful sipped from a spoon or eaten soaked into the fragrant steamed rice. It's Jac's first bak kut teh and she tells me she'll happily order it again.
As soon as I see Sarawak laksa on the menu I know I must order it (regular AU$7.90, large AU$9.90). I've only eaten it once before - on my recent trip to Kuching. While curry laksa is readily available, Sarawak laksa is not as well known nor easily found on restaurant menus in Perth. Perth readers, do you know of any other local restaurants that serve authentic Sarawak dishes?
Sarawak laksa is unique among other Malaysian laksas. Most Australian laksa devotees have probably fallen in love with curry laksa. Some may also be familiar with Penang-style asam laksa, made with sour tamarind paste. But if you travel around Malaysia you will find that different regions of the country have their own variations, with differences in the soup base, the type of noodles used, and the accompaniments/garnishes served. The Sarawak laksa soup has a sambal belacan base with tamarind, galangal, lemon grass, garlic and coconut milk. Sarawak laksa is served with thin rice noodles (never egg noodles), omelette strips, shredded chicken, prawns, and bean sprouts. A squeeze of fresh lime juice really enhances the flavour.
The bak kut teh is tasty but the Sarawak laksa is outstanding. I'm glad I ordered the regular rather than large - it's a huge serving. My laksa arrives in a bowl filled with a thick spicy gravy, rice noodles and piled high with prawns, shredded chicken, roast pork slices, omelette strips, bean sprouts and juicy tofu puffs. It smells enticing, looks amazing and my dining companions are filled with instant food envy. I decline the optional extra spoonful of sambal belacan for Jac's sake, but even without the extra stinky hit, it's delicious.
The spicy brown slightly gritty gravy is flavoursome and absolutely drinkable. When I've eaten everything else in the bowl, I don't give a thought to table manners - I lift the bowl to my lips and drink up every last drop of gravy.
Are you a laksa lover? What's your favourite laksa and what do you love about it?
My sister Juji is at work, so it's just her fiancé Jay having breakfast with us. His combination BBQ pork rice seems terribly ordinary compared with Jac's and my orders! The steamed rice is served with roast pork, BBQ pork, sliced fresh cucumber and garlicky chilli sauce. The roast pork is the highlight, with crisp crackling and thick bands of soft melting fat - I like it but Jay prefers the Hong Kong style roast pork that you find hanging from steel hooks in shop windows in Northbridge.
We all swap plates/bowls throughout the meal. I get the feeling Jay will keep eating my Sarawak laksa if I don't ask to have it back! Even Jac, not usually a sambal lover, enjoys the Sarawak laksa.
For drinks, we order kopi (coffee, AU$3), teh C special (cold, AU$3.50) and teh O special (cold, AU$2.50). Teh C special, teh tarik, kopi and Milo are all available hot or cold.
I have a nice chat with manager Chen Tin, who is from Sibu, Sarawak. Next time we visit I will try their kampua mee, or Foochow BBQ pork noodles - a Sibu specialty. Kitchen Inn make their own egg noodles for this dish as the authentic kampua noodles are unavailable in Perth. It looks like ours is the only table that has not ordered kampua! Other dishes on the menu include Hokkien noodles (AUR7.50), braised pork knuckle noodles (AU$7.50), fish head vermicelli with preserved vegetables (AU$8.90), braised beef brisket rice (AU$7.90) and oxtail curry rice (AU$8.90).
It feels a little disorganised at Kitchen Inn Cafe - the drinks fridge is empty, not all dishes on the menu are available, and when we first arrive, it's hard to tell if they are open or not. "OPEN" signs and menus posted outside will make a world of difference. A few tables outside the restaurant (if they're allowed) would make it more obvious the cafe is open for business. But the staff are all friendly and eager to please, and if the food we've eaten today is any indication, once they settle in, this will be a great little cafe to visit for a taste of Sarawak in Perth.
I feel pretty chuffed to have found a breakfast bak kut teh and Sarawak noodle place to go with my weekend breakfast curry and roti place (Gopi Curry Leaf in Willetton). Nothing against the old bacon and egg fry-up, but weekend breakfast/brunch in Perth keeps getting more and more interesting! We'll be back for sure.
Kitchen Inn Cafe is next to Thornlie Square Fish and Chips. Thornlie Square shopping centre is not the same shopping centre where Spencer Village Asian food hall is located; Thornlie Square and Spencer Village are both on Spencer Road, about 2km apart.
Kitchen Inn Cafe seats just under 40 people and Chen Tin tells me they get pretty busy in the evening, so go early if you want to avoid the queue.
Kitchen Inn Cafe
Shop 32, Thornlie Square Shopping Centre
Spencer Road, Thornlie WA 6108
Telephone: (08) 9452 7559
Tuesday to Friday 11am to 2.30pm, 5pm to 9pm
Saturday and Sunday 11am to 2.30pm, 5pm to 9pm
*Note: Kitchen Inn originally opened from 10am. This has now changed to 11am*