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Malaysian Feast at Kiasu, Bayswater

Chye Tow Kway - Radish Cake

I have a terrible confession to make. I only discovered Malaysian food about a year ago. I know, I know, I was obviously spending too much time eating sashimi (if in doubt, go for Japanese being my motto)

Turns out Malaysian food is a lot like Burmese food, insofar as there's an emphasis on rich curries and noodles with salads thrown in for luck. And it's bleeding gorgeous - so much so that it now ranks a close second after my beloved Nippon cuisine in the eating out stakes.

Kiasu is a Nyonya Malay place specialising in food from the Straits and surrounding areas. I've wanted to go for a good while, having heard great things about it. But when you consider it's in Bayswater, it's far too easy to pop into Royal China for dimsum instead.

Thankfully the lovely girls at Sauce invited me to an event at Kiasu to launch the Malaysian Dining Card - a free scheme (yes, free) which entitles you to special offers at a whole range of Malaysian restaurants.

I wasn't going to say no, was I?

Kueh Pai Tee - Pork, bamboo Shoot and Prawn Pastry Cups

Kiasu is a rather peculiar name - its website explains it thus:
"Kiasu is London's new restaurant on Queensway, with an owner afraid of being second best ... in the Chinese Hokkien dialect, the word Kiasu means, 'afraid to lose' ie 'afraid to be second best', this fear is alleviated by the spectacular food you'll find at Kiasu"
Said owner Elise is a lively, friendly lady, so full of joie de vivre it's hard to imagine her afraid of anything.

After a few drinks (freshly carrot juice for me) we started our feast with several small(ish) dishes. First up was Chye Tow Kway - steamed white radish and rice cake stir-fried with eggs, pickled radish and beansprouts. This was deliciously pungent and you could taste the hand-minced daikon. I was scooping it up long after everyone else had moved on.

Next was Kueh Pai Tee - crisp little pastry cups hand-made from three different types of flour, crammed to the brim with pork, bamboo shoot and prawn. These tiny "Top Hats" came with a special chilli sauce which you drizzled on top before cramming the whole thing in your mouth. Let's just say I ate far more of these than my fair share (look - you snooze, you lose).

Chicken Malay SatayNgoh Hiang - Pork and Prawn Beancurd Roll

After those two beautiful starters, the beef and chicken satay was a bit of a disappointment in comparison. The peanut sauce was good and gooey (and again home-made), but the meat was chewy and dry.

I appreciated the chunks of raw onion to crunch on the side though - and no Double Mint for anti-social little me. My husband understands.

The Ngoh Hiang (Pork and Prawn Beancurd Roll - a Hokkien/Teocheow dish) was a little flabby - I wanted the beancurd wrap to have more of a bite - but at least the minced meat inside was nicely savoury, very similar to the Vietnamese sausage giò lụa and I enjoyed the fried bouncy fish balls on the side even if no-one else seemed to.

Kiasu Calamari

The Kiasu Special Calamari was a real belter of a dish - gorgeous, thin and crunchy batter, tender squid and a delicious topping of deep-fried shallots and curry leaves.

Equally fantastic was the first of our main courses - the renowned Singapore Chilli Crab. This came with various implements which turned out to be unnecessary as they'd kindly cracked all the shell for us to enable easy access.

The sauce was spicily intense and thankfully they'd provided what can only be described as shiny-sweet deep-fried buns to mop it all up. These buns were like savoury doughnuts - this is a very good thing.

Singapore Chilli CrabHoney Spare Ribs

The Honey Glazed Ribs were a bit too saucy for me however - gloopy and over-sweet with claggy meat, I nibbled one and pushed the dish away.

To accompany our feast, we'd asked for some belacan and Elise had kindly obliged. Belacan is a shrimp paste dip which is very similar to the Burmese ngapi daung (pounded fish/shrimp paste) and I absolutely adore it.

The Kiasu version of Sambal Belacan was magnificent without being over-powering, and I dipped pretty much everything into it. In fact, Kiasu apparently makes all its own sauces apart from soy and hoisin sauce, which is incredible considering we were treated to at least five different types of chilli sauce alone.

God, I love chilli sauce.

Sambal Belachan

Next up we had Hainanese Chicken Rice, a seminal dish which I've heard much about but had never got round to sampling.

The poached chicken came with fragrant rice, a bowl of chicken consomme and three dipping sauces - a garlic, a soy and a sweet chilli. This was messy but fun to eat, and I would come back just for that chicken which was impressively moist for breast meat.

Hainanese Chicken Rice

I think by now Elise knew we were reaching our gustatory limits. I'm not sure she cared though, as out came bowl after bowl of Nonya Laksa.

Each bowl was about a third of the size of a normal portion and Elise pointed out that they were "only little", but as palate cleansers go, this was fairly robust.

The rice noodles were perfect in texture with just enough give, the prawns were plumptious and the garnishes of cucumber and coriander soothing. However, the broth itself felt one-dimensional - sanitised, with none of the fishy, spicy punch that I've come to expect from a good laksa.

Nonya Laksa

Last up was Char Kway Teow. Now this stir-fried dish of flat rice noodles is a classic in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia - some might even say iconic.

And this version looked the business with lots of veg, generous chunks of meat, seafood and prawns, and noodles that hadn't snapped into shreds.

Even more excitingly, there were cubes of crisped pork fat dotted all over the top like meaty croutons.

