Getting authentic South-East Asian food in London can be quite challenge as most places would have adjusted their cooking to suit local tastes. However, reasonably authentic versions can still be found around town. Currently, for Thai food, the forerunners would be The Heron (Edgware Rd), Thai 101 (Hammersmith) and Kaosarn (Brixton). For Malaysian food, Sedap (Old Street), Bonda (Sussex Gardens) and Malaysia Kopitiam (Charing Cross Rd) come to mind.
For Singaporean/Malaysian "Nyonya kuehs"(i.e. traditional Straits-Chinese and Malay cakes), no one in London (or Europe, for that matter) can match up to Sedap in Old Street, where their renditions can surpass even those from many traditional bakeries in Singapore (Bengawan Solo, Subway Niche) or Kuala Lumpur/Penang/Malacca.
We tried a couple of other SE-Asian eateries for their dessert offerings last week.
First up, Suda Thai Cafe at Covent Garden. A slick, well-run outfit by the Patara chain (part of the S&P Group, the giant Bangkok-based F&B conglomerate). The clientele are mainly smart City types and those hanging out at the West End/Covent Garden. What we had:
- Pandan cake: Suda produced a very authentic old-style pandan-flavoured sponge cake with butter-cream frosting, reminiscent of those cakes one finds in old Bangkok bakeries like Kalpapruek and, of course, the S&P cafe-bakeries that are everywhere in Bangkok. But in terms of texture and quality of ingredients, one still needs to go to the S&P outlets in Bangkok for the real thing: the sponge cakes there are simply stupendous.
- Sticky rice with coconut ice-cream: I didn't quite take to this version. In Bangkok, I'd had the version using black sticky rice - which would have been better than the harder white sticky rice. But I guess white sticky rice was used here for convenience, since the same ingredient would also used in the popular mango with sticky rice dessert option.
- Thai iced tea: Good rendition here, though it's not as thick or sweet as those one finds in Bangkok.
Second destination was Melur on Edgware Road. "Melur", which is the Malay word for 'Jasmine' took over the site of the long-standing "Mawar" ('Rose') restaurant a couple of years back. The closure of the 30-year-old Mawar in 2010 had taken the Malaysian community in London by surprise - for decades, it was *the* place for student gatherings (Malaysians studying at the Imperial College, LSE, etc) and even the Malaysian High Commission staff. Melur upgraded the canteen-like premises into a slightly more upmarket set-up. However, the basement dining room still looked and felt pretty plain & spartan. Clientele are mainly Malay-Muslims as the food here is halal.
What we had:
- Air kachang, listed as ABC ('Air Batu Campur') on their menu. The shaved ice had a much coarser texture that I'd have liked, but the flavourings (mix of rose syrup, Gula Melaka, sarsi) were spot-on. Other ingredients included miserly portions of red beans, attap seeds and not much else. I wished they'd add some creamed corn or jelly. The scoop of ice-cream on top helped a bit in imparting a creamy richness to the whole concoction, but the dessert overall was still a let-down.
- Sago Gula Melaka: pretty average rendition, but I guess limited availability of fresh coconut creme and good quality Gula Melaka in London would impact upon any attempt to produce a good version.
- Teh Tarek (frothy-topped 'pulled' sweetened tea) & Sirap Bandung (pink-coloured, chilled rose-syrup-flavoured milk) drinks: pretty average here.
Suda Thai Cafe
23 Slingsby Place
London WC2E 9AB
Tel: +44 20 7240 8010
Melur Malaysian Restaurant
175A Edgware Road
London W2 1ET
Tel: +44 20 7706 8083