Hidden away in small lane that you’d have to walk past to know about, Monk & Me is a groovy Malaysian restaurant and a most welcome addition to the same-same culinary landscape of Camberwell, although I think strictly speaking this pocket near the Rivoli Cinema is called Hawthorn East. It is from the Simon Goh stable – think Chinta Ria in Melbourne, Temple of Love in Sydney. With jazz music in the background (I noticed that you can still buy the once very popular Hot Food Cool Jazz) and Zen like decor, it clearly reflects Simon Goh’s passion for music and relaxed personal style. The unusual name is both a metaphor for the theme of a person’s spiritual journey and a nod to one of Simon Goh’s jazz heroes, Theolonius Monk.
The menu is comprehensive with some modern twists on traditional Malay and Nyonya fare, but no big surprises. On the drinks front there is a nice range of cocktails which you could enjoy whilst perched at the bar, a standard offering in the way of local and imported beers and a small but fairly well balanced wine list with some nice aromatic whites chosen to complement the food. BYO wine and champagne is also possible for $6 corkage. We took our normal approach and shared a few dishes and sides. I had been playing with the settings on my camera, so I apologise for the shoddy photography.
From a selection of eight entrees, including favourites like satay, we chose Lohbak. These were served with a chilli dipping sauce. Fried to perfection the minced chicken filling was moist and full of flavour from the subtle five spice seasoning and the bean curd skin was crisp and crunchy
This dish was a bit of a let down. Seafood is a big focus, and by far the largest section, on the menu so I had high expectations. The steamed barramundi was cooked nicely but the “spicy nyonya sauce” was lacking. I could pick the belachan but found the sauce too sweet, without enough spice or zest to balance it. Previously we have had the Assam Fish and been really impressed, so I was quite surprised that this didn’t hit the mark. Having said that The Beloved disagreed with me and happily devoured it.
From so-so to whoa! This classically typical Malaysian dish had tender chunks of beef, a great taste of coconut, balanced with the robust, tangy spices you expect. I could have just eaten this and been very satisified!
It went wonderfully when mopped up with the crispy flaky Roti Canai 3.0. Add a side of Steamed Vegetables 6.5 and some Steamed Rice 2.0 and we had a well rounded meal.
It’s nice to have a local restaurant that is your go to place for both when you want to eat out and when all you need is to grab something to have at home. We have done both on more than one occasion. Monk & Me fits that bill perfectly, has a comfortable yet slightly up market environment and efficient friendly service. Every time we have been it has been busy, with everything from large group to families and couples. They recognise this and consequently the menu tries to cater for everyone, with 3 banquets (including one vegetarian) and a special range of options for the under 12s that are a bit gentler on the spice scale.
In short, we’ll be back. Probably soon as writing this has me in need of a laksa!