Coconut Curry House, 6/F Kwan Chart Tower, 6 Tonnochy Road, Wan Chai, Tel: 838 9668. EATING at the Coconut Curry House can be a truly great-food, great-value experience or, it can have you wishing you were just about a mile east in Causeway Bay, at the Banana Leaf Curry House. It may seem unfair, but the newest Malaysian curry house in town was bound to invite comparisons - such is the nature of competition. And, if this gleaming, four-month-old restaurant in Wan Chai is to match up to the former home of manager Steve Cheung Chi-kit, credited with giving this city one of the most genuine Malaysian restaurants, it has some serious work to do. The problem is simple: lack of consistency. With luck this is no more than a teething difficulty. But until things bed down, it's russian roulette at the Coconut Curry House. On one Sunday evening visit, the okra curry was a good, hot dish: gelatinous okra bound together in a scant chilli sauce, spicy and satisfying. Elsewhere our choices showed cooking both uninspired and just plain sloppy - a fitting epitaph for most of theservice. The satay was a little fatty and tasted like processed chicken. The peanut sauce erred a little towards bland, although the texture was good and chunky. The aubergine curry was something to weep over: the eggplant was fine, but tomatoes had clearly been slipped in at the last minute, and the thin sauce seemed to owe rather more to a brand name curry powder than a judicious chopping and blending of herbs and spices in the restaurant's own kitchen. It tasted powdery with an evil after-taste of something sterile, and the paper napkins bore testament to the copious quantities of turmeric utilised in making the dish as H-O-T as possible. During a second visit two weeks later, my Malaysian companion enthused over the same dish - this time a more tasteful blend of fish-based curry of coconut milk, mustard seed, fennel seed, curry leaf, fresh turmeric and tamarind. This one definitely trumped the dish served at the Banana Leaf Curry House. This second time even the chicken curry, mopped up with roti bread, was bursting with different flavours, and the meat and potato were tender beneficiaries of long slow cooking. Mr Cheung says curry powder in three versions (for meat, seafood and chicken) is imported from Malaysia and complemented with locally bought herbs and spices in Indian stores here. Service, however, on both occasions when the open, bright rattan-and-glass room was busy but by no means full, was appalling for a new restaurant. Waitresses (all from Hong Kong while the cooks are Malaysian) wrapped in cheerful batik wore an almost uniform scowl. They had to be prodded into action on almost every second requirement. Only once did we spot anything approaching a smile break out on any of the staff's faces - and as this was when one of our party inhaled a chilli through the nose, it was not perhaps the most tactful moment to launch into giggles. On the second visit, recognised as a veteran of the Banana Leaf Curry House, my companion was asked if this was as good. Of course comparisons are odious and, beside the better established Banana Curry House, it is bound to come off badly - but one cannot help thinking fondly of those curries, where taste after taste - cardamom, dried chilli, aniseed, cumin - explode in the mouth, and sauces are velvety in texture. The Coconut Curry House can replicate this: in some cases it can go even further. The extremely good value means that this is a popular haunt with families, and dining here is the noisy, riotous affair you would expect. Eating with a group brings the bill to around $100 a head, although this swells once you move on to fish dishes. Certainly this is a restaurant which has potential to become a key player on the value-for-money Asian dining scene, but there will have to be some cracking of whips before diners can be guaranteed a meal that can hold a candle to the one served at its older rival in Causeway Bay. Dinner for two, with beer, costs around $250.