Melati is one of the few Indonesian-Malaysian restaurants in London which are still going strong after 3 decades. The last time I stepped into Melati for a meal, Pierre Koffmann was still ruling the roost at La Tante Claire on Royal Hospital Road, the temperamental Nico Ladenis was pushing foie gras-stuffed roasted green pigeons to cowed diners at Nineties Mayfair, Aubergine had this talented young chef called Gordon Ramsay and driving out to lunch at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons was an unparalleled culinary adventure for many like me.
Well, I went back to Melati last weekend for a quick bite - choosing it as a quiet oasis of calm over the noisy, cluttered Chinatown restaurants round the corner from it. It was closed a while back (at its old Peter Street location) but has since re-opened at Great Windmill Street.
Very delighted to find that the restaurant is Malaysian-run - fronted by a Malaysian-Chinese lady and its kitchens manned by Malay-Muslim chefs. I chose the fail-safe "Beef Rendang", and the rendition here was a delight - fork-tender beef cubes smothered with a relatively "paler" curry sauce, as opposed to the dark, almost black, Padang-style rendang or the slow-cooked "Rendang Tok". The gravy here was thick and smooth, perfectly-spiced (milder than versions I'd find in Malaysia/Singapore, but that's ok) and mildly coconut-rich.
To go with the "Beef Rendang", I ordered a set of "Roti", which turned out to be the Malaysian "Roti Canai": the version here was pleasantly greaseless and flaky. A small bowl of greasy chicken curry sauce (with a coil of chicken skin inside, ugh) accompanied the "roti canai". The sauce was mild but was actually perfect for dipping chunks of torn-up "roti canai". I tried to pair the "roti canai" with the thick "beef rendang" gravy, but it didn't work - you need steamed white rice to go with the "rendang".
I'd not intended to have a full meal here, but the quality of cooking that went into preparing those two dishes held promise, and made me really want to return to Melati again soon, just to see if its food can really be as good as I think they might be.
21 Great Windmill Street
London W1D 7LB
Tel: +44 20 7437 2745