June 1st. Winter. A time of foggy breath, puffy jackets and the ever fashionable Ugg boots. A time when getting a little closer to your crush isn’t questioned. A time when breakfast in bed replaces the morning run, and when hot, soupy bowls of noodles literally warm the soul.
Winter is here, and with it, a continuation of a now four-year tradition for the blog. It’s time for the best X in Sydney.
It’s a love-hate relationship, these posts; writing them is akin to getting up in the morning during winter – a bitch. But with the result being a representative list of some of Sydney’s most-loved dishes? Invaluable, priceless, even as it shaves years off my lifespan.
With that said, I’m Still Hungry and his belly bring you the 2018 edition featuring the intense, the spicy and the shirt stain-worthy signature noodle soup dish from Malaysia. Put your bibs on and practise your best slurp: it’s time for some laksa!
The ‘best X in Sydney’ series started with ramen, continued with burgers, matcha lattes, and now with laksa, we’ve come full circle. Both dishes have rich, Sino-influenced origin stories and are revered as signatures of their cuisines. Both are readily accessible, cheap, and ostensibly simple, yet belying incredible complexity beneath the (sometimes very oily) surface. Much like how ramen is Japan’s ‘fastest food with the slowest preparation time’, laksa is likewise a time-consuming affair in its construction. Like its Japanese brother, it’s a gift to noodle lovers all around the world.
It’s amazing what a little bit of shrimp paste and coconut milk can do. I hit up twenty in an attempt to find you Sydney’s best.
Laksa (or curry mee as it’s known in some areas of Malaysia) is considered Peranakan cuisine – the descendants of Chinese immigrants who came to the Malay archipelago, Indonesia and parts of Thailand several centuries ago. Broadly speaking, there are two primary schools of the dish, and they could hardly be more different. One is assam laksa, commonly defined by its strong smell & taste – redolent of fishiness and tamarind acidity – and relatively clear soup. Assuming you don’t want to alienate your workmates, it’s not the kind of dish to eat at your desk. The second, and by far the most common type of laksa is the curry laksa, also known as the Singaporean curry laksa.
The Best Laksa In Sydney – Assessment Methodology
While I love all types of laksa, I must confess that curry laksa undoubtedly holds the most special of places in my heart, and so too does most of the world. Thus, this is the type in focus. Besides, if this was a ‘best assam laksa in Sydney’ blog post, it would be a helluva short one. Not every restaurant that serves curry laksa serves assam laksa. Go figure.
At each of the laksa restaurants i visited (regardless of prior visits), I ordered their combination curry laksa, where possible. This order allowed me to assess the laksa toppings in terms of variety and quality (as well as quantity, but under another sub score). In the instances when a combo laksa was not available, I defaulted to their seafood option.
Naturally, to ensure post-hoc accuracy, I took detailed notes immediately upon eating or on the same day as consumption at latest. This reduced recollection errors and improved informational integrity to the best possible extent.
Thankfully, this isn’t as hard as ramen. There are only so many variables at stake here – no ‘tonkotsu, shoyu or miso’ head-scratching needed. That said, you may still like your laksa in a way that we would agree to disagree, so here’s what I value, in order: broth, noodles, and toppings.
Broth is out of 10 (yes, this is hugely important to me), with noodles out of 6 and toppings out of 4. Please take into account your own preferences when considering the numbers. The Appendix provides further detail on this rubric.
Previous visits to laksa restaurants predating this post were not considered. For example, even after 20 visits to Malay Chinese, I only judged the bowl that was in front of visit when i went to visit the restauran for this post. This was to ensure fairness for restaurants that have had few, or no visits, prior to this post.
It really shouldn’t need to be said, but I paid for all meals with my own money, and had no personal interactions with any restaurant owners that may otherwise have affected my judgement.
If you have criticisms of my methodology or scoring, please feel free to shout me another 20 bowls of laksa with your superior methodology and I’ll be happy to indulge 😉
(But no seriously, shout out in the comments if you’ve any feedback!)
Let’s do this.
