Warung Agus

Posted on February 6, 2011

Warung Agus (305 Victoria Street, West Melbourne VIC – some sites list it as North Melbourne) has got to be one of the most unassuming and lovely places I’ve had the pleasure of dining in.  In fact, I’ve driven past it a number of times, not knowing of the treasures within. But it just so happened that I needed a Friday night booking for a largeish group and I only realised the day before that it was incumbent on me to do the organising. Sometimes it’s not so much fun being known as the food lover in the group. There are expectations that come with that badge! Anyhow my senses told me that I would not have much luck in the city for such a large last minute booking, so my search expanded towards the Queen Victoria Market area. A quick read through the reviews on Urban Spoon told me that Warung Agus has been around for about 15 years now and rates very highly with a large contingent of foodies – I was sold! And 5 minutes later, a booking was secured.

The place can be easily spotted, the frontage is adorned with a colourful banner and a scattering of flower petals could be found on the pavement immediately in front of the restaurant. I’m not sure if the flower petals are there everyday, it could have just been that Friday night as that was when they first reopened for business for 2011. I was with some Indonesian friends that night who told me the flowers are representative of a typical Balianese offering. Oh did I mention that Warung Agus is a Balianese restaurant? The name ‘warung’ means causal place to dine and ‘Agus’ is the name of the chef.

The inside is quite pretty, with a lovely big 4 poster Balianese day bed and Indonesian paintings and religious/cultural ornaments all over the place. Indeed it has a casual vibe, almost like walking into someone’s home.

Being a group of 9, we managed to sample quite a big selection of dishes from their menu and everything was just fabulous. The Indonesian amongst us shared the same views, giving their thumbs up for authenticity and yum factor. The only slightly negative remark was that it’s not quite as spicy as it would be back in Bali, but otherwise flavours were regarded as spot on.

The traditional sate (also translated/written as satay amongst other Asian cultures) of mince was lovely. The meat on the bamboo skewers was still juicy and the sauce packed a punch with lashings of lemongrass.

In fact I have to say all the meat we had was cooked to perfection. And we ate quite a bit of meat; the sate pork mince, the roast pork, oven baked fish and chicken. The roast pork was delicate and had a melt-in-your-mouth texture, paired with the crunch from the crackling – it was pure bliss.

Despite all this, I have to say the special mention of the meal has got to go to the vegetarian dish. I can almost hear what you’re thinking…a single vegetarian dish winning out over all that melt in your mouth protein?! Weird huh? Well, it just goes to show how tasty I found it. The tuung mebasa santen lalah manis is an eggplant and tofu dish in a sweet and slightly spicy gravy which tasted absolutely delicious. There was a very distinct flavour of palm sugar in this coconuty gravy that gave it such a lovely complexity and very subtle yet lingering sweetness. Everything was in balance and I cannot say enough how beautiful the gravy was – I want the recipe! PS. Donna Hay: brown foods may not look very photogenic, but any food lover would know that some of the best tasting foods come only in brown.

Service was slightly mixed that night. We had a really great waitress who recommended lovely dishes to us that allowed us to sample the full spectrum of flavours on offer, from the creamy coconut based ones to the more tangy spicy notes. The only downfall was that they were quite busy that night (and I suspect most nights), and as such, sometimes the service wasn’t so attentive. At times it took a while to get their attention and every now an then they seemed a bit flustered as well. I can’t say that aspect of it dampened the night though. The food clearly won us all over and pricing was reasonable as well, between $20-30 per dish. This is not a case of ‘oh I’d like to go back’, rather ”I cannot wait to go back for more’!