I wish I could say I wolfed it down, but my objecting waistband only allowed me a forkful or two. What I had was good though, if a little dry for my liking, but such is the way of char kway teow.

Char Kway Teow

But there was more. They weren't going to release us till we'd sampled their desserts.

First up we were each presented with a tall glass of Chendol - shaved ice with green chendol "droplets", coconut milk, azuki beans and coconut palm syrup.

As a whole it was surprisingly refreshing and not over-sweet due to the omission of dreaded condensed milk, but the droplets themselves were actively unpleasant - like wallpaper paste that had been left to set.

I like my chendol in its usual slippery, translucent jelly worm state and so sadly I had to give this a miss.

ChendolDurian Ice Cream

The straw that broke this camel's back was durian ice cream.

Don't get me wrong - I can't abide the fruit itself and agree wholeheartedly with Richard Sterling's verdict that:
"... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away. Despite its great local popularity, the raw fruit is forbidden from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports, including public transportation in Southeast Asia."
But for some unfathomable reason, I'm rather fond of durian in its ice cream incarnation and so I couldn't help myself gorging on Kiasu's home-made version.

It was creamy and luscious and had just the right amount of durian-ness to make me happy rather than desperately sad (a challenging tightrope to walk).

And so I stumbled out of Kiasu, defeated yet smiling. And I totally forgot to pick up my Malaysian Dining Card.

It's okay, I'm going to get one here - and you can too. It's free and it gets you 20% off at participating restaurants till December 2010, so why wouldn't you?

Inside Kiasu

48 Queensway
London W2 3RY
020 7727 8810

Kiasu on Urbanspoon

Many thanks to Kiasu and Sauce PR


Unknown said…
Oh Meemalee I so love your healthy attitude to food, that it's there to be enjoyed and when it's great it's to be celebrated and when it's not, it's not the end of the world. And I love the word 'plumptious' - I'm not sure it even exists but I knew *exactly* what you meant!
marv woodhouse said…
Great post

Malay sounds yummy ... the next time i'm in london i'll give it a look ... Durian ice cream! Mimi you are my kind of girl
There are only 2 authentic Malay dishes that was eaten. One is Chendol and the other is the Satay. The origins of the Chendol might not even be Malay in some food debates.

The rest of the food you had are Nyonya dishes. The Nyonya are descendants of the Chinese that come to the Malay archipelago with Admiral Cheng Ho and Princess Hang Li Po that married local Malays, practising a mixture or Malays-Chinese customs until today. One of the legacy of this culture is their yummy food.

Notice the chilies that goes along with every dish? This is one of the distinct features or Nyonya cuisine :)
The Grubworm said…
Ii really enjoyed the food I ate in Malaysia (best Indian food I've had) but seemed to miss a lot of what is typically Malaysian. No Laksa, no noodles, I really missed out somewhere along the line. Looks like this might give me a chance to recitify that.

I really like the look of the starters and sauces, the Kueh Pai Tee in particular. The crab looked magnificent too.

Was there much in the way of Nyonya food there (I'm not sure whether Laksa is Nyonya or not?), it;s a style of cooking I have heard much about, but never really tried.
meemalee said…
@Hugh Wright - It's true - no point crying over bad food - just move to the next dish - and thank you xx

@marv woodhouse - Aww, thanks Marv!

@Dangerous Variable - Ooh, I think I need lessons on Malay/Nyonya food - wanna teach me? :) Though there weren't chillis with every dish - chilli dipping sauces yes, but no chillis.

@The Grubworm - Well, if you see Dangerous Variable's comment above, it seems it was mostly Nyonya food!
Mr Noodles said…
What a feast! I've only been to Kiasu a few times and haven't really worked my way through the menu. I like the place but like you found the laksa to be a bit insipid on my last visit. You're spot on in that it missed the visceral fishy and spicy punch associated with the best laksa.

PS: Can't believe other peeps didn't dive in for the fishballs. Your gain their loss.
meemalee said…
@Mr Noodles - I definitely need to try more stuff on that menu - nasi lemak and the oyster omelette being on my hitlist for sure. I would probably skip the laksa - weirdly, they have Vietnamese pho on the menu too!

I love a good fishball :)
Su-Lin said…
Can't say I was impressed by Nyonya at my first and last visit. Oh well. If you want a fishy laksa (I always think of laksa lemak as shrimpy rather than fishy), then you've got to try an asam laksa - there are quite a few different types of laksa around.
meemalee said…
@Su-Lin - I think their starters were most impressive, but I liked Kiasu enough to want to go back for sure.

I've never had assam laksa - Malyasia Kopi Tiam has it but only on Sundays I think.
franmouse39 said…
Lovely hunger-inducing post. Queensway isn't too far from work so this is certainly one I'll visit.
Anonymous said…
Oh my god, this is the second Malaysian food post I've read in as many days and though I'm also ashamed to admit rather limited knowledge of the cusine, I plan to rectify, stat! I mean, a cuisine that renders chicken breast moist? Sign me up! (I'm a thigh gal);P
meemalee said…
@fran39 - Thanks Fran! It's actually more or less opposite Bayswater tube.

@sasasunakku - I usually go for the dark meat too :)
The Grubworm said…
Ooops, really should refresh page before posting comments. Thanks Meemalee and Dangerous Variables for answering the question :-)