Table of Contents
Malay Chinese, Wynyard
This is the OG. The institution, if there ever was one for laksa in Sydney. Even in Summer, its 80-odd seats that are arranged for maximum bums-per-square-metre are packed during the lunch rush. People are willing to literally stew in their work clothes for the laksa and other Chinese-influenced South-East Asian cuisine.
I’ve visited Malay Chinese more than 50 times, and almost each time, I inevitably conclude that it’s the best laksa in Sydney. While this list – *spoilers* – shook that up a little, it is still undoubtedly one of the best. Enduringly good.
The perfect broth. Literally the benchmark by which all others are set. Malay Chinese’s fiery elixir is slightly sweet, bringing out the full impact of its coconut milk. The prawn sambal and tamarind paste isn’t left behind, bringing up the rear with the required savoury hits that makes laksa, laksa.
Rice noodles (bee hoon) – while well-cooked – are the only type served, which diluted the laksa’s texture and ‘slurp’ factor. Unimpressive, but not lagging behind other single-noodle competition.
Seafood & chicken was as combinatory as Malay Chinese gets. Big, plump king prawns and some of the better (read: not dry) chicken of the laksas tasted in this post gave little latitude for complaint.
While DIY condiments are scarce on the ground, the one that counts most – chilli sambal – is in unlimited supply. Scoop up as much as you want from a giant pot when picking up your order: this is some of the best free-flowing sambal you can get.
Total score: 16/20
Sassy’s Red (Chinta Ria), Westfield Pitt St Food Court
Chinta Ria used to be the Temple of Love, (no seriously https://www.yelp.com.au/biz/chinta-ria-temple-of-love-sydney-2) occupying one of the most enviable spaces overlooking Pyrmont Bridge and Darling Harbour. While its restaurant empire is now diminished compared to its heyday, its three spin-offs (the current flagship Chinta Ria Mood For Love, and casual eateries Sassy’s Red & Ella Blues) are holding the fort for true zealots.
It’s at Sassy’s Red, located on Level 5 of Sydney’s CBD Westfield Food Court that we found the next laksa awaiting its fateful resting place in my stomach.
A surprisingly light broth subverted my expectation of what I thought would come out of a place with ‘Sassy’ and ‘Red’ in its name. It wasn’t spicy, it wasn’t hot, it wasn’t oily, and it wasn’t intense. Drinkable? Yes. But it was milkier than most, which isn’t my preferred style.
A choice of three noodles presented to the customer makes this a winner – only a handful of restaurants allow for this level of customisation. I was happy with my classic al dente egg and bee hoon combination. The third option – rice noodles – costs slightly extra.
Toppings were satisfactory. There was notable variety in the seafood mix – squid, calamari, large-ish prawns, all-important fish balls and so on. What’s particularly nice was the inclusion of actual pieces of fish and unconventionally – for the lols – snow peas. You get what you pay for, good stuff!
Fried onion on request and DIY sambal were appreciated; however, it wasn’t particularly delicious – redolent of off-brand chilli than a proper sambal made with shrimp paste.
Total score: 13.5/20
Jimmy’s Recipe, The Galeries Town Hall
If you polled Sydney’s noodle-slurping population on their favourite laksa, the Malay Chinese, Temasek & Jimmy’s Recipe love triangle frequently presents. Good positioning and a plethora of media coverage plays its part, but you can’t argue that these three restaurants serve some serious bowls.
At Jimmy’s, you know business is good when they underwent an extensive renovation last year, modernising its facade and adding over 20 additional seats. Now, all the laksa has to do is keep up with the times.
Jimmy’s Recipe calls for a medium-intensity broth: ‘can’t fault, can’t rave’ were my exact notes.
Perhaps not a benchmark, but certainly a baseline. I wouldn’t even be mad if this was the only laksa broth I could have for the rest of my days. I could only wish for some extra oomph in flavour.
A good mix of al dente egg noodles and similarly chewy rice vermicelli rounded out the noodle offering. There’s plenty of it too, and cooked with no issues.
Prawns, squid, and a whole lot more – including vegetables. Jimmy’s is one of the few laksa joints to offer a true combination option; it didn’t disappoint – there really was a bit of everything. The only downside? Well, I could do with more than three small prawns for $15.
