On a Saturday night, some people frock up and flock towards the bright lights of Melbourne City, while others head in an entirely different direction. Kotaraya is a Malaysian-Chinese restaurant sandwiched between an office supplies warehouse and flooring store just down the road from Monash University, Clayton.
Sure, it’s unglamorous with its large boxy room, mottled silvery wallpaper and karaoke TV, but look beyond this and you’ll notice that every table is full. People are chatting merrily and there’s the sound of a thousand chopsticks clacking.
This restaurant is not the place for territorial eating. Do as the Romans do and order up big, and then split the (very reasonable) bill.
Kick things off with the lohbak, a Malaysian take on the sausage roll with tasty minced pork wrapped in a thin, crisp tofu skin. Follow this up with any vegetable stir fried in the addictive sambal paste: the okra is crisp and fresh without a hint of its notorious sliminess, while the eggplant absorbs the distinctive sambal flavour. Above all else, order the house-made tofu. It’s creamy, delicate and served on a first-in-best-dressed basis to those in the know.
The only savoury disappointment is a tepid Nonya chicken that’s spent too much transit time between wok and table. Best to lower your expectations for dessert as it’s of the banana fritter variety and entirely forgettable.
The staff do their absolute best to please: even when it’s frantic they’re happy to make suggestions, discuss dishes and crank up the ‘happy birthday’ music for someone’s special day.
Gather your posse and loosen your gusset for some cheap eats in the ’burbs. And no, you can’t wear your tracksuit pants. Kelly Eng