I was never much of a cook until I came over to England. I always wonder if I’d be where I was today (cooking-wise) had I not left home – as one of my main aims of cooking has always been to recreate the food of home. What else can one do when there is a lack of good Malaysian food in London?
Which is why I was intrigued when I heard about Norman Musa‘s Malaysian London supperclub venture, aptly named “Ning London” after his restaurant in Manchester. I’d heard good things about Norman through the Malaysian foodie grapevine, as he is one of the more well known Malaysian celebrity chefs, and had always wanted to try his food. Another plus is that Norman hails from Penang, which is of course the best place in Malaysia for good food. Maybe I’m a little biased, but… it’s true! Ha.
All the photos in this post were taken with my phone, so please excuse the rather grainy photos (oh the plight of taking food photos in mood lighting). In my defence, I didn’t really feel like whipping out my dSLR in front of a crowd of people I had never met (it’s totally different for friends and family who are used to my photo taking, naturally).
Kerabu Nonya. This Malaysian “salad” (kerabu) incorporates a wonderful mixture of herbs – including the fragrant (and hard to find in London) ginger flower, or bunga kantan as we call it back home. I wasn’t expecting it come with rice noodles (bee hoon), but it worked really well. I might even have to borrow the idea for a quick summer meal – if summer ever comes, that is.
Otak Otak. I still don’t know how this dish got it’s name, as “otak” translates to “brains”. But despite the slightly odd name, this Malaysian take on fishcakes is one of my favourite things to eat. The fish is marinated in spices, galangal and lemongrass; then wrapped in banana leaves (to add fragrance); and cooked on the grill.
Kari Kapitan Ayam. (Kari = curry, Kapitan = captain, Ayam = chicken). An old-school Malaysian chicken curry with a complex blend of herbs & spices, that was a favourite of captains in the ancient port of Malacca.
Kari Limau Udang. (Kari = curry, Limau = lime, Udang = prawn). This sweet and sour prawn curry is cooked with coconut milk, tumeric, chilli and a hint of lime. This was my favourite dish of the night.
Assam Pedas Ikan. (Assam = sour, Pedas = spicy, Ikan = fish). We Malaysians like spicy and sour flavours, and this is a dish that showcases it well. The key ingredients in this dish are assam (I can’t for the life of me think what it is called in English), bunga kantan (ginger flower), and daun kaduk (polygonum/laksa leaves). Salmon was used in this, which is a little atypical (salmon isn’t eaten all that commonly in Malaysia), but I would imagine that this was to conform to the British palate.
Sayur Goreng Belacan. (Sayur = vegetable, Goreng = fry, Belacan = fermented shrimp paste). This is a very classic vegetable dish – belacan is renowned for it’s strong smell, and those who are not used to it may find it rather unappealing. But believe me when I say the final product always tastes fantastic… why else would we use it as an ingredient in so many dishes?
Lemongrass & Lime ice cream. This was sourced from Yee Kwan – who by the way, makes the best black sesame ice cream ever. I tried it at a food fair a few years ago, and have yet to try a better version since.
Cendol. This is a very popular dessert, which comprises of pandan (screwpine leaf) flavoured “noodle strands”, red beans and shaved ice; served in a coconut milk base; and topped with palm sugar (gula Melaka) syrup. If I remember correctly, there weren’t any red beans in this version, which was a shame.
Seri Muka. (Seri = happy/smiley, Muka = face). This is a traditional Nonya kuih (sweet dessert) that showcases pandan, glutinous rice, and coconut milk. Lots of coconut milk. As a child I used to only eat the green (pandan) bit of the kuih, but I now happily scoff it all up. The more carbs the better, eh?
The service from the team (pictured above) was wonderful, and Norman himself is a charming host. He worked his way around the room and ensured he said hello to everyone who was there. I also thought that their service of offering pick up/drop off from/to the station was a nice touch, as it caters to those who do not know the area well.
All in all, I had a lovely evening at Ning London. I think that the standard of food was high, but it wasn’t always completely authentic. I suspect that this is because Norman had to cater to a range of palates – he mentioned how he had to tone down the chilli to ensure everyone could enjoy the meal.
Let me put it this way – it is not the best Malaysian food I’ve ever eaten, but it’s certainly the best Malaysian food I’ve had in London. Would I return to Ning London? Most definitely.
p.s. Norman is hosting a ‘Malaysian Street Food‘ themed supper club on May 24th & 25th, featuring the very famous roti canai (Malaysian flatbread), satay (chicken skewers), and most importantly – nasi lemak bungkus. I am rather upset that I am working that weekend, or I would be there in a heartbeat.
£35 per person, BYOB
Disclaimer: I attended the supper club as a guest of Ning London, but all views expressed are my own.