No extras, unfortunately – no DIY sambal, dried onion, or the like. You come for a bowl of laksa, you get a bowl of laksa: nothing more.
Total score: 14.5/20
Alice’s Makan, Town Hall
Alice’s Makan (‘food’ in Malay) is hugely underrated – and I’m not even talking about laksa. They serve excellent Malaysian fare across the board: some of the best kueh I’ve had in Sydney, and likely the best har mee too. Their CKT is also a smart order. Naturally, expectations were high when it came to its laksa, my first time in multiple visits.
Suffice to say, nothing was going to dethrone Alice’s Makan’s har mee, but its laksa was not far off in deliciousness. It was an above-average broth: doing the job well across all important dimensions. It was just a bit oily, and lacked sufficient sweetness to cut through the underlying curry intensity – though mint did somewhat make up for that.
A whole lot of chewy noodles of both egg & bee hoon presented themselves, with perhaps just a little bit of undercooking going on.
It’s a limited sample, but the chicken eaten for the sake of this post have by and large been overcooked, dry affairs. Well, not here: tender, juicy, perfectly-done – Alice’s Makan served up the best chicken of the lot.
A limited amount of sambal was spooned into the bowl, but otherwise nothing extra on the extras front.
Total score: 13.5/20
CBD Noodle, Wintergarden Wynyard
From the lines that extend out from CBD Noodle, it’s safe to assume that its the place to be to eat its namesake – at least, for wok-fried dishes. The lack of queue for soup noodles was a warning sign, and indeed, with Malay Chinese not a five minute walk from CBD Noodle, it was a hard sell.
A relatively weak broth made for a relatively forgettable experience. Coconut milk was the most discernible flavour, which isn’t where you want to make your splash. Those who prefer a lighter laksa would take to this, and more importantly – be one less person queuing at nearby Malay Chinese 😛
Only bee hoon was served, and they were slightly overcooked, stripping them of all-important chewiness.
A good sampling of toppings: chewy squid (that’s well-cooked!), fish balls and tofu. DIY scallions, onion flakes & sambal made for a nice set of flavour enhancers. A good 5 tablespoons of the stuff has the potential to completely change the broth.
Total score: 10.5/20
Laksa King, Erskine Street Wynyard
I must admit, I signed myself up for this post with the preconceived notion that Malay Chinese would clinch the number 1 spot.
I was so, so very wrong. Say hello to the newly-crowned king that, actually, has always been the reigning monarch: the very appropriately-named Laksa King.
A broth on par with the Hunter Street legend. It’s not the same broth – Laksa King’s is less sweet. However,
it remained perfectly-balanced in its own way. Intense, fragrant, spicy, and with just the right hint of curry. It was actually stronger than Malay Chinese’s broth, while managing to be less oily. Despite being one of the largest bowls of laksa (by volume) I’ve had, I finished it all. Truly magical.
Both noodle types were represented. The choice of a third (rice noodles) was also available. Perfectly cooked? You betcha.
Laksa King’s combo laksa truly lives up to its name, with more ‘combo’ than any other in this post: prawns, spongy tofu, fish tofu, fish balls, vegetables, chicken and beef – its variety was unmatched. The only niggle I had was that the beef was overcooked to the point of jerky. Ouch, my jaw.
A black bean-based sambal (much more mainland Chinese than Malaysian) was available. Be warned that it was a bit salty & hot – use sparingly.
Total score: 18/20
Ipoh on York, York Street Town Hall
When a restaurant has multiple location, hundreds of seats and yet still has a mosh pit of customers waiting for seating – this certainly painted a good sign for Ipoh on York.
To which I can say, disappointment was not on the menu.
Milk and coconut were the strongest flavours I detected in Ipoh’s broth. There was still some dimension of spice and shrimp; however, these took a back seat. Quite drinkable, but perhaps never quite giving the same ‘ahh’ satisfaction as soups scoring a 7+.
The usual noodly goodness – both types included, both types well-cooked. Slurp away!
