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Friday 28 May 2010

London Restaurant Reviews - Kiasu


Kiasu **Please read commentaries**

Having spent some time discovering the fantastic Nyonya food in Mallaca and Singapore, and then the Hokkien street hawker fare in KL which was equally good, I was thrilled to rediscover some of those amazing flavours at Malaysian restaurants across London including Rasa Sayang, Sedap and more recently Kiasu.

Kiasu had been on my radar for a while, nearing the top of my ever growing hit-list of London restaurants when I got an invitation to the launch of the “Malaysian Kitchen Dining Card Scheme” at Kiasu.

The dining card is part of the 2010 Malaysian Kitchen Campaign, a Malaysian Government initiative that aims to promote its native cuisine to the UK and for which Rick Stein is now the official ambassador.

A number of restaurants across the UK are taking part in this scheme which allows card holders to receive a minimum discount of 20% off the total food bill when dining at one of the participating restaurants. The membership to the scheme is absolutely free, and is valid until 31 December 2010. You can sign up for your free membership via this link (here).

The restaurant is small, very simply furnished, and can be quite noisy at times. The lighting in Kiasu is bright and blue, and the overall ambience is not one to encourage a long and relaxing meal. The restaurant owner, Ronald Lim, who also runs the Cantonese restaurant Kam Tom on the other side of the road, is of Malaysian Peranakan descent, and is said to be an avid foodie.

We were served a selection of starters which included “Malay chicken and beef” satay, both @ £4.50 (4 skewers). I never order satay skewers in London restaurants as I cannot stand jarred sauces. Kiasu’s however tasted fresh and delicious, and had a perfect balance between coconut, peanuts and chilli paste, the main ingredients.

Elizabeth, the manager, told us that the chefs at Kiasu will prepare all sauces in-house every other day, and any unused sauces are disposed of to ensure freshness. This makes sense as homemade sauces, which contain no preservatives, have a much shorter shelf life than their jar equivalents.

Kiasu’s own “Special fried calamari” @ £4.50 was coated in a very light batter, it was perfectly cooked and tender.

I also enjoyed the “Ngoh hiang” @ £4.50, a Hokkien dish of minced pork and prawns, chestnuts, and finely chopped onions, seasoned with five spice powder and soya sauce. The mixture is rolled into bean curd sheets and deep fried. This dish took me right back to the street hawker stalls of Kuala Lumpur and tasted as good as the ones I remember having there.

The “chai tow kway” @ £5.50 was again excellent – the combination of rice cake, shredded daikon (white radish) and dried shrimps fried in egg is a winning one, and Kiasu’s version was no exception.

Most impressive however was the “Kueh pai tee” (top hats) @ £4.50, gorgeous Nyonya hors d’oeuvres, made of thin, crisp and delicate pastry shaped like top hats, filled with julienned vegetables and prawns.

I remember being rather shocked to learn at a cookery class in Singapore (Cookery Magic School run by the lovely Ruqxana) that one of the main ingredients in “Chilli crab” sauce was tomato ketchup. I cannot imagine using it in anything else apart from “Chilli Crab” @ £14.80 (whole crab) - the combination of flavours somehow works, and the ketchup comes into place with the other ingredients including ginger, red chillies and palm sugar.

Noteworthy was also Kiasu’s authenticity by serving their chilli crab with “mantou”, a sweet and soft roll with a deliciously crisp deep fried shell that is used to mop up the rich, thick sauce.

The “Hainanese chicken rice” @ £8.50 was also delicious. The chicken had been cooked in water flavoured with garlic and ginger, and as customary, some of this broth was served as an accompanying soup with the rest being used to cook the rice.

“Char kway teow” @ £6.90, another hawker stall favourite, had been wok-fried at high heat, so the flat rice noodles were beautifully charred. I could also taste a hint of “belacan” (Malay shrimp paste) among the other ingredients.

