Zuleika S. Sedgley suggests some family-friendly eateries with Malaysian favourites for the homesick and hungry
THERE are plenty of things that you will miss about home during your visit to London. First, the weather. The monsoon rain doesn’t seem so bad after you’ve experienced aggressive drizzle, hail and the non-air-conditioned heat of summer. After you get over the initial shock of having to change your outfit five times a day, you’ll find another, more pressing adjustment to make: Food.
While Japanese, Chinese and Thai food are permanent fixtures on London’s culinary landscape, there has been a lacuna of Malaysian food.
Tourism Malaysia has been trying to combat this. In 2005, its investment arm, Pempena, bought a 45 per cent stake in the upmarket Malaysian restaurant, Awana, in Knightbridge. Although it opened to rave reviews, it ultimately faltered and in May this year, Pempena sold its shares in the company for an undisclosed amount.
The Tourism board has had more success with the annual Malaysian Night in Trafalgar Square. Since 2010, the festival, designed to resemble a pasar malam, has been well attended, with all the best Malay restaurants in the city setting up smoke-filled tents against a background of a staged traditional Malay music and dance.
Malaysia Night has helped to bring our cuisine into the popular landscape, which is great for visitors who, in-between cheering on their favourite Olympics athletes, shopping and visiting museums, want to sample London’s take on the iconic nasi lemak.
Here is a list of London’s best nasi lemak restaurants
1. Tukdin: Run by an amiable patriarch who named the restaurant after himself, this two-year-old restaurant serves Kedah specialties that are absolutely divine. Although the standout dish has to be oxtail soup, which is a peppery perfection, it is also a great place to escape from the crowds of east London to enjoy some nasi lemak. This sparsely decorated dining hall has acquired a cult following among Malay expats and it’s no surprise when you consider the chef’s previous tenure at Malaysian Hall, a bulwark for good Malaysian food in London. Service is efficient and friendly. Prices are moderate and all food is halal.
Where: 41 Craven Road, W2 3BX. Nearest Tube: Paddington
2. Puji-puji: Located in the achingly hip area of Dalston, this homely halal joint has the feel of a kopitiam in Kuala Lumpur. The satay is juicy and grilled at the bar. The chicken rice is unapologetically Malay and, best of all, the assam laksa is sour enough to satisfy even the fussiest customer. Its nasi lemak is a traditional no-frills serving with rice, sambal, peanuts and ikan bilis. A definite treat for the homesick traveller. After dinner, go on a tour of the hipster neighbourhood, laden with jazz bars, Turkish restaurants, a raucously fun Turkish pool hall, an urban farm and countless bars and clubs. You’ll be hard-pressed not to stumble on a fun evening or, at the very least, eccentric fashion!
Where: 122 Ball’s Pond Road, N1 4AE. Nearest Station: Dalston Kingsland or Dalston Junction
3. C&R: Chinatown, London’s own Asia Lite, a tiny strip just outside of Soho where even the banks are labelled with Chinese characters. When you tire of the Asian supermarkets and Chinese bakeries, or arguing over which restaurant does the best roast duck, then pop into C&R for nasi lemak.
Located in an alley, which initially reminded me of a scene from a Jack The Ripper biopic, this secluded Chinese Malaysian restaurant is a hidden gem. Signposted by a dated photo of the KLCC Twin Towers, the decor is bare but the food more than makes up for it. Sit back with a fresh teh tarik and enjoy sambal goreng telur, wonderfully pungent kangkung belacan and, lest we forget, the sensational nasi lemak that comes with the traditional sides and the added extra of chicken curry.
Opposite the restaurant is C&R cafe where you can take away pyramid-shaped packets of nasi lemak. Cheap and cheerful, C&R is a great stop-off point on a day spent exploring central London.
Where: 4 Rupert Court, W1D 6DY. Nearest Station: Piccadilly Circus or Leicester Square
4. The Heron: I love The Heron. I unabashedly adore The Heron. I feel the same uncompromising dedication to The Heron that tiger mums feel towards their daughter’s violin skills. I love it so much that I’ve snuck it into this list of London’s best nasi lemak restaurants via its salt fish fried rice. It’s duplicitous, I know, but you seriously will not regret going to this haven of Southeast Asian food near Edgware Road.
When I was first invited to this tiny Thai eatery in the basement of what can only be described as an old man’s pub, I was sceptical. I was sure it would be one of those places that people only attended to appear bohemian. I was sure that green chicken curry pathetically dashed with basil leaves, and oil sodden pad thai, would be the only things on the menu.
I have never been so wrong. The menu is filled with traditional delights from crispy catfish mango salad to insanely spicy tom yum and steamed bread with
The food is cheap, the menu unpretentiously Thai, the surroundings hilarious (it’s a part-time karaoke bar with disco balls) and the look of glee the waiters give you when you ask for the food to be extra spicy is priceless. Oh and the salt fish fried rice that can be described as a not-too-distant cousin of nasi lemak? Delicious.
Where: Norfolk Crescent, W2 2DN. Nearest Station: Edgware Road or Paddington
5. Suka at the Sanderson: Now, back to nasi lemak. Although you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t swear that the best nasi lemak they’ve had is from a street vendor, for a measly RM2, there is something to be said for dressing up and enjoying the mamak stall treat in lush surroundings.
Suka is on the ground floor of Sanderson Hotel, the site of London’s first urban spa and part of the Morgan Hotel Group, which includes the Hudson Hotel in New York and the Mondrian in Los Angeles. It’s unabashedly 5-star, offering a world of “luxury, fantasy and wellbeing” and, rather surprisingly, nasi lemak. Although Suka has mainly become an afternoon tea spot, it still serves a mean nasi lemak as part of a Malaysian Express menu that’s available from noon to 6.45pm.
Diners can pick from a selection of accompaniments to jazz up the banana-leaf-wrapped rice and are entitled to a second course or dessert. The experience will set you back a cool RM99, so it’s only for the most decadent enthusiast!
Where: 50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG. Nearest Station: Goodge Street or Oxford Street