Perth eaters have Joseph Lau to thank for bringing Sarawak-style cooking to Western Australia.
A latecomer to the world of hospitality – running a Muffin Break for a year was Lau’s introduction to the food industry – the former timber merchant opened Kitchen Inn in Thornlie in 2011, introducing Perth to Sarawak-style laksa (laksa made with a combination of coconut milk and sour tamarind), handmade noodles and other Chinese-influenced dishes that Lau grew up eating in his hometown of Sibu. The restaurant’s success led to the opening of Kitchen Inn offshoots as well as other specialist Sarawakian restaurants such as Willetton’s Sarawak Hawkers Cuisine.
After selling his share in Kitchen Inn, Lau took a break from cooking before teaming up with wife Georgia Ding and son-in-law Kevin Er (a former stockbroker turned barista) to open Two Hands Noodle Shop in Como in 2019. The restaurant quickly outgrew its original site and, later that year, moved across the road into a bigger, 40-person space. During the lunch rush, it very much feels like every one of those 40 indoor and outdoor seats are accounted for as students and Southeast Asian ex-pats descend on Two Hands for high-definition tastes of East Malaysia.
Although the menu also includes a handful of rice dishes, most people are (understandably) here for the noods. Toothsome, springy and delicious, they’re made with egg and high-protein wheat flour on-site using an old-school noodle roller that works similar to a manual pasta machine. Noodles are made daily, in mornings and afternoons between lunch and dinner. On particularly busy days, Lau tells me, he and his head chef Eddie Low will sometimes have to make noodles during service.
“That’s why we call the restaurant Two Hands,” says Lau, as he and Low effortlessly knock out a demonstration batch of noodles for me. Prior to opening the original Kitchen Inn, Lau spent a week at a friend’s noodle factory in Sibu where he learned the finer points of flour power. While he’s happy to mix the restaurant’s bao dough in a machine, making noodles the old-fashioned way is non-negotiable. “Everything... [is made with] two hands.”
Two Hands' specialties represent two of the Southern Chinese language groups that migrated to Malaysia in the early 1900s: the Foochow food of Sibu that Lau grew up with, and the Hokkien-style cooking synonymous with Kuching, Sarawak’s capital city. Among the major differences between the two styles, the Hokkien-style noodles (the curly kolo mee and kolo mee pok) are only cooked briefly to retain a springy, almost al dente mouthfeel. In comparison, the Foochow-style noodles (mee pok, and thin and straight kampua) are a little softer in mouthfeel.
The noodles are seasoned differently, too, with the Foochow noodles flavoured only with lard and soya sauce. While Hokkien noodle cooks also deploy lard and soya sauce in their bowls, they’ll also sneak in some garlic oil and – crucially – white vinegar. Of course, the best way to taste these differences is to go with a buddy (or an appetite) and order a spread of bowls. Noodles are available in both regular and large sizes.
In the two years I’ve been eating here, I’m getting close to working my way through the entire menu. Hand on my heart, I’ve encountered no duds. As far as recommendations go, the pan mian (thicker cut than the other noods) are always a pleasure to eat and my go-to among the various noodles; the plus-sized baos are pillowy, dense and make excellent road-trip snacks; while the stir-fried rice rolls have smoke and savour for days. I might not be from East Malaysia specifically – my Asian heritage can be traced west of Sarawak to Medan in Indonesia, and Singapore – but the cooking at Two Hands feels wonderfully familiar and supremely comforting. For those chasing flavours of Southeast Asia, it’s an essential Perth address.