Laksa at Providores

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Rachael is very clear, almost to the point of obsession, about the notion that laksa must include in its ingredients laksa leaves. I can see her point. Or at least, if her contention is correct that if the soup is named after the leaves, then it seems pretty likely that she’s correct: canonical laksa must surely have the leaves.

The Providores laksa doesn’t contain laksa leaves.

Laksa must include in its ingredients laksa leaves”

What the bowl does pack is a warming, comforting punch. With the creamy texture of its coconut milk base, a gentle heat from sliced red chilli and an accurate mix of South-East Asian spices, the dish does offer some complexity. A single, solitary fish ball is tasty enough, if mean in its lonesomeness, sitting atop nutty soba noodles.

The trouble is, this noodle soup is yours in return for the better part of ten pounds, and whilst that’s a ‘cheap eat’ by London standards, steaming oriental bowlfuls are plentiful in any list of cheap eats, and there are better to be had. You might expect more from the proprietor of Kopapa, especially at this price. This doesn’t challenge or sparkle with its blend of flavours. It doesn’t make you savour every last drop.

For one thing, I’m sure there are cheap-eat laksas that feature, you know, laksa leaves!

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.