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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


  1. I got my card in post few days ago, we should book to go and eat somewhere together!

  2. Sounds fabulous. This is going on my 'list' :-)

  3. I have been to KiaSu about 1 yr ago. Any Singaporeans or Malaysians would have avoided the Satay just from the photo alone. That definitely do not look like SE Asian Satay - it looks like what a British would expect a Satay to look like. I have yet to find an authentic Satay in London after living in this great city for nearly 20 yrs.

    However, the Char kway teow is very authentic and so is the Laksa. Well worth a visit just for these 2 dishes.

  4. BTW, it is worth putting a note here of what "KiaSu" mean in the local Chinese dialect. It mean "Afraid to loose" or quite literally, "keeping up with the Jones". It is an extremely common expression in Singapore and Malaysia.

  5. Luiz, I'm glad you took such comprehensive notes! I wish I had read your post before I posted mine :) The Char kway teow was one of my favourites, it reminded me of all those night market stalls you find in any Asian city, so tasty. As for the durian ice cream, the less said the better! We should visit them again as it was really good food and excellent value for money. I'll take a blue hued dining companion anyday as long as the food is as good as it is at Kiasu.

  6. Wow, what a spread there! I visited a couple of times but didn't actually get to do a proper review at Kiasu. In fact, it was one of the first places I've been to when I came to London and the char kuey tiao tasted heavenly.

    Chilli Crab is one of my favourites as well. To be honest, I prefer dipping the lighted toasted buns into the chilli paste gravy than the actual crab itself, which is always a hassle. Looking forward to drop by again. Cheers!

  7. This sounds great and I now have my Malaysian dining card so there's no reason not to go. Great run down of the food and it is interesting to see all sorts of influences from the other parts of SE Asia. I thought the Kueh pai tee in particular sounded interesting, kind of like upright fired fresh summer rolls. Delicious.

  8. @ Kavey - hey darling, glad you got your card, this is a great offer and I would love to go back there with you sometime soon!

    @ Siany - hey Siany, thanks for your message! Let me know how you get on there when you happen to go.

    @ Martin - thanks for your kind words Martin.

    @ The Wine Sleuth - hi Denise, char kway teow was also one of my favourite dishes, and I would love to have it again! Yes, let's go back anytime.

    @ London Chow - thanks mate, I enjoyed your review of Awana and I will be visiting it next Tuesday!

    @ The Grubworm - hi Aaron, indeed this card is a good find. That dish is a Nyonya dish, and was one of the best starters.

  9. Nice review, and I'm going to make a bee-line for the delicious looking satay. Yum yum!
    Mr Truffle

  10. I went here years ago when it first opened and had the most amazing curry and roti style dish for a pittance, glad to see it's still doing so well! Lovely write up.

  11. @ Gastrogeek - Hi Rej, I know I am pleased they are doing well too - I want to go back there and use my Malaysian Kichen card, I think they compare quite well with Rasa Sayang and Sedap which are not taking part in the campaign (unfortunately).

  12. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23860293-mouse-found-swimming-in-restaurants-sweet-and-sour-sauce.do



    This restaurant, Kiasu, and two other Chinese restaurants in Queensway owned by Singaporean Ronald Lim, was closed down in 2008 for gross violations of food hygiene laws. The author of the above article should have been aware of this when he wrote this puff-piece about Kiasu and is guilty of grossly misleading the public in publishing this article.

    In July, 2010, Ronald Lim was found guilty of no less than 17 individual violations of food hygiene laws for which he was fined £30,000 and given an 18 month suspended sentence (see numerous media reports on the web for verification). Public comments on many forums consider Lim a menace to public health and should have been gaoled and banned from running any food outlets.

  14. @ Anom - the link you added to your comment relates to another restaurant called Kam Tong also owned by Ronald who owns Kiasu.

    @ DB9 - at the time of writing my "puff" article as you put it (whatever that means), I could only work on information that was publicly available. I researched quite extensively about this restaurant and Ronald Lim while writing my review, I didn't find any information about this court case, and it was NEVER my intention to be misleading.

  15. It's totally disgusting how Ronald Lim ran his kitchens.. I ate at Kiasu many times and now I don't feel too well thinking back about what I ate there... gross!

  16. Oh well, it is a pity. I loved the food there, and I was just as shocked as everyone else to learn about the state of his kitchens. Great pity indeed.

    Luiz @ The London Foodie

  17. Hey, Love your blog, I see that you are doing Le Grand Diplome at Cordon Bleu, I did that a few years ago! Check out my blog at www.thetastyskicompany.co.uk/blog


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