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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

London Restaurant Reviews - Mama Irene @ Lennies Snack Bar

Mama Irene (UPDATED on 1st March 2011)

One of my favourite restaurants in London, Irene is a true pioneer of what today is a well known and much loved cuisine in the UK. She has been cooking Thai food in London’s East End for over 20 years and her restaurant is a real institution in the Shoreditch food scene.

I have been coming to Mama Irene’s for the last two years and have, since then, introduced some of my dearest friends to her. It took me a few visits until Irene decided I could have one of her tables – today, I am lucky enough to have her mobile number and am able to enjoy her cooking frequently.

Her menu is very limited, which is an excellent sign for an Asian restaurant. On every visit she will, if you allow her, sit at your table and run through the various food options – she will serve you whatever is freshest and has just been bought at her local market on the day.  I remember using the menu only on my first visit, and have since then let her choose all my dishes.

On my last visit, we were served another great meal – we started the evening with her homemade spring rolls, followed by deep fried pork ribs. The spring rolls had a real kick to them because of the spices in the filling, while the ribs were crisp and deliciously meaty.

There are always two amazing dishes I ask her to prepare whenever I call to book and which I truly recommend – her sea bream steamed with Asian herbs, mushrooms and black bean sauce, and her roasted pork belly on a bed of wilted lettuce. These recipes are not set in stone and every time I visit Irene’s and try them, they taste slightly different but equally delicious.

She also cooked us Thai green curry chicken, prawns & squid with green beans in a spicy sauce, and stir fried pork belly with spring onions. All three dishes tasted fresh and authentic, but I particularly enjoyed the pork belly.

For dessert, we were served banana fritters with crème fraiche which ended the evening on an excellent note.

Other amazing dishes tried in earlier visits include her Seafood Laksa, other scrumptious variations of her steamed sea bream, and her green papaya salad. I doubt that you will find any of these dishes in her printed menu so I would recommend you letting her do most of your ordering.

We were in a group of 6 and the meal was exceptionally good value under £15 per person. The fact that Mama Irene is also a BYOB venue is an added bonus, making this an excellent choice in terms of food and value for money.

Coming to Mama Irene feels more like visiting an old friend’s kitchen than a restaurant – her food is homely and uncomplicated, and the setting is simple, cafe style and unpretentious. Irene hires Lennies Snack Bar from Wednesday to Saturday evenings from 6pm, and Sundays for breakfast only. I strongly recommend an advance booking.

Verdict – a real Shoreditch institution serving excellent value and delicious, homely Thai food in simple surroundings. Personable service. BYOB. Highly recommended.

...What Others Are Saying...

Dr Tiffany Morris on 1st March 2011: I was excited about Mama Irene’s restaurant as soon as I read the review on The London Foodie, but unsure as to whom to invite along I didn’t have the opportunity to try it immediately. One afternoon I received a message from Neil, a member of the couchsurfing community that was visiting London on business. He could tell from my profile that I was a food lover. He contacted me for a restaurant recommendation and enquired if I might also be free to join him for dinner. I immediately thought of Mama Irene’s. I sent him a link to The London Foodie review and he replied with excitement. We met at a pub near the restaurant for a pre-dinner drink and then headed in around 7:30pm.

The atmosphere was so cozy and intimate that I instantly felt a bit awkward for going there with a stranger and had the feeling I was on some kind of blind date. However, my companion was lovely and down to earth and we had plenty to discuss in terms of food and travelling. We laughed about the slightly obscure décor in the café and wondered if any of the other diners had as unusual stories for meeting each other and discovering this restaurant.

As the London Foodie said she would, Mama Irene came to our table and described two dishes that she wanted to cook for us and asked if we would like some spring rolls to start. We were thrilled that she was ordering for us! She brought us a Green Chicken Curry and Steamed Sea Bass with garlic and spring onions. Neil was worried they would be too spicy and I was worried they wouldn’t be spicy enough and somehow we were both happy. The food was fresh and delicious and we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. We noticed that like us the other diners were there the entire night. It’s not the sort of place that gets several covers in one evening. People come and they stay until it’s time to close! I loved it so much I also went there with 5 friends for my last birthday and once again it didn’t disappoint. I am definitely looking forward to my next trip.

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  1. Sawasdee khrawp khun Luiz,

    Glad to see that you have found the essence of Thai at home. Always the best Thai.

    Thanks for your comments on ediblyasian and delighted that the Amok Talae is still memorable. There is a Thai near equivalent called "Hor Mok Talae" which I would think that "Ba Irene" would be happy to make for you with advance notice. Then again I am sure she has a hundred other recipes that she would wish you to try :)

    Your Blog looks great Luiz. You certainly put in the leg-work and gum power into a well considered opinion. Well done.

    All the dishes you commented on above are truly homestyle.....except the fritters with cream :)

    Happy Christmas and enjoy all the good it offers. I'm down to KL just prior so will probably be eating Nyonya,Hawker and the fantastic Chinese street foods.

  2. Oh wow - it almost looks like she's cooking in your home! Love that homestyle food too!

  3. @ Peter - thanks for your encouraging comments about my blog. It is great to get in touch with you, we had a lovely time with you in Asia! Your site also looks fantastic, you are a real authority on Asian cuisine and history. I will link up to my blog so that others can also enjoy ediblyasian!

    @ Su-lin - Hi Su-lin, great to hear from you. I thoroughly recommend her and if you would like her number, pls drop me an e-mail.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  4. Great post. It's spreading the word about hidden gems like these that make blogging so worthwhile.

  5. Thanks Mr Noodles, let me know if you get to visit her, she is a real character and food is homely and delicious!

    Luiz @ The London Foodie


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