Chicken, for the soul

What do you do when a meeting that was supposed to be short and sweet turns into a three-hour headache-inducing struggle with the letting agent? You head to a nearby Nando's to blow off steam over a jumbo platter and bottomless frozen yogurt.

The jumbo platter - 2 whole chickens, 2 servings of chips with PERI-PERI salt, garlic bread, coleslaw and creamed potato. It's nice to go somewhere tried and tested, especially for a little comfort food. The Nando's over here is slightly different from the chain back home and it's not just the level of spiciness that's different, it seems to have a different concept altogether. As always, the chicken, accompanied with the different types of PERI-PERI sauce (I like a mixture of a few - the extra hot and herb variety go particularly well), was a tummy-pleaser but we also really enjoyed the chips with PERI-PERI salt and creamed potato.

"I really couldn't pull it out!!"
-Diana, justifying the "flop"-

"Was it really big or something?"

Frozen yogurt is always good but bottomless frozen yogurt? That's just a whole different level of happiness altogether. One refillable cup of vanilla frozen yogurt, five forks and a spoon - that's the way to go.

There's nothing like sharing a meal with some friends to take your mind off things. Sometimes, that's really all that the soul needs.

Orchids, for starters.

Thai Thai
110 Old Street,
London, EC1V 9BD

Thai Thai has always been one of those places you walk past every other day but never really acknowledge - the kind of place you just subconsciously know is there but can't really pinpoint exactly where. Well, last week, two weeks before we leave for home, we finally gave it some attention and were pleasantly surprised by its pretty interior and Thai atmosphere. It was another birthday celebration and we were pretty glad that the birthday girl chose to go with something Asian, a nice change from all the stuff we'd had all through the month. Of course, we were even happier when we heard that there was going to be 50% off the total bill.

To kick things off - prawn spring rolls, mussels, tempura prawns, duck spring rolls and crab cakes. The mussels came with some sort of spicy-sour sauce that we absolutely loved. Long after the mussels were gone, we were still having spoonfuls of the sauce all on its own. I really liked the spring rolls, especially the ones with duck in them. I don't remember ever having spring rolls with duck before and I have to say, the duck makes them more interesting probably because it has a stronger, more distinct flavour than the usual chicken or pork.

We truly embraced our Asian roots when it came to the main courses with all our main courses spread out in front of us to share. Pictured here, the green curry (what's a Thai meal without green curry?) and stir-fried seafood. The curry was as expected, very mild but pretty authentic-tasting. What I didn't quite like about it was that the bamboo shoot slices had too strong a flavour than I would have liked.

Creamy, with a nice blend of spices and quite a generous amount of duck, what I thought was the best dish of the evening - duck curry (again, the duck). I think it's a very Malaysian thing to want to have our rice in a mix of different types of gravies, curry or otherwise. I know I've always liked things that way - the diverse flavours fusing to make everything more interesting. Along with our curries, we had steamed fish, stir fried vegetables and tofu. One would notice that we stayed away from tom yam - simply because tom yam has to have a certain kick to it and we were pretty sure that it would be missing from the tom yam that they would serve at the restaurant.

"This is really good! Can you really just buy this?"
-James and his favourite part of the meal - the orchid that garnished his starter-
He promised to report on the status of his stomach the next day.

The food was like a little prelude, a preview even, of what's instore for us when we get home. Now, I'm really looking forward to some sweat-inducing tom yam!

It's all about the spices.

I had never heard of sag panir until I met Sapna and it's a shame really, that I had missed out on it for almost 20 years of my life. The only recollection I have about any exposure to Northern Indian food before that was that it involved a lot of yogurt and being only a recently converted yogurt-eater, you can probably guess why I wasn't a big fan of Northern Indian food. It's funny that I had to come all the way here to fall in love with the cuisine and of course, learn that it's not all about the yogurt.

There's a nice little Indian restaurant just a couple of minutes walk away from where we live which has amazing food and delivery service. Feeling lazy but still in the mood for some celebrating, (it was the day between our birthdays) we decided to order in and that's quite the ultimate I think - good food without having to do little more than pick up the phone.

