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In London not a day goes by without a new restaurant, hot chef or interesting cuisine bursting onto the scene. We all know the foods that have enjoyed the hype in recent years, burgers, chicken wings, ramen. Each one a simple food that has been elevated to become the gourmet offering that we all crave. A lesser known dish with the potential to follow these came under my nose the other day when Ben and I visited a new residency at The Sun and 13 Cantons off Regent Street.
For those of you who don’t know Laksa in it’s loosest sense is distantly related to ramen, however ailing from Malaysia has a completely different method, flavour and ingredient list. Sambal Shiok is the baby of Mandy Yin, a Londoner who spent her formative years in Kuala Lumpur, she grew up on Laksa and the love of this dish is what inspired her to start her Malaysian street food revolution.
Having never been to The Sun and 13 Cantons before, Ben and I didn’t know what to expect. The rain having briefly given way to bright skies meant that office workers from the surrounding area had flocked for a quick drink in the fading April light. We side stepped our way through the closed door of the pub and looked around, wondering where the restaurant was. I suggested having a look upstairs before hearing the characteristic clink of cutlery and glasses from the far end of the room. We shuffled over and requested our table for two only to be told that it would be half an hour and that we can go on the list. No bother for us, that just meant time to prop ourselves up at the bar to sample the beer selection.
With a first look at this a smile appeared at the corners of my mouth, a sight I never thought I would see stood in front of me. Kona Big Wave, on tap. For those of you who don’t know Kona Big Wave is a delicious golden ale produced in Hawaii, with a taste like you have never imagined.
With one pint each down, my phone started to buzz and we made our way over to be shown to our copper plated table in the back corner of the restaurant. The menu was placed in-front of us and we were immediately excited. The menu itself is tiny, you have a choice of a few starters, and then it is effectively Laksa or a rice dish with your choice of meat or tofu. The sign of a good place to eat.
It didn’t take us long to decide what to have. We unashamedly ordered the same, Malaysian fried chicken or Ayam Goreng if you want to get technical, with a plate of Hainan dumplings to share for starters, followed by Chicken and Prawn Laksa for main. Simple, but effective. We sat back in our seats and sipped our beers until the food eventually arrived.
The food arrived all at once and was a beautiful mix of aromas and colour. The dark battered chicken, the light pale dumplings and the red/orange laksa made for a wonderfully playful scene splayed out across our table. Conversation stopped as the eating began.
The starters were both great, the fried chicken had a lovely crunch to it and was served with a peanut sauce that revealed a small bit of heat at the end of each bite, delicious. The dumplings were steamed and nicely presented filled with chicken and with a delicious chilli ginger sauce which had a fresh, aromatic heat that one only gets with asian chillies.
Now for the main event, our Prawn and Chicken Laksa, or Kari Laksa Istimewa. Before I started writing this piece I didn’t know how many different Laksa’s there are. Apparently there are hundreds and the one a native will know how to make depends on the region they grew up in. Kari Laksa, or Curry Laksa as we would call it, is the one taught to Mandy Yin by her parents. It differs from other Laksas due to the use of curry spices. The first thing I must say is that this dish is not for the faint-hearted. One spoonful of the broth flooded my mouth with delicious curry, coconut, chicken and prawn flavours, which quickly gave way to intense heat. Within the broth there were lovely large prawns, aromatic oriental parsley and a nice mix of thick egg noodles and thin rice noodles. I enjoyed the flavour of every mouthful, but the heat was something to behold. By the end the meal I was mopping my brow, had ditched my suit jacket and rolled up my sleeves as I tried everything to cool down.
If I had any criticisms at all it would be that the chicken itself was a little bit stringy and not quite as tender as one might hope and the service was a little bit slow, but this is to be expected in a pop-up so is not criminal by any stretch.
Sambal Shiok is a delicious refreshing addition to the London food scene and well worth going to if you can stomach the heat. Make sure you get down to support this great venture and ensure it stays around for a long time.