Ipoh’s toppings tasted better and of higher quality than most. I particularly enjoyed the fact that its squid and calamari was soft chewy instead of the all-too-common rubber that I tend to receive. There were even mussels!
DIY sambal and a large portion size rounded out the deal. A solid 3.
Total score: 14/20
Petaling Street Kitchen, George Street Haymarket
Another Malaysian eatery that’s made a name for itself with multiple locations serving almost every compass direction in Sydney. Petaling Street Kitchen caters particularly to the student crowd – strategically positioned along key university ley lines. As such, they’re known for their portion sizes – an attribute that seriously tested my limits with their massive seafood laksa.
The initial ‘wow’ moment at sighting this beast quickly gave way to concern at the oiliness of the broth. Forming a layer nearly half a centimetre thick, there’s no way to truly get around it short of skimming the entire bowl. Flavours were thus subdued – the oil took centre stage. That said, I could smell the curry fragrance of the broth – if only the broth could be brought to balance such that its underlying flavour would be allowed to get through.
The oleaginous broth meant that the noodles (of both egg & bee hoon types), otherwise well-cooked, couldn’t be fully enjoyed: it’s sad that they were merely doing a good job at picking the broth.
A good selection of seafood – the usual, plus a surprising addition of cockles made for a good set of toppings that justified the price tag. I also quite liked how well everything was cooked – not a single instance of rubbery squid here. The inclusion of fried onion also helped eke out extra flavour, and distracted fromthe broth’s oiliness.
Total score: 13.5/20
Alex Lee Kitchen, Spice Alley Kensington Street
If Kensington Street’s Spice Alley didn’t have a place that sold laksa…
…well I’m glad we don’t have to have that hypothetical conversation. At Alex Lee’s Malaysian, a Katong Laksa – which is really the same as a normal curry laksa but with shorter strands of noodles – features on the menu.
Ever had a laksa smoothie? I haven’t, but Alex Lee’s appears to serve one. This soup was far closer to a curry paste than any other laksa I’ve had – ever. The ratio of broth:noodles was also very off, which greatly compounded the situation. Flavours were strongly curry, and lacked sufficient salt or shrimp paste. It’s not that this broth was undrinkable, it’s that I was practically eating it.
Compounding some of the issues I found with the broth, the noodles didn’t do much to help the situation. In addition to the quantity problem mentioned earlier, Alex Lee’s mistakenly goes all in on bee hoon, which led to each bite being very gluggy, given how well bee hoon’s thin strands soak up (the already thick) broth.
With no legitimate combination laksa option, Alex Lee’s most unique offering were fish fillets. What I didn’t expect were massive chunks of deep-fried fish, with batter that was too thick for a broth that itself wasn’t exactly on the light side. However, I definitely can commend the quantity – you get heaps, and actual fish within the batter was also quite nice.
Total score: 10/20
Ho Jiak, Haymarket Central
A recent visit to Ho Jiak for the sake of this post has managed to single-handedly convince me that this may be one of Sydney’s best Malaysian restaurants. While I could (and should) write a whole blog post just on that, it suffices to say that the laksa was a winner, and a major factor in my newest Malaysian love affair.
Wow, what a broth. A top five, this truly hit the spot in every dimension. Think Malay Chinese, but spicier, less sweet, and slightly thicker and you have Ho Jiak. I could drink this every day for the rest of my life, which wouldn’t be very long if I did.
Ho Jiak’s laksa is one of the few that has a higher ratio of egg noodles to bee hoon. This is a good thing. You know what’s even better? Chewy, al dente texture. Oh, if only there was more of it – its quantity could use a boost.
Tofu skins and prawns that tasted like they’d actually been marinated in the broth took the toppings up a notch. Sambal is also available on the side, with requests for more a mere ask away.
Total score: 16/20
Singapura, Oxford Street Darlinghurst
If there is a best, there unfortunately has to be a worst. The bearer of this unenviable trophy? Singapura.
Oh broth, we just couldn’t get along. It’s not me, it’s you. Finding something worth praising was like trying to find flavour. Ah that’s right, Singapura’s has none – the blandest broth in this post. Even the base flavour of coconut milk was hard to discern. Is salty creamy water a thing?
