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Tuesday 22 September 2009

London Restaurant Reviews - Rasa Sayang

Rasa Sayang

Besides San Francisco and Shanghai, there is only one other place that I feel can rival London’s culinary diversity, and that is Singapore. I would gladly take a 12-hour flight to be able to eat there. The countless food courts, their wonderful Chilli Crab, the oyster omelettes that melt in your mouth, are just some of the many reasons why I keep going back. I love Singapore, and in my latest trip, I also discovered the most delicious Straits Chinese food. 

I first came across the concept of Straits Heritage Cuisine a few years ago in Malacca, one of the most important historical cities of Malaysia. Straits Chinese food can refer to the cuisine that has evolved from the inter-racial marriages of descendants of late 15th and 16th century Chinese immigrants with natives of the region of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Peranakan and Baba-Nyonya are also the commonly used terms in Malay to describe this marriage of cultures and food. Needless to say, that the food is superb, complex, and richly flavoured with regional spices and pastes.

Rasa Sayang is not entirely Nyonya. Their menu is predominantly Malaysian/Singaporean hawker street food, and contains some of these nations’ favourite dishes like Chilli Crab, Char Kuay Teow and Pan-fried Carrot Cake. I was glad however to see some of my favourite Nyonya dishes in the menu like “Ayam Sambal” (chicken stewed in rich coconut curry) and Stir Fried Sambal Cluster Beans.

It was with much anticipation that I arranged to visit Rasa Sayang with my delightful Malaysian friend Charmaine Chow and her partner. I have been lucky enough to have experienced Charmaine’s Malaysian cooking a number of times, and knew that I would be in very good hands when ordering.

Rasa Sayang is simply decorated, aiming at functionality as opposed to style or comfort. The restaurant is small and the lighting is searingly bright. This is not a place designed to be restful but more like a canteen or a shopping mall eatery with a high turnover of customers and pushy waitresses.

We started with Hainanese Chicken Rice (£6.90) which we both agreed was very tender and succulent. I love the simplicity of this dish and the fact that the flavours come mostly from the delicious broth the chicken is cooked in. The broth is also served with accompanying rice.

This was followed by the pan fried carrot cake (£6.50) which was superb. Despite the name, the dish has no carrots but is made of pieces of rice cake & shredded radish (Japanese Daikon). These are pan-fried and served with bean sprouts, onions and other condiments. This was delicious and one of the best dishes of the evening.

The Char Kuay Teow (£6.60) was just as I remember having in the food courts of Malaysia and Singapore. The noodles were beautifully charred and combined well with the rich, dark and sweet soy sauce giving an intense flavour I have never managed to replicate at home. The seafood was good but not as abundant as it might have been, and the rice noodles soft and slippery like a good cheung fung. This is street hawker food at its best.

The Nyonya “Ayam Sambal” (Chicken Stewed in Rich Coconut Curry @ £6.90) was again amazing. The curry base (rempah) was incredibly complex, with hints of ginger, red chillies, cumin, coriander and belacan (Malay shrimp paste). Belacan is also known as terasi in Indonesia and all South East Asian countries have their own versions of belacan. I love belacan - despite the strong fishy smell and flavour, it is definitely an ingredient with a lot of umami.

We also ordered a couple of vegetable dishes – the Stir Fried Sambal Cluster Beans and  Sambal Ladyfingers priced at £6.50 and £5.80 respectively. They were both excellent, and Charmaine and I had no trouble polishing them off with the extra portions of rice we ordered. The ladyfingers were nicely cooked, still pleasantly firm and not viscous.

Charmaine was very impressed with the quality and authenticity of all dishes that we tried, and our dinner companions and I agreed with her heartily. Our meal, at £46.20 for four people, would have been perfect had it not been for the poor level of waiting service.

Verdict – Wonderful, authentic Straits Cuisine in modest surroundings, and at very reasonable prices. The unfriendliness of the staff needs to be addressed. A place to explore the still relatively undiscovered Straits Chinese and Peranakan Cuisines in London. I will certainly return.

Rasa Sayang on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Been there recently and the service has improved. We kept asking for more cut chillies and sambal belacan and the waitresses were very obliging.


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