One thing Mackay doesn’t lack is Asian Restaurants. Unfortunately, they mostly cater to the quick lunch trade, and are focused on pushing out a fast meal, rather than a good meal. Sure, there are a few exceptions to this, but for the most part I have been disappointed in the quality of Chinese (and other SE Asian influenced dishes) that I have found so far.
A new restaurant set on the perimeter of a Shopping Centre, and within a stones throw of a Sizzler, did not raise my hopes of Eastern Port being any different.
Walking into the restaurant, it ticks off most of the prerequisites for a typical Chinese restaurant. There’s the ornamental fish tank behind the maitre ‘d stand, there’s a row of fish tanks vigorously bubbling away while lobsters, fish, and large crab peer out at diners, and there’s a rack of glossy tanned ducks hanging behind glass, just inside the kitchen. Coupled with the rest of the modern decor, with Chinese art and cultural hints, Eastern Port actually pulls of a neat trick of providing a pleasant dining atmosphere whilst food service staff scurry busily pushing yum-cha carts around tables of hurried diners surrounded by prams, shopping carts, and plastic store bags full of groceries and department store essentials.
Eastern Port also has a small curb-side dining area, as well as the tables inside the restaurant itself, which is consistent with the other cafe’s and eateries in the area. It also makes a great place to people watch on a sunny afternoon, as you are enjoying a prolonged yum-cha session.
Jeri and I are quickly led to our seats (inside), and it is seconds before the yum-cha cart arrives, offering it’s wares for the luncheon rush. We both decide that we want to look at the menu before deciding on what we will select. Immediately my eyes are drawn to the laksa. Now, there aren’t many things that I would prefer to eat than yum-cha. I love Chinese dumplings like fat kids love chocolate. But Curry laksa is one of those dishes.
It also shows both the good and bad in Australian Asian restaurants. There are not too many places where you will find yum-cha sharing menu space with laksa, and your trip across Asia doesn’t end with China and Malaysia. The menu also includes Thai tom yum , Singapore noodles, mee and nasi Goreng from Indonesia. The menu is, however, predominantly Chinese and Malay, so I decide to give the laksa a chance. In a shock, Jeri also orders a soup. Wonton soup is her choice, which surprises me as she is a self proclaimed soup disliker (ok, hater would have been too strong a word, so I chose to make one up instead).
Just after the waiter scurries off to bark the order at the kitchen staff, the yum-cha chart stops at our table and we are encouraged to choose from the dozen or so offerings. Not today, we explain…we’ve ordered from the menu. Confused, the cart operator races off to the next table. It seems they really want to sell yum-cha.
Less than 10 minutes later, our soups arrive with a flourish of fragrant steam, and the moment of truth is upon us.
Now, as a lover of laksa I have eaten it hundreds of times, and I have had the pleasure of eating some of the best, and the misfortune of being disppointed by some of the worst, including an insipid version last week from another local noodle bar, but this laksa was actually quite good.
Well balanced, and reasonably flavourful, I would have to concede that it was the best laksa I have had in Mackay.
As a seafood laksa, the prawns were generous, and the vegetables were fresh and vibrant.
I thought the broth could have had more flavour. It’s really the key part of a good laksa, and it just let it down a little.
The squid and the mussels were also over cooked, which is a really difficult ask for a laksa, but I have had perfectly cooked and tender squid in a laksa in the past. Also, the tofu was a non event, as was the fish cake (too bland and thin).
I also felt that there should have been more condiments on the side to customize the flavour. The sambal that was included had no kick at all, and the soup really needed it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely going back to the Eastern Port, and I’m also going to recommend the laksa as a good option. The issues I have are purely a question of degrees of flavour…the flavour was there, and the soup was good, it just lacked some key elements that could have made it great.
I’m also looking forward to trying their yum-cha some day, and even exploring a little deeper into their menu of South East Asian standards. For this visit, however, I am going to give it 3.5 little piggies.