Tucked away in a little alley along Grote Street in Adelaide, Chef Lai Noodle Café is a great place to try a good variety of Malaysian noodle dishes, along with a few Malaysian street food favourites. Portion size of the dishes served here is very generous and can easily be shared with a friend if you wish. The dishes we have tried there are Pan Mee Soup, Laksa with Yong Tau Foo, Fried Chicken Rice, Pan Mee Dry, Curry Chicken Rice and Wonton Dry Noodle.
We were attracted to the café because it was the first time that we had come across Pan Mee on a menu. My mother cooks it at home but she calls it Mee Hoon Kueh. Pan Mee (or Pan Mien) literally means "flat flour noodle". It's probably best described as an Asian pasta. However, unlike pasta which is nicely and evenly shaped, Pan Mien is cooked by stretching the dough by hand and tearing pieces of it into the soup. Chef Lai's Pan Mee Soup was accompanied with vegetables, fried shallots, fried ikan bilis (anchovies) and pork crackling. The pieces of dough were cooked just right with the soup bringing out its flavour and the fried shallots, ikan bilis and pork crackling providing the crunch. If you like to give it a bit more kick, the dish comes with chilli in soy sauce that you can dip the Pan Mee in.
Pan Mee Soup
If you prefer, they also serve a dry version of Pan Mee in which the dough is stir fried with vegetables and ikan bilis. The dough was cooked as well as the one in the soup version of the dish with the sauce the ingredients were cooked with enhancing its flavour. As with the soup version, they provide chilli in soy sauce that you can dip the Pan Mee and vegetables in.
Pan Mee Dry
Chef Lai has a version of Laksa that is served with Yong Tau Foo, which is tofu or vegetables stuffed with fish paste. The Yong Tau Foo in Chef Lai's Laksa consisted of eggplant, bean curd skins, chilli and okra that were stuffed with fish paste and fried to give the vegetables a unique texture. Noodles in the Laksa were cooked to al dente with the soup heightening the flavour of the ingredients with just the right amount of spiciness.
Their Wonton Noodles had wontons which were juicy and noodles which were cooked to al dente with the sauce the noodles were fried in enhancing its flavour. It is also quite smart of them to serve the wontons separately from the noodles so the moisture from the wontons will not dilute the sauce used to cook the noodles in.
Apart from their noodle dishes, Chef Lai also serves a few dishes with rice. The Fried Chicken Rice normally comes with steamed rice, but we were able to substitute it for the chicken rice that is served as part of their Hainanese Chicken Rice. The chicken was fried to golden brown with the crisp coating contrasting wonderfully with the succulent meat. The chicken rice also had the right amount of 'chicken rice' flavour that makes it delicious. It comes with a bowl of soup, fresh salad and sweet chilli sauce that you can dip the chicken in.
Fried Chicken Rice
Another rice dish that you can order is the Curry Chicken Rice. The chicken was tender with the curry gravy adding a potent spicy hit to the dish with the firmer potatoes adding an element of texture. The curry was served with plain rice and a refreshing salad to help balance out the spiciness of the curry.
Curry Chicken Rice
Despite its small size, the restaurant still had a welcoming ambience that is somewhat similar to a more relaxed version of a food court. Off street parking within walking distance is also available at the undercover carpark across the street from the restaurant.