Mandalay is a little institution in the London Food Scene – I remember going there 15 years ago and being rather intrigued at the time, so I felt another visit was overdue. Surrounded by the most traditional Levantine restaurants in the country, Mandalay is slightly at odds on the Edgware Road strip. Sadly, very little has changed in this restaurant’s decor and menu in the last 15 years; the food however, tasted as simple and good as I remembered it to be.
Burmese cuisine is a difficult one to pin down – it is primarily a fusion of Chinese and Indian flavours and also to a lesser degree of other South East Asian cuisines, particularly Thai. It is rich, complex and contains most of those familiar Asian ingredients such as coconut milk, coriander, tamarind, lemongrass, curry, and shrimp paste (belacan), among others.
We tried to order a selection of different dishes which we felt would give us a good overview of various cooking methods and flavours. We skipped the appetizers deciding to have an additional main course and accompanying vegetables instead. All dishes were served pretty much at once, by the very personable waiter and owner “Dwight”.
The Lamb in Tamarind @ £6.90 was tender, tangy and delicious. The sauce was rich and thick with hints of cinnamon and star anise – there was a lot going on in that sauce but the flavours integrated beautifully. I really enjoyed this dish with plain boiled rice @ £1.90 a portion.
The Chilli Chicken @ £5.90 was, as the name suggests, very hot to the point that it impaired the palate for any subsequent dishes. I love spicy food so was happy with the abundance of dry roasted chillies, and the heat that followed. This was a simple dish where the flavours of chicken and chillies were completely unadulterated by other spices. I would recommend this to those who like me, really enjoy hot foods.
I was intrigued by Mandalay’s Twice Cooked Fish Curry @ £6.90, and was informed by the owner Dwight that the fish was firstly fried and then baked in a rich tomato sauce. We were slightly underwhelmed by this dish at the time, but having tried it at home the following day, I was pleasantly surprised by the flavours of the tomato sauce and spices. It tasted much nicer than the previous evening, so this is possibly a good take-away option!
The star of the evening however was Mandalay’s banana fritters with ice cream. The batter had been prepared with a combination of wheat and rice flours making it crispy and light, melting in the mouth with the hot banana and ice cream. Utterly scrumptious!
Mandalay’s beverage menu is quite limited and well priced: with house wines priced at £8.50 and other wines at £9.90, you are unlikely to break the bank at this eatery. We decided to go for Tsingtao beers at £2.20 per bottle, and felt that they partnered the food well.
We had a lovely chat with the owner Dwight who took great pride in his country’s heritage and cuisine and demonstrated a real passion to communicate that to all his customers. He explained the menu in detail, and made me promise to try one of his signature dishes namely Calabash (fritter appetizer) on my next visit. Our experience at Mandalay was greatly enhanced by Dwight’s care, knowledge and insights.
Verdict – Good, simple Burmese food at very reasonable prices. The location and decor are a little disappointing. Dwight’s love, knowledge and enthusiasm for his country and cuisine are an inspiration to those lucky enough to be served by him.