The noodles were perfectly fine, much like other laksas scoring 5/6 in this dimension. But as I note elsewhere, the best noodles in the world can’t save a mediocre broth.
An average selection of toppings that really suffered from the weak broth.
Total score: 8.5/20
Albee’s Kitchen, Campsie
Before Ho Jiak made its mark on Sydney’s Malay scene, Albee’s Kitchen was the reference point for a Malaysian restaurant that does pretty much everything right.
Well, nothing’s changed: you can get a banger of a laksa here that’s solidly in the top five.
Goddamn, this was some slurp-tastic soup. Intense, flavourful, with only a hint that it might actually be terrible for your body (read: slightly oily). If you don’t like this broth, it’s safe to say you don’t like laksa the way Malays intend. Excuse me, I’ve got the rest of the bowl to finish.
A perfect ratio of egg noodles to bee hoon that’s perfectly-cooked was the theme of the bowl – and indeed of most laksas I’ve reviewed! Albee’s Kitchen was no exception in the pantheon of great noodle delivery – it’s awesome to see so many places getting the basics right.
The soup and noodles were performing at such an elite level, toppings were left to assume bourgeois status. They were there, but not in great quantity. They didn’t taste terrible, but they weren’t memorable. I’d be very keen to try their yong tau foo laksa next time for something different!
Total score: 15/20
Sinma Laksa House, Kensington
Sinma Laksa House has been catering to Kensington’s student clientele for years, and it showed through its decor – so tired that it’s actually become authentically typical of a multi-generational, family-run Malaysian restaurant. People often come here for their various takes on crab (chilli, black pepper, salted egg – you name it), but you have to get the basics right, right?
The soup was above average, that much was true. There was a distinct curry flavour that was quite pronounced in the absence of the sweetness. The choice of mint – while not entirely uncommon in Southern Malaysian-style laksa – quite prominent. I finished three-quarters of the soup before realising it, that’s saying something right?
The egg noodles at Sinma Laksa House were smaller than average, which did change mouthfeel. Otherwise, it’s business as usual with trusted bee hoon as partner in crime.
I found only two prawns in the entire bowl, with one of them not all that much bigger than bulk-buy mini shrimp. The chicken tasted like fake soy-based meat, its texture closer to spongy tofu than chicken. I was impressed at how unimpressive this aspect of the dish turned out.
Total score: 12/20
Temasek, like Albee’s Kitchen, is the undisputed local go-to for those living nearby (Parramatta and surrounds). To many, it is one of the best Malaysian restaurants in Sydney.
That it would output a decent laksa was the minimum expectation.
A very milky broth, with a very earthy curry flavour accentuated by fragrant kaffir lime made for a broth unique to Temasek – I didn’t really taste any other laksa soup quite like this one. Where it fell a bit short was the excess of oil and a lack of sweetness to balance the otherwise sharp curry flavour. A good broth nonetheless, one I would be happy to re-imbibe.
All is gravy on the noodle train – both types are offered, and boy was there a lot of it. The egg noodles in particular had the textural consistency of Chinese e-fu noodles, which was a notable departure from most other samples. It worked well given the context – there is no singular right answer for these things.
Toppings were sparse given the price point – Temasek sells the most expensive laksa in Sydney – and the size of the bowl. A few calamari rings, three prawns, and one sponge tofu cut in half was all I got – not even fish cakes! Not cool.
Total score: 13.5/20
Penang Cuisine, Epping
The ‘Temasek of the north’, Penang Cuisine attracts a steady stream of customers despite its awkward positioning at the lower ground level of an office complex on Rawson Street in Epping.
A decidedly average broth after a decidedly long commute would have been disappointing if it didn’t mean that average actually means ‘decent’, considering the quality of laksa in Sydney. Sure, Penang Cuisine’s laksa didn’t blow my mind, but all the basics were present – and critically avoided the biggest faux pas of being overly weak. A flavour leaning towards that of curry leaf was the sole memorable highlight.
All clear on the noodle front – both types are provided, with its thick fat egg noodles being particularly tasty.
