Khow Suey at Mandalay

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You have to walk quite a way up Edgware Road to find this grotty café serving Burmese food. Time Out has included it in its list of 100 best dishes in London, so you should expect something a bit spectacular.

“I was ready to order a completely different soup!”

Luckily, Rachael insisted on asking what the dish was, since it was (slightly absurdly) listed in Time Out by its Burmese name, when the menu is in English. This was lucky, since I was ready to order a completely different soup!

We were asked whether we wanted it spicy or not, queried whether spicy meant really spicy, and chose to each order the mild option. Luckily, we had some additional conspirators with us, so they ordered the spicy version safe in the knowledge that they didn’t have to eat the lot! It turned out that the mild wasn’t hot at all, and the spicy one only pleasantly tingly. The spicy version was certainly better, so we added some chilli sauce / oil (provided on the table) – which I’m pretty sure was the only difference anyway.

The broth was a coconut milk-based, gentle laksa-like affair with a nutty, aromatic depth. Brimming with chicken and crispy rice vermicelli it would certainly make a large, comforting meal in itself.

“It was certainly no Koya Walnut Miso Udon”

Ultimately, though, we were hoping for something with a bit more pizzazz than your standard noodle soup, and if I’m honest that wasn’t there, at least not enough to drag me this far away from my usual stomping grounds. It was certainly no Koya Walnut Miso Udon, that’s for sure.

Chicken Satay at Satay House

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Satay is, of course, the Malaysian national dish, at least as far as the country’s tourist board is concerned. Every Malaysian restaurant offers a couple of varieties of the mini-kebabs whose only requirements appear to be a) skewered, b) grilled and c) served with peanut-based sauce. So, given its wide availability, and that Satay House is charging above the odds for this standard starter, you might expect something a little bit special. But there’s no deconstruction here, and we’re presented with exactly the plate you might expect.

“If Time Out identified a sprinkling of magic when they tried the dish, I wasn’t feeling it this time round”

And that’s about where it starts and ends. Yes, the chicken was fresh, juicy, and cooked till coloured pleasantly without being charred. The peanut sauce had a little chilli kick, with peanuts crushed small and fairly smooth. But that’s pretty much the case whenever and wherever you eat chicken satay (which has made it to many a pub or pan-Asian menu as well).

If Time Out identified a sprinkling of magic when they tried the dish, I wasn’t feeling it this time round. Sure, it was pretty good. Nice enough. Fine. But definitely nothing to write home about.

Add to this the laksa which lacked laksa leaves, and relatively bland breads, and my impression was that this wasn’t a challenging or revolutionary take on the cuisine, but a tried-and-tested formula that has been around long enough to know how people like their standard Asian food. But for fireworks, I’d head elsewhere.

 

Wiener schnitzel at The Delauney

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The Delauney is fancy. Wood panelling, silver-rimmed plates, doormen and maître D’s create a dining experience that’s a cut above, and knows it. As soon as you walk into the place you notice two things: the history of feeding the top of society, and the cakes – rich, glorious-looking gateaux which sit, invitingly on a table in their own antechamber before the dining room.

“So big, in fact, that it needed oval plates so it fitted in a sensible place-setting”

We’re here to try the Wiener schnitzel, one of Time Out’s top 100 dishes, and at £19.50 for just the slab of meat, no sides included, we’re hoping it will be a cut above too. I must admit, I was slightly worried that this restaurant might be stuck in the century before last, with over-creamy, finickety, stale-French-inspired cooking. I was wrong, at least on the evidence of the relatively straightforward dish we ordered with sides of spinach and pickled cucumber salad.

First things first: the schnitzel was enormous. So big, in fact, that it needed oval plates so it fitted in a sensible place-setting. Oh, and so the slab of meat didn’t look too lonely on a round plate unaccompanied by anything but light juices and half a lemon. Of course, it wasn’t such a vast load of veal what with being hammered to a thin slice before being crumbed and fried to a perfect golden brown.

If I’m honest, this was perfect meat-heaven to my taste, with effortless succulence and a subtle, fresh, almost poultry flavour offset by the crunch of the crisped breadcrumbs and the sharp acidity of the lemon. Neither of the sides was much to write home about, but nor were they supposed to be vying for centre stage.

I should stress that there were substantially more economical options on the menu, particularly for those interested in more than a single course. I’ll have to come back – if only for a slice of those glorious cakes!

Mutton roti at Jerk City

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Jerk City is very much styled as a local café, rather than a restaurant. No doubt it does a roaring central-London trade, but patrons come here for the food, not the decor or comfortable ambiance. It even states that it’s a “family restaurant” with no alcohol on sale, though I’m pretty sure I heard the waitress listing Guinness among the canned beverages on offer!

“Some might question the logic of Time Out choosing something other than the eponymous jerk chicken to feature in their top 100”

Some might question the logic of Time Out choosing something other than the eponymous jerk chicken to feature in their top 100 dishes in London, but we’re not here to argue, but to sample the mutton roti.

Roti is a dish associated more with the East than the West Indies, with (I’d assume) practically any filling wrapped in something between a flat-bread and a crêpe. In this case, it’s mutton curry that bulges inside these ones.

The bread is dense, almost dumpling-like, giving an overall feel similar to lamb stew. Vegetables and meat gleam in a thick gravy that seems like it might clot if left long enough – not necessarily a bad thing, but unclear if it’s a good thing either. There’s a substantial quantity of meat, and this makes for a hearty, warming winter meal, with the mildest of spicy heat.

I might come back to Jerk City for a quick, cheap bite, just off Oxford Street. But frankly it’s clear that, in a city with a large Caribbean population, there are better joints to get really great regional food (particularly jerk!), and with a good deal more genuine atmosphere.