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!

Shredded Pork Summer Rolls at Café East

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Without Rachael’s watchful eye (she’d already eaten these rolls before we started the Chowdown Showdown), I broke the rules and ordered one portion of summer rolls between Tom and I. This turned out to be the right decision, since the size was extremely generous.

“Without Rachael’s watchful eye, I broke the rules”

For those who’ve only ever eaten Chinese spring rolls it’s easy to make the mistake of thinking Vietnamese summer rolls will be very similar. While they’re close in terms of approach – wrapping thinly sliced vegetables and/or meat or seafood into a sausage-shape, that’s where the proximity ends. Vietnamese rolls tend to be served cold (is that what makes them summer rolls?), with fresh, crisp ingredients, intended to be punchy with clear flavours embodying that country’s sweet, sour, salt culinary approach.

Café East’s are the perfect example of summer rolls. With a translucent skin of rice paper they are light and juicy – a far cry from the limp (or worse, greasy) versions you can end up suffering if unlucky. Shredded pork skin has a profile far nearer to beancurd skin than pork scratchings, and adds a smoky, salty hint to the various flavours of the rice and vegetables, rather than hogging the limelight.

Dipping in sweet chilli or tart vinegar only improves their palate-cleansing crispness. I’d happily make a meal of just these!