Actual pieces of fish, along with a standard assortment of processed fish-based goods rounded out the toppings selection. Given the $16 price point, I’d have been happier if I received more than just three prawns.
Total score: 13.5/20
Malacca Straits, Broadway
Malacca Straits is well-positioned to capture UTS students’ foot traffic and nearby shoppers alike given its location along Broadway. Whether its laksa is worth the dime is perhaps a slightly different story.
A mediocre broth was the only thing that distinguished itself more than what was possibly the smallest bowl of laksa featured in this – it felt like a hawker stall portion with Sydney prices. It was one-dimensional, with curry strongly dominating the palate without any shrimp paste umami, salt or much sweetness to back it up. Needless to say, I left quite a bit of broth in the bowl, not that there was much to begin with.
Only bee hoon by default? Considering how well most other restaurants do on the noodle front, I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed. Be sure to explicitly ask for egg noodles on your visit.
On the one hand, the relatively small size of the bowl meant there was a good ratio of toppings to broth & noodles. On the other hand, it’s still not a lot of variety – consider Malacca Straits to serve the ‘standard’ amount. Nobody will be particularly impressed here.
Total score: 10/20
Lee’s Malaysian, Wynyard
Normally, a Malaysian restaurant within five minutes of Malay Chinese shouldn’t be in business. However, Lee’s Malaysian is in and of itself a mini Malay empire that has done well for itself in capturing its own slice of the CBD lunch rush crowd. While I don’t think its laksa is by no means superior to that of its upper-Hunter Street competitor, it is sufficiently different.
My palate and the broth at Lee’s Malaysian did not agree. An incredibly strong kaffir lime flavour – while zesty and cut through the broth – filled the nose every time I brought my face anywhere near the bowl. The soup itself was very oily. I can’t actually even remember anything else about the broth other than kaffir leaves and oil.
I prefer my laksa noodles to be close to al dente, but Lee’s took them to the next level. An undercooked level. The bee hoon was the accused culprit, with an almost caustic, starchy exterior mouthfeel surrounding a tough, wire-like core.
Fish balls, prawns, actual fish pieces and squid made for a good spread of toppings. If only the broth weren’t so oily – on this day I learned that squid rings do an excellent job at capturing oil slicks.
Total score: 10.5/20
Ito’s Malaysian, Hyde Park
Ito’s has been in the laksa business for over 30 years. That was all I needed to know before putting it on the list: talked the talk? Then time to walk the walk.
For a restaurant whose laksa is meant to be the lighter, Southern Malaysian variety, Ito’s broth was surprisingly greasy. I finished just half of it before the oil built up to ‘yep I’m done’ levels. Flavours were, however, good with hints of spice and ever-slightly herbaceous notes.
Bee hoon was the only noodle type given, which flattened the otherwise multi-dimensional eating experience. They have egg noodles – you just won’t be given them without asking.
Actual fish made for a higher-quality offering of toppings; however, this appeared to come at the cost of fish balls. While the latter isn’t exactly expensive, I consider fish balls to be a quintessential aspect of laksas, so this was a bit of a (cheap) miss. On the plus side, the squid was delicious – chewy, soft, and carried some of the broth’s flavour. Good stuff.
Total score: 11/20
PappaRich, Town Hall (various)
I quite enjoy eating at PappaRich, even as it is constantly derided as overrated by just about every self-professed foodie. If anything, it does a great job at expanding awareness of South-East Asian cuisine, which I totally support.
But the laksa? You can do better.
A broth with otherwise good flavour characteristics – sufficiently milky, albeit a bit light on shrimp flavour – was let down by coming in surprisingly lukewarm, which of course is a no-no. While easily remedied remedied with 2 minutes in the microwave, it says a thing or two about consistency.
Plenty of bee hoon supplemented by thick, cylindrical egg noodles exhibited excellent soup pick-up powers. By far my favourite element of this laksa.
For its price, toppings were sufficiently varied (hey, mussels!), but sparse in quantity. These were little crimes next to the fact that most of the seafood tasted like as if they had just been defrosted and never had a chance to soak up the flavour of the broth. It didn’t make for a particularly nice combination with the already half-hearted soup.
