Living up to its famous name
ON AN occasion last year, I had reason to sample quite a few of Hobart’s laksa offerings. Of the many very ordinary, “Westernised” and overly sweet ones, that from Chatterbox, with its heady aromas of toasted, house- made blachan and lip- tingling coconut creaminess, won hands down.
Yet, such is life, it has taken me almost a year to return and try Victor Ang’s other dishes.
Many readers will remember Ang from his Singapore Eating House in Despard St and his eight years managing the Asian Room, at Wrest Point, before opening Chatterbox six years ago.
With a large window facing onto the street, a bright interior with black- lacquered tables and chairs, a corner bain- marie and the name of one of Singapore’s most famous eateries emblazoned in red, it’s easy to dismiss Chatterbox as just another of the North Hobart strip’s cheap Asian takeaways, which it isn’t.
For, in addition to the steaming, ready- togo food from the bain- marie, there’s a red wall menu offering 12 cooked- to- order chef’s specials, seven soups and 10 hawker dishes, the sorts of street- foods for which Singapore is famous and, sadly, in the country’s modern aspirational society, I’m told are now slowly disappearing.
We stuck to the hawker selection and started with one of Malaysia’s best- known dishes, Char Kway Teow, a delicious stir fry of flat rice noodles, beef, Chinese sausage, egg and vegetables tossed with sweet dark soy. Then followed the ubiquitous Nasi Goreng, classically replete with a fried egg on top, and a fragrant and beautifully spiced serving of Singapore chilli prawns ( in place of the more famous crab), the sauce a little more glutinous than I might have wished but the prawns still crisply tender, due presumably to having been “velveted” – an Asian technique to stop them toughening when cooked.
While the Char Kway Teow was my wife’s favourite, my pick was the ginger chicken and bean curd, which came to the table sizzling in a clay pot, the sauce so flavoursome and mellow you could drink it.
Obviously popular with a young Asian crowd in for takeaways or shared meals at the table, Chatterbox is also a favourite of one of Hobart’s better- known Singapore- born chefs who is a regular for Ang’s special Saturday specials. These dishes vary week to week – from the Chinese- derived soya duck and Hainan chicken rice to the fragrant, coconut milk- based Nasi Lemak, claimed by many as Malaysia’s national dish, and, best I’m told, is Ang’s barbecued pork.
Then, of course, there’s that laksa, reason enough on its own for a visit.
Soups $ 12-$ 15; Hawker dishes $ 12-$ 15; Chef’s specials $ 17-$ 25, boiled rice $ 2.50.