The “Nonya laksa” @ £6.80, a curried laksa, had a rich coconut base, juicy prawns and fish cake. It was deliciously aromatic due to the daun kesum (also known as Vietnamese mint – rau ram) which gave just the right amount of heat.

The “Honey glazed ribs” @ £6.90 were meaty, deep fried and coated in a honey flavoured sauce.

For dessert we had “Chendol” @ £2.80, a very refreshing dessert made of shaved ice with droplets of fragrant pandan green jelly and coconut milk, laced with thick coconut palm syrup.

The wine list is very reasonably priced (bottles cost between £11 and £35) with most bottles below the £20 mark. Beers, Tiger and Tsingtao, are both priced at £2.80.

We also had “Durian ice cream” @ £1 (per scoop) which I found to be creamy and not too sweet. The flavour of durian was intense but fresh and, unlike some of my dinner companions, I thoroughly enjoyed it - Somerset Maugham's aphorism that eating durian was like savouring a raspberry blancmange while sitting on the lavatory sprang to mind.

Cost: this was a complimentary meal but I have quoted prices of all dishes whenever these were available. I estimate that a three course meal would cost in the region of £15 per person for a three course meal.

Likes: excellent and authentic Malaysian cuisine, homemade sauces, very reasonably priced menu.

Dislikes: restaurant can get rather noisy and the blue neon style lights do not make for the most relaxing atmosphere.

Verdict: One of the best Malaysian restaurants that I have visited in London, Kiasu is authentic, reasonably priced and serves excellent Malaysian and Nyonya dishes. Elizabeth, the manager, showed great knowledge and passion for her cuisine. I cannot wait to return. Highly recommended.

Kiasu on Urbanspoon

Monday 24 May 2010

London Supper Club – Comida Divertida

Comida Divertida

I was one of the 20 diners to get a place at the launch evening of Charlie’s supper club “Comida Divertida” recently. I first heard of Charlie’s new supper club via Twitter – the event was quickly over-subscribed, but thanks to a mate of Euwen’s dropping out at the last minute, I was able to get in.

I like the idea that Charlie is bringing to the London underground restaurant scene – that food can be fun, sociable, and hands-on. And indeed “Comida Divertida” lived up to the billing.


The evening took place at a modern and spacious loft style apartment on a street off Brick Lane. The location was ideal for the event as it was spread over two floors – as guests arrived and were welcomed with a Margarita cocktail, there was plenty of space to mingle and meet each other. Delicious smells were wafting from the upstairs kitchen and it wasn’t long until we were called up to take our seats.

(Picture courtesy of G. Beasley)

The flat is not Charlie’s and it is my understanding that future evenings may be hosted at different locations.

(Picture courtesy of G. Beasley)


It is unusual to see a Latin American themed event at supper clubs in London and so I was looking forward to trying Charlie’s take on the region. On arrival, we were served “Homemade corn chips with accompanying salsa, guacamole and re-fried beans", and these went well with our chilled margaritas.

As a starter, we had “Salmon ceviche with lime, chilli and fennel salad”. More akin to a sashimi style dish than a Peruvian ceviche, I enjoyed the simplicity and delicate flavour of this dish. The salmon, which had been marinated in lime and a dash of chilli, was served with a refreshing medley of fennel and coriander with an accompanying homemade corn tortilla.

The main dish (Antojitos) was “Slow braised lamb shoulder” which was individually hand-pulled by the guests to fill their “tacos” along with guacamole, salsa, refried beans, yoghurt and sweet corn.

This was indeed a fun and delicious dish – the meat had been rubbed in spices and slow cooked, and was incredibly tender, falling off the bone.

For dessert, we had “Chilli chocolate mousse” followed by watermelon.

(Picture courtesy of G. Beasley)

I love the combination of chocolate and chillies and Charlie’s dessert was no exception – it was rich and spicy and a very good ending to a lovely meal.


Margaritas were served on arrival; these were well mixed and had a generous amount of tequilla. Comida Divertida is BYO and charges no corkage. There were quite a few bottles of tequilla and other strangely coloured drinks being passed around freely after dessert to all guests.