Total score: 10.5/20
Happy Chef, Sussex Centre Food Court
Where has Happy Chef been all my life? I ate what was easily one of the best laksas in Sydney here!
Happy Chef performs so well across the board that the only dimension that lagged somewhat was the broth – and not even by all that much. The only reason it doesn’t get a higher score had to do with a desire for more intensity. Other than that, it’s already eminently drinkable: balanced and delicious, every slurp begetting another.
If you’ve been reading this post in order, you may have noticed that no restaurant has scored higher than a 5 for noodles. That changes now: Happy Chef’s noodles are the best in the biz. To start, you get four very different choices. But the real reason for my laudation comes from its default noodle types: a flat-style egg noodle (plus a great bee hoon). I didn’t think a cylindrical shape could be bested, but that’s exactly what happened in this case. There is an indescribable different to the mouthfeel of Happy Chef’s flatter egg noodles – chewy, slippery, and extremely fun to eat. And of course, it does this in conjunction of fulfilling its base principle of carrying the broth from bowl to stomach.
<3 these noodles.
King prawns. Calamari. Squid. Char siu. Chicken. Beef. Tofu. Fish cakes. Fish balls. Hokkaido scallops. Remember the price of this bowl: it’s $15, not $30. Hokkaido scallops are in and of themselves approximately $2 each.
No other laksa comes close to Happy Chef’s value proposition. I don’t believe more words are needed.
Total score: 17/20
The Best Laksa In Sydney
Like ramen, there is something to be said of Sydney’s laksa offering: it’s ubiquitous, and with the exception of a few venues, quality. There were clearly standouts, headed by Laksa King, truly the reigning monarch of Malaysia’s signature noodle soup. However, Malay Chinese and Happy Chef aren’t far behind – I could easily stay put in this triangle till the end of time.
But the most important takeaway? Any venue scoring over 12 is a good laksa in my books, where I would be happy to eat again and again. That the mean is a respectable 13.25? Oh Sydney, you good. Wherever you may be, chances are, there’s a delicious winter warmer near you.
All visits in this post were independently paid for.
The quality of laksa can be roughly boiled down into three categories, in order of importance:
- Broth quality/10
A delectable broth is almost everything. If I didn’t value broth, this post would be titled ‘best fried noodles in Sydney’. They don’t call it a soup base for nothing – it is the foundation of the entire dish. A good broth can save even mediocre noodles; the best noodles cannot rescue pond scum.
A notable laksa broth should be adequately rich without being oleaginous. It should be hearty without being too milky. It should be slightly sweet, with distinct notes of prawn, sambal paste, and just a little hint of curry – say, from leaf. It should be properly balanced – appropriately spicy, adequately intense, not too salty, and most of all it should be damn hard for me to put down the spoon.
- Noodle quality/6
Laksa noodles are typically a Hokkien-style egg noodles with a thicker diameter and chewier mouthfeel, mixed in with a portion of thin vermicelli noodles (called bee hoon), usually in a 1:2 ratio. Restaurants that don’t serve this dynamic duo will be docked points; restaurants that offer this and even more will do well here.
In terms of quality, I look for consistency in texture: egg noodles should be springy and just a little bit slippery, with the ability to attract broth with every slurp. Vermicelli should be suitably thin, softer, but still carry a bite. They should also soak up broth, but in a more sponge-like way.
In both cases, noodles that are over or undercooked are absolute faux pas’, with scores to reflect. The right mouthfeel? Give my teeth some resistance!
- Quality of toppings/4
In the grand scheme of things, toppings don’t matter all that much. You could plate up glacier 51 toothfish with gold leaf and ossetra caviar and I’ll still flip the table if the broth isn’t slurp-worthy. However beyond this, quality and variety are key determinants of this sub score. Presuming you’ve already read the post (or at least, seen the pictures?), you can see just how much differentiation can exist between venues.
Generous toppings, extra noodle options, availability of condiments (fried onion, sambal etc.) also play a part – albeit small. So too does value for money.