Finally got round to dine at Mandalay Burmese Restaurant this evening on Edgware Road. Coming to 20 years old and still going strong - I can't believe that I never noticed this place during the period I lived for a while on Northwick Terrace, St John's Woods, a mere 10 minutes' jaunt away round the corner, back in the mid-90s.
Edgware Road these days is even grungier than I remembered. When Mandalay first opened its doors back in 1994, Maroush and Ranoush Juice were the only two standout Middle-Eastern eateries - both located at the end of Edgware Road near Marble Arch. These days, Maroush has grown into a huge chain, and a multitude of Arabic eateries now lined Edgware Road, creeping ever closer to Maida Vale/Little Venice.
Dinner this evening:
- "Akyaw": three types of deep-fried fritters served piping hot - (1) julienned calabash/squash, (2) beansprouts and shrimps, and (3) chopped spinach. They tasted like a heavy Burmese take on tempura. Served with 3 types of sauce/dips: soysauce, tamarind and chilli sauce. I chose to drizzle the 3 types of sauces atop the crisp fritters. The textures here were heavier than the ones I tried in Burmese restaurants back in South-East Asia.
- "Mohinga": the Burmese national dish of rice noodles in a spiced, coconut milk-infused thin gravy. Slivers of lemongrass, coupled with the scent of dried shrimps and fish sauce gave the dish its typical aroma. But the version here was *very* much toned down compared to the more authentic versions I'd had back in Singapore (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/519238) or Kuala Lumpur (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/869339) where the Burmese communities are invariably larger. For example, the UK has roughly 10,000 Burmese (70% of whom lived in Greater London), compared to 270,000 who lived in Kuala Lumpur alone in Malaysia.
The "mohinga" I had at Mandalay lacked young banana stems - an essential part of the dish. The galangal scent was also missing, and I suspect lighter fish sauce was used in place of strong-smelling fish paste. The crisp mung-bean fritters were also not available - this garnish was also an essential part of the "mohinga". I think the lack of native Burmese ingredients in London makes it extremely difficult for any restaurateur to offer an authentic taste of Burmese cuisine.
- a Burmese egg curry - which turned out completely different from what I expected, though tasty all the same. Somehow, I was expecting hard-boiled eggs in a spicy-sour, tamarind infused sauce, but was served a large omelette smothered with a thick tomato-curry sauce instead. But it went well with the moist lentil-rice, which was cooked to the point of mushiness.
Overall, the meal wasn't exactly as I'd expected. It had been highly-recommended by various guides and publications like Time Out Eating & Drinking Guide which voted it 'Best Budget Meal" winner in 1996. But I found its cuisine very much toned down and rather bland - lacking the spices and assertive flavours I usually experienced in Burmese restaurants in SE-Asia.
Mandalay Burmese Restaurant
444 Edgware Road
London W2 1EG
Tel: +44 207 258 3696