Friday, February 27, 2009

a taste of Bali on a steamy Melbourne night

For the past twenty years a green oasis has decorated a modest shop front on the West Melbourne side of Victoria Street. Currently the council is in the process of prosecuting the owners of the many pot plants that welcome patrons to Warung Agus. It appears that while the local bars with their sprawling tables and chairs occupying the footpath are permissible (and within the access guidelines safeguarding the rights of the disabled), plants assisting much needed oxygen production are not.

While this little slice of Melbourne is not far from home it is still a car ride away, so we tend to only get to eat there a couple of times a year. But each time is a joy as Balinese food is such a rarity in this city. Over the years the menu (or the homely décor) has not changed, though the prices have kept pace with inflation. The yellow laminated menu is full of old favourites familiar to any traveller who has ever disembarked at Denpasar, such as gado gado, Babi Guling and nasi campur.

While the food is not highly spiced, the dishes are served with sambals on the side to satisfy all palates. Last night (or more accurately, early this morning) we got an unexpected surprise as the chilli sambal was much hotter than usual. But generally, this is a safe place to bring someone with unadventurous or spice-averse tastes as most dishes favour palm sugar and coconut more than fiery heat.

Some highlights include:

The Toge (gado gado) comes with generous cubes of fried tahu (tofu), cassava crackers, blanched vegetables and a generous dousing of satay sauce. There is no egg, which makes this a vegan friendly dish.

The SE cannot go past the roast pork (babi guling), which he swears is always succulent and comes complete with crackling. It is a dish best shared, as like the other meat and fish dishes, is not accompanied with vegetables.

My favourite seafood dish is Be Pasih Asem Manis, flathead tails cooked with tamarind and coconut milk which is served with roast potatoes. The flavours are simple and hit the right note of sweet, sour and salt.

A great way to get a taste of Balinese food is by ordering Nasi Campur. On the island this is a term that literally means “mix rice”, used to indicate a mini smorgesbord of dishes of the day. At Warung Agus it doesn’t vary – a large dish arrives with rice, tempe (crispy and delicious, tasting of kepchap manis), tahu, sesaur, pecel with peanut sauce. The carnivorous version has the addition of satay pork and chicken, babi guling and spicy chicken.

There are 8 main vegetarian/vegan dishes (most containing tofu or tempeh which provides good protein options for non-meat eaters) as well as 5 seafood (3 entrée and 2 main) dishes. Carnivores are well catered for with variations on pork, chicken and lamb. For those that didn’t get enough palm sugar in the ‘savoury’ courses, there are 5 desserts to choose from.

Warung Agus must be one of the few places in Melbourne to sample the Balinese firewater otherwise known as arak. Before my first trip to Bali I enjoyed a pre-dinner tipple of arak with lemon and sugar but after tasting it straight on holiday - my arak days are over! Drivers are advised to not touch the stuff, due to it’s high alcohol content. Co-owner Mary has been known to be diligent at policing that policy. Bintang beer is also available, along with a moderate selection of mostly Australian ales and wines.

Warung Agus is a delightful, family run eatery. Agus cooks up a storm, while Mary and their daughters provide personal and friendly service in the front of house. While a similar meal in Bali would be significantly cheaper, the food keeps the dreams of tropical holidays simmering between visits (and you won't get Bali Belly!).

Warung Agus
305 Victoria Street West Melbourne
Phone: (03) 9329 1737
Prices: mains High teens to $30
Note: Warung Agus is currently only open for dinner, Thursday to Sunday. As it is family run, the restaurant closes when they go on holiday. If in doubt, ring first to make sure it is open.

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Blogger claire said...

Warung Agus is one of those restuarants I've been meaning to visit for the last 14 years (since my first visit to Bali in 1995), but for some reason have never gotten around to checking out. It sounds delightful, I think your review may be my catalyst! :)

2:00 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Glad I've swayed you :)

2:43 pm  

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