Chilli lamb skewers at Manchurian Legends

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Manchurian Legend’s menu (I’m informed) is Dongbei-style, and features a lot of unusual dishes (and a whole section of tripe, organs, and other things I’d rather avoid) – while your standard Chinese-restaurant dishes are relegated to the if-you’re-going-to-be-boring set menus. Their lamb skewers are an absolute snip at £1.50 each, and no doubt would come lonely on their own plate if you ordered a single one alone.

“The lamb has taken on a rich, aromatic flavour”

These look like mini-kofte kebabs, on thin sticks you could certainly imagine picking up from a night-market stall-holder. The outside is encrusted with chilli and cumin, and I found myself gulping down water to stave off the spicy heat. This wasn’t especially because I’m generally a lightweight when it comes to chilli, but is likely to be more down to the fact I was guzzling the meat down, so delicious and moreish was it. The lamb, presumably beaten violently till tender, before being char-grilled, has taken on a rich, aromatic flavour, while the spices coating it add crunch, as well as a potency to the aroma that comes from the dry, sauce-free outside.

We ate these with a ‘big bowl chicken’, which I love at Silk Road in Camberwell (who, frankly, do it better), but this wasn’t absolutely necessary. I’d order a few of these skewers, pair them with a simple vegetable, fried in garlic, and write off the rest of the evening to slumber in a warm, meaty stupor.

There’s not much else to say: a simple dish, with strong, vibrant flavours, that works absolutely brilliantly, and with an expertise that comes from getting a particular thing right through practice. I’ll definitely be back.

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.