A self-taught chef and a real food enthusiast, Charlie spent a month at Leith’s and then worked as a cook in France for a few months. After college, he had various short apprenticeships at some top British restaurants including Hibiscus, Ottolenghi and a six-week unpaid stint at the Fat Duck. Charlie works as a graphic designer for Square Meal and Imbibe Magazine, and is also the food blogger behind “Eat My Nels”.

The crowd was young(ish) and trendy, and mostly professional.

I met some very interesting people at Comida Divertida, like assistant editor Clinton with whom I remember speaking in Portuguese (or was that too much tequilla?!), and gorgeous Samantha, a South African and former chef who is now training to become a pilates instructor.

Unlike most supper clubs where people remain seated whilst talking to other diners at their own tables, there was such a party atmosphere at Comida Divertida that it wasn’t long until we all got up to meet and chat with the other guests.

Comida Divertida’s next event is scheduled for early June 2010.

Cost: £25 per person + BYO (which I personally believe to be excellent value).

Likes: very good cooking, mucho tequilla, great mix of people, and central location.

Dislikes: Tequilla = WORST hangover ever!

Verdict: Very few supper clubs have got it so right – excellent cooking at a beautiful location and with great atmosphere. Charlie’s Comida Divertida was indeed a lot of fun, and I look forward to attending it again in the future. Highly recommended.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Mission: Find the Best Burger in London – Fine Burger Co.


Following my disastrous visit in May 10 which you can read below, I REVISITED Fine Burger Co. on 4th and 9th December 2010 - for the updated review of this Burger joint, please go here.

Fine Burger Co.

There is little to say about the burgers at this popular chain – the only “fine” thing about them is in the restaurant’s name.

Dr G and I visited our local Upper Street branch one evening before going to watch a movie at the nearby Screen on the Green.

The menu read well and I was tempted to “supersize” by paying an extra £2 for a 12 ounce patty. Luckily I didn’t and ordered a single “Sizzler Burger” @ £7.80 (6oz beef patty, smoked bacon, aged cheddar, tomato relish and mayo).

Despite asking for my burger to be medium rare, my patty was so overcooked and dry I could hardly swallow it. But hang on – wasn’t this supposed to be made from “traditionally reared, free range Aberdeen Angus beef cattle?” – so how could it be so utterly tasteless?

There was little if any “aged cheddar”, and the little I could see tasted completely non-descript. The bun “handmade fresh everyday by an Italian baker” had been topped with seeds but had no flavour or texture to hold the dried-out patty. What a disaster!

Dr G ordered a “Catalan Burger” @ £7.65 (beef patty, grilled Spanish chorizo, piquillo peppers and aioli). Similarly, the burger was overcooked, dried-out and tasted industrially processed. The chorizo was also dry and very hard. A completely forgettable burger in Dr G’s opinion.

We ordered a portion of “onion rings” @ £2.95. The batter was thick and drenched in oil, and the rings tasted like they had just come out of a frozen packet despite the price.

Little does farmer "Stuart" know what FBC will do to his quality beef. I wish the Fine Burger Co. would concern themselves with making good quality burgers rather than trying to save the planet.

The “chunky chips” also @ £2.95 were crisp and, surprisingly, tasted quite good.

We ordered a bottle of their house red wine, a 2008 Fleur de Vigne, a blend of Grenache and Merlot grapes from the Languedoc @ £13.50. The wine was very easy drinking, soft and mellow, and at that price we felt it was also very good value.

Cost: £30 including 12.5% service added to the bill, and after a 50% discount on the food bill (FBC is part of the TasteLondon card scheme, to which I belong).

Likes: good but expensive chips, reasonably priced wine list.

Dislikes: the food, a large patch of mould on the wall in the passageway to the lavatories half an inch thick, use of every marketing cliché available to advertise their burgers.

Verdict: Completely forgettable dining experience - avoid at all costs.

Fine Burger Company on Urbanspoon

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