Some old friends visited London recently, and suggested a trip to Malaysian Canteen in Bayswater. Hidden away in a basement under the Malaysian Embassy, it's easy to miss if you're not paying attention. So, pay attention and keep your eyes open if you're intent on heading there!
Like its name suggests, the Malaysian Canteen serves up Malaysian dishes, canteen-style - no surprises here! There's a long counter at the back piled high, buffet-style with all sorts of dishes. The back wall is plastered with A4-sized photos and names of dishes. The rest of the space is taken up with tables covered in a red gingham printed plastic, and lots of customers (we did visit during lunch, after all).
Nasi lemak with beef rendang.
We had the nasi lemak with a side of beef rendang, but there are other curries you can choose too. Or fried fish. Or fried chicken. Or a fried egg. The nasi lemak came with a portion of fried ikan bilis and peanuts, some sliced cucumbers and half a hardboiled egg. The nasi lemak and rendang were alright, in that it tasted pretty similar to what I've eaten in the past in Singapore and Malaysia. I don't think I would make go all the way to Bayswater just for it. The ikan bilis, on the other hand I could have done with more of - it's crunchy and ever so moreish and I found myself craving more after I left. Guess I'll just have to try and make it myself then.
Now, asam laksa is a different breed of beast to what I refer to as 'regular' laksa - that is, the curry based type - so I was expecting it to look something like this when we got it. What was unexpected though, was the taste. It just wasn't that great - the flaked fish in it tasted canned, and the vermicelli was so soft it pretty much disintegrated when I picked it up with my fork. We resorted to scooping up the broken vermicelli with our spoons. The others thought the soup was too sour, but I quite like sourness, so that part was alright with me, but I definitely won't be ordering this again.
The choice of lakna was a pure shot in the dark - we thought it was a mispelling of laksa when we first saw it on the menu, but when it kept popping up all over the menu, we realised that it must be a dish in its own right. So we asked for it, and this arrived. It turned out to be rice noodles in a tomato-based sauced, with a fried egg on top. Simple and almost studenty but surprisingly tasty.
By the way, I still have no idea what lakna actually is - I've been to Malaysia several times, but don't recall any dish with that name, and I've never heard any Malaysian I know speak of it. Can anyone shed some light on this for me, please?
The nasi goreng was served with more of that delicious ikan bilis and more sliced cucumbers on the side too. Like the nasi lemak, it was alright, but not particularly wonderful. I remember enjoying it at that time, but I was really hungry. It was also a little too on the salty side for all of us, in fact, most of the dishes were. We had to wash it down with plenty of bandung, but that's fine by me because I love bandung. In fact, I forgot how much I love it until this trip to Malaysian Canteen - I might have to pop by the Asian supermarket down the hill to get myself a bottle of rose cordial so I can have homemade bandung all the time.
Kueh dadar and nyonya kuih lapis
The four of us were pretty stuffed by this point, so only opted to share these two little pieces of kueh. The kueh dadar was moist and coconuty on the inside, and not toothachingly sweet, which I like, but the pancake outside was just a little too dry. I'd still eat it again if I was there though. I was told the kueh lapis tasted like 'solid bandung', but can't confirm it as I only really had a tiny little bit.
Oh, another thing - we were told only Malaysians are allowed to eat here, but I went with an Indonesian and two Singaporeans, and we didn't get kicked out or anything. It probably helped that we could speak and understand Malay when ordering, but everyone working there seemed really nice and helpful, so I don't think you'd need to worry too much if you don't.
30-34 Queensborough Terrace