Nineteen, curious and adventurous, I had no qualms about flying abroad to pursue my education in the United Kingdom, but the one thing that I knew I would miss was the food. Heavily influenced by its Thai, Indonesian and other neighbours in Asia, Malaysia boasts a variety of restaurants and Japanese is often cited as a favourite amongst the locals. However its pride and speciality lies in local street food (or hawker food, as it is locally known as). With citizens of Malay, Chinese and Indian descent, Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures and its cuisine reflects this in a medley of flavours. I love how you could get the best wonton mee (eggy Chinese noodles) a mere 10 minute walk away from Indian-Muslim Nasi Kandar (meat curry over white rice) restaurants that threaten to spill onto the street. With some that draw crowds and only open for limited hours in a day, dim sum at half past 7am on a Sunday morning with my grandmother was a norm. Air-conditioned restaurants are common but it is the hawker stalls that give you the true taste of authenticity. Particularly well known for its hawker food is Penang, my hometown and home to Georgetown, a UNESCO Heritage site. I swear that I am not biased. In 2011, Penang Assam Laksa ranked 7th on CNN’s World Top 10 and Penang has recently been named as one of the top destination for foodies to visit in 2014 by The Independent. Penang is all about the food and is a foodie hub that beckons culinary adventure-seekers to visit.
Luckily, London itself is not short of Asian restaurants and four years later, I have found comfort in these 10 that remind me of the taste of home.
By I Yune Hoe
1. Hare & Tortoise
With five branches spread across London in Bloomsbury, Ealing, Blackfriars, Kensington and Putney, Hare & Tortoise is the antithesis to the harsh stereotype that chain restaurants are sub-par in quality. From Malaysian Chicken Curry and Curry Laksa to Unagi Don and Ebi Tempura, Hare & Tortoise serves Malaysian and Japanese dishes that would leave diners spoiled for variety. For London’s Malaysian Food Restaurants, it is not too shabby, at least according to this Malaysian food critic. Round up your order with freshly-pressed juice off the menu and it is the perfect lunch or dinner destination for summer.
Hare & Tortoise: Bloomsbury, 11-13 The Brunswick, London WC1N 1AF
Telephone: 020 7278 9799
2. Malaysia Hall Canteen Restaurant
Inconspicuous from the outside, diners-to-be would have to keep an eye out for the Jalur Gemilang (literally: stripes of glory), our national flag, in front of the Malaysian embassy. This canteen-styled restaurant in the basement does not amount to much in terms of interior on the inside but in terms of food, does it do the trick! Resembling a Malaysian Kopitiam, the Char Kway Teow (fried flat noodles), Nasi Lemak (coconut milk rice with anchovies, hard boiled eggs, fried peanuts and sambal) and Teh Tarik (milk tea) would make any Malaysian feel right at home. The food is scrumptious and excellent value for money. Arguably every Malaysian in London’s best kept secret, diners have to either be Malaysian or brought in by a Malaysian, but some diners have reported managing to “sneak” in without a problem.
Malaysia Hall – The Canteen: 30-34 Queensborough Terrace, London, W2 3ST
Telephone: 020 7985 1262
3. Roti King
Taken from Roti King’s Facebook page
Seeing that my childhood neighbourhood open-space Indian Restaurant is no longer within walking distance, I welcomed this recommendation from a Singaporean friend. “Milo pun nak ambil gambar”, he re-enacted an exchange between a friend and a member of the restaurant staff. A direct translation being “even Milo drink, you want to take a picture of”, the thought of it instantly making me reminisce of home. As it turned out, I had been walking right past this numerous times, constantly dismissing it based on the dubious looking “Just-Eat” sign on the door. It is not fancy, it is arguably not for the dainty, but it serves roti. Roti canai is basically Indian-influenced flatbread made from flipped dough. Crispy on the outside and just the right texture between light and dense, Roti King banishes the need for frozen ready-made supermarket roti. To go on the side is Dahl for the vegetarian, kaya (coconut milk jam) for the sweet tooth, and a variety of chicken, mutton or fish curry. A delightfully thick blend of spices, herbs and dried chillies, it promises a palette party. Handy tip: Google map ‘Euston Chinese’ to find the place.
Address: 40 Doric Way, London, NW1
Telephone: 020 7387 2518
4. Sage & Chilli
One for the skeptics, it is not every day that you hear of an Albanian chef at a London hotel near Tottenham Court Road going to Malaysia to learn how to cook authentic Penang char kway teow, but that is precisely what Chef Arjan Kuci did. In exchange for his Italian-honed culinary skills, he was sent to Malaysian-owned St Giles Hotel’s sister restaurant, Cititel Penang. Arjan Kuci even goes as far as to freshly prepare the chilli paste himself. Now that, is commitment.
