Update 5 October 2016 – this pop-up has now moved on. When they settle on a permanent space, that’ll be noted here.
I keep meaning to try the nasi lemak – that aromatic rice, dried anchovies, hard boil egg, peanut, cucumber and fiery sambal dish that’s more than the sum of its parts. Not least because the last time I saw it, a nearby diner had the version that came with beef rendang, and was audibly, uncontrollably, swearing between each mouthful: “Fuck that’s hot. Fuck that’s delicious. Fuck that’s hot. Fuck that’s delicious.”
When someone’s sweating, unable to contain profanities, and yet compelled to finish, you know it’s a good thing.
I also mean to pick at the salt and pepper squid, which people were ranting and raving about on social meeedja. And the recent addition of Hainanese chicken rice to the menu is massively tempting.
And yet … and yet I can’t stop myself from ordering the prawn laksa.
There’s a huge laksa bowl shaped hole in London’s noodle, nay, dining scene. The best I ever had was at ‘Roxy Laksa’, a 3m wide stall at a hawker market in Singapore. Here, the vendor dipped and soaked the noodles for each bowl in a coconut and shrimp rich stock three times, before finally piling into a bowl, covering with the same stock, and adding strips of shrimp cake, beautiful pink prawns, a handful of Vietnamese mint and a dollop of lumpy chilli oil. The noodles were bouncy, and flavours deep, complex, fragrant, and deceptively light. Fiery, too. Nothing has come close since.
Well, nothing until Sambal Shiok took up residence at The Sun and 13 Cantons in Soho. Mandy Yin and her crew arrived in March, and are staying until October. And One Good Reason to duck in is definitely their laksa.
Two different noodles – thin rice vermicelli and wider, bouncier egg noodles provide bulk and texture. Prawns are generous and flavoursome, whilst pillow soft cubes of deep fried tofu soak up the laksa stock. That shredded Vietnamese mint is back, tingling the lips and adding interest. I enjoy that the soup itself is flavoured, but not dominated by coconut – the problem with many versions of this Malay dish is that you’re basically given lightly spiced, cloying coconut milk. Instead, layers of musty, umami rich dried shrimp come through, and not a small amount of chilli heat.
I heard on the grapevine that there was a pretty good laksa pop-up in Kentish Town recently – let’s hope quality, modern Malaysian food comes rip roaring at us from all angles. But for now, I’m not aware of a better, more consistently available laksa in London. Don’t miss out.
Sambal Shiok at The Sun and Thirteen Cantons, Soho
(www.sambalshiok.co.uk for other street food venues too)
One Good Reason
The laksa – chicken, prawn, tofu, or a mix of all three. About a tenner for a feisty and filling bowl.