As you may have noticed (or not), I’m originally from Malaysia but have been in the UK for the past decade. Most Malaysians (except for the anorexics and bulimics) are diehard foodies who are quite happy to travel a fair distance to satisfy a craving or to try to some new dish that’s making the rounds in the endless rumour network of good food. Studying in a boarding school in England was a truly jarring experience; the cooks tried their best for the large contingent of Malaysian students there, but it wasn’t the same, especially for people like me who are fans of the street-side hawker stalls where you sit in an alley on a stool with a dirty greasy table and pray you don’t get diarrhoea later but are still willing to gamble your intestines because it was that good.
Luckily, there were some Malaysian restaurants opening up in the past couple of years; C&R’s nasi lemak was pretty awesome, until we heard there was a food poisoning incident there and we never went back again, while Nyonya’s Penang style char koay teow is the best you will find in the whole of London (and probably the UK) and is better than 90% of koay teows in Malaysia. There were some old stalwarts like Nahar, Mawar (closed down because of rat infestation last I heard), Melati and good old Malaysian Hall, but quite frankly they just didn’t cut the mustard for me.
And then I was introduced to Satay House. I’m not sure how I wasn’t aware of this restaurant till a couple years ago since it’s been around since 1973, but refurbished in 2006. Located in the backstreets of Paddington (described by a very senior colleague as “the cesspit of London), a stone’s throw from St Mary’s Hospital (where Princes William and Harry was born). Inside though, you’re all nice and safe with its warm lighting and the red walls are more comforting than antagonizing. Little touches like woodcut hibiscus (the national flower) decorates one side of the wall. The ground floor has about a half dozen tables and downstairs has a fair amount more but booking ahead is still recommended as it routinely gets filled up.
Our party of five quickly ordered some drinks. From the left, the pink coloured drink is air bandung cincau – the bandung is essentially rose syrup mixed with milk, and cincau is a type of black grass jelly. The black drink is air cincau – the black jelly with sugar syrup. The tea like looking drink is chilled teh tarik – teh tarik translates into “pulled tea” and is a method of pouring the tea from one jug to another to cool it down (Youtube “teh tarik”, it makes more sense). This is a very popular breakfast drink in Malaysia and normally has a generous amount of condensed milk to sweeten it; I found Satay House’s version a bit light on the sugar but the girls in the table found it just nice. Lastly the white drink on the right is soya bean drink.
Although called Satay House, it doesn’t actually specialise in satays, having only lamb or chicken meat to choose from. For those who aren’t aware, satay is essentially marinated meat skewered onto bamboo sticks and grilled over an open flame. The meat is usually served with peanut sauce, raw cucumber and onion and ketupat, rice pressed and cut into squares. For me, the best satay is from Kajang, Malaysia, but this one here doesn’t do a bad job as it’s well seasoned and marinated, tender, and most importantly the peanut sauce is tasty too.
The tauhu sumbat (=stuffed tofu) was probably the least popular dish ordered today, partly because there were more tempting treats on offer. At any rate, it was to satisfy a craving for a party member. Essentially, it was a big tofu stuffed with raw bean sprouts and cucumber, served with a spicy peanut sauce.
Everytime we eat here, we will order the nasi goreng kampong (= village style fried rice). A simple dish, but done just right and with generous dried anchovies sprinkled on top.
Another favourite is the koay teow goreng (= fried flat rice noodles) done in the Malay style (all the dishes here are in the Malay style). Although I prefer Penang style char koay teow, Satay House still does a very tasty dish here, with just the right amount of oil so the noodles don’t stick together but not too much that you’re left reaching for a drink to wash your mouth.
We also ordered two sides of plain white rice. A minor complaint but basmati rice was used, my Chinese heritage prefers jasmine.
Ayam masak merah (= red cooked chicken) has chicken chunks deep fried first, then tossed in with a sauce made from tomatoes and chillies. Don’t be alarmed though as it’s not a spicy dish at all. The sauce is so good that we finished it all up to eat with the white rice, even though there were noticeable amounts of oil used.
The Suckling Pig (one of our eating companions and part-time hand model on this blog)just absolutely adores the ayam goreng bawang putih (=garlic fried chicken) here so we doubled the portions to satisfy him. A simple dish to execute, chicken wings deep fried with generous amounts of sliced garlic and chilli. Simple pleasures.
Unfortunately, the sotong berempah (= spiced squid) was a bit too oily (even compared to the others) and the spices were more satisfactory than stunning.
The obligatory vegetable dish is a favourite of the PigPig and is one of the few vegetables she enjoys, pajeri terong (= aubergine pajeri). Pajeri is a type of very mild curry, on the sweet side and very rich with generous dollops of santan (= coconut cream).
Dessert time beckons. The PigPig shared a bubur pulut hitam (= black glutinous rice pudding) with a friend. The rice was cooked with lots of water to make a porridge and then served with santan (coconut milk), making a very rich starchy gooey yummy dessert guaranteed to block up vital coronaries in the future.
Meanwhile, the other four of us each ordered an ais kacang (= peanut ice). The Suckling Pig and I have been waiting for months to get our hands on this again, we had often wanted to come to Satay House just to eat this for dessert after a dinner but we never actually did it for one reason for another. At the bottom of the huge mug are attap chee (= palm seeds, not everybody’s favourite), cincau, cream of corn, and red beans, all covered with a huge pile of shaved ice with generous a drizzling of rose syrup and condensed milk. This is a very popular dish in tropical Malaysia as the ice is so refreshing to eat/drink.
The bill for all that came up to £100 or £20 each.
The service is just about as good as you can hope to get from a down to earth Malaysian restaurant. In terms of value, this is pricier than most other Malaysian restaurants except the overpriced and not very good Awana, but the quality of food is still better here. However, a standard Chinese dinner would set me back about £15 so this is still a bit on the pricy side.
The food in general doesn’t use amazing ingredients or fancy cooking methods and the presentation is a case of “what you see is what you get”. The chef probably learnt his trade from helping his mother or grandmother in the kitchen, and that’s the beauty of this place. It doesn’t have any pretensions in the food; it just does a good job of serving you good Malay style food, just like how your mother (or someone else’s mother anyway) would do it, in a nice clean tidy environment for you to enjoy it in. If you see my logic here, that’s why the food may only score 7.0, but the enjoyment is 9.5, because simple food on traditional recipes done properly made me a happy Boar.
13 Sale Place
Tel: +44(0)20 7723 6763