Address: Bedford Ave, London WC1B 3GH
Telephone: 020 7300 3000
5. Bugis Street Brasserie
Near Gloucester road underground station resides a restaurant of the same name as Singapore’s bargain hunter paradise. Serving Malaysian, Singaporean, Cantonese and Szechuan specialties from the far east, I was skeptical at first but soon found my chicken rice, seafood ho fun (flat rice noodles) and nonya-style pork fix. As most servings do in London, portions come almost double in size from that in Malaysia or Singapore.
Bugis Street Brasserie: 4-18 Harrington Gardens, London, SW7 4LH
Telephone: 020 7331 6211
6. The Modern Pantry
Its contemporary minimalistic decor an ideal set up for Instagram addicts, the two story brick walled building in St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, consists of a Ground Floor cafe and First Floor restaurant. Modern is the word for this brunch favourite, noting the globalised Indonesian touches of sambal, a chilli mix, with sugar-cured New Caledonian prawn omelette, giving a spicy twist to the standard brunch classic. The raspberry and ricotta pancakes served with berry and liquorice compote, creme fraiche is sinfully delicious but it is the prawn omelette and rendang mince on toast with crispy egg, chilli lime dressing, spring onion, coriander and crispy ginger, that satisfy that hint of nostalgia.
Modern Pantry: 47-48 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, London, EC1V 4JJ
Telephone: 020 7553 9210
7. Royal China and Royal China Club
There is Royal China and then there is Royal China Club, both under the Royal China Group umbrella. Dim sum during the day, regional Chinese dishes during the evening, award-winning Royal China is unequivocally one of the best Cantonese restaurants in London. A chain of family-friendly Chinese restaurants out of Chinatown, Royal China can be found on Baker Street, Queensway, Riverside, Fulham and Harrow. Slightly more exclusive in terms of ambience and perhaps better-suited for dining with office colleagues is the minutely-classier Royal China Club, which also conveniently takes reservations. Neither disappoints when it comes to mouth-watering seasonal dishes and the egg tarts are to die for.
Royal China: 24-26 Baker Street, London, W1U 3BZ
Telephone: 020 7487 4688
Taking it up a notch is the Michelin-starred Yauatcha in Soho that coincidentally makes you feel a little like you are dining in an aquarium. It may be labelled as contemporary dim sum but the bustling that goes with having Cantonese street food is not lost in the casual but well-polished environment. It is nearly impossible to get Dim Sum for dinner back home (believe me, I have tried) so Yauatcha’s all-day dim sum menu is quite the treat and the good food makes it difficult to remember to leave room for the beautifully handcrafted macarons and desserts displayed on the patisserie counter. Thankfully, Yauatcha’s menu is filled with an assortment tea. Even the cocktails are pretty fantastic. Fun fact: Danny Boyle’s “Trance” which also starred James McAvoy, filmed a scene in this very restaurant.
Yauatcha: 15-17 Broadwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0DL
Telephone: 020 7494 8888
9. Gold Mine
For the best crispy aromatic duck rice and roast meat, look no further than the famed Gold Mine. This gem has garnered quite the buzz amongst locals and tourists alike. Be prepared to wait in line however. Given its popularity, the wait on Queensway would easily be half an hour. Rumour has it that an ex-chef from Four Seasons, once reported by the UK edition of the Financial Times in 2010 as the place with ‘the best roast duck in the world’, including Asia, took the once closely guarded secret sauce recipe with him when he left and opened Gold Mine. Be it fact or fiction, the crispy skin, juicy meat and dark sweet and savoury sauce would have you wishing for more. The siu york (roast pork belly), char siu (BBQ pork) and claypot eggplant with minced meat are delicious and compliment the mandatory rice order as well.
Gold Mine: 102 Queensway, London W2 3RR
Telephone: 020 7792 8331
10. Taste of Siam
Taste of Siam has been opened for 15 years so it is no wonder that they know how to do things right. Besides the quintessential Pad Thai noodles and Chicken Green Curry with steamed jasmine rice, Taste of Siam’s specialises in Thai noodle soups and hot pot (also known as steamboat/Jim Joom/Suki). An interactive style of dining common in China to escape the harsh winter cold, it is also popular in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. A simmering metal pot of stock is placed at the centre of the table and once the water is boiling, everyone dips in thinly sliced meat, seafood, eggs, mushrooms and vegetables subject to their personal preferences. It is pure fun for any social gathering and seconds come for free. For drinks, newcomers wouldn’t want to miss out on the condense milk-sweetened Thai tea. In addition, a Thai supermarket that sells bags of rice, instant noodles and ready made dumplings, can be found next door.
Taste: 45, Camden High St, London, NW1 7JH
Telephone: 020 7380 0665