Regency Indian Cuisine
96 Old Street


Chicken Balti (with keema naan in the background). I have keema naan everytime I go to the restaurant (or in this case, order in). It's naan with some sort of meat filling inside which makes it slightly heavier than the usual naan. They do a really good garlic naan, too as they are really generous with the garlic. The naan is generally quite different from the naan we get back home and I must say that I prefer the ones here - less greasy and more like they were really cooked in a clay oven.

Sag panir (paneer) - spinach with cottage cheese. The thing about cottage cheese is that it doesn't really taste like cheese, not the typical cheese you get in Western cuisine anyway. The spinach is cooked in some spices until it is somewhat creamy and the cheese (funnily enough) doesn't melt but stays in cube form. It actually reminds me a little of Popeye's spinach - the spinach that he squeezes out of the can straight into his mouth. It's one of our favourites, if not THE favourite and we always have to get more than one serving to share.

"It's like tandoori but with gravy"
-Hanad on his choice for the evening, lamb rezalla-

With Indian food, every mouthful is a burst of flavour and that's what I really love about it (and why it's probably the only type of food I have cravings for). At Regency, the curries seem to go so well with everything and the food is literally finger-licking good. The amount of food we ordered that evening was enough to last us until lunch the next day - good food, big portions, very reasonable prices and free delivery - what more can one ask for?

To top it all off, our birthday cake - a layered cappuccino cake. With ours being last of the birthdays we'll be celebrating here this round, I think we've just about exhausted all the M&S cakes.

Oh yes, we do love our Indian food.

Cruising on to 21

That's how it is every year, right in the middle of exam season, right when everyone has their heads buried in their books and in a frenzy with last minute revision - that's when our (Sapna's and mine) birthdays come around. This time, house-hunting, storage sorting and just the whole anticipation of home has seemed to compound the exam season effect so we found ourselves celebrating our birthdays in a kind of roller-coaster, head-in-the-clouds sort of way.

We consulted the all-knowing crystal ball of restaurants, Toptable, and stumbled upon Cruse9, a rather fancy restaurant (yes, it does seem to be the trend this year) just a short bus ride away from where we live. Finding a place with a promotion on a Friday night wasn't as easy as we thought it would be so we were delighted that Cruse9 had special deals on their 3-course and 2-course menus even on Friday nights.

62-63 Halliford Street,
London, N1 3HF
Tel: 020 7354 8099

The rain was a slight dampener to our spirits as we huddled under little umbrellas and quickly made our way to the restaurant, all the while hoping that we wouldn't get splashed at by passing vehicles. Once we got settled in, we wasted no time in picking out our dishes with most of us going for the 3-course deal.

Spicy lemon fish cakes with crispy peppery roquette and chilli jam. I wasn't sure what to expect with this. Say "fish cakes" and the only thing that comes to mind are those thin slices of processed fish in curry mee and noodle soups. These fish cakes were actually fish patties with lemon and spices, giving the whole dish a Thai feel.

For the main course, the duck and pork were the popular choices, though there were a few steaks and fish fillets thrown into the mix.

Juicy pork tenderloin, stuffed with apricots and spices, served with caramelized bananas and coconut risotto. I pretty much picked (what I thought was) the most unusual combination for a main course. Perhaps it is the fact that you don't usually get fruits in savoury dishes in Asian cuisine that made this jump out at me. The pork was very tender and had a hint of sweetness in every bite thanks to the apricots and spices while the risotto was quite like a creamier version of nasi lemak.

Boon Seong's assiette of duck. Duck magret, stuffed leg and seared foie gras served on caramelised apples with calvados and a white port sauce. Like the pork, the duck was very tender and had just the right amount of that distinct duck flavour. They seem to like complementing their meat with caramelised fruits and I must say that they do go quite well.

The banoffee pie was brought in to replace the ice cream desserts on the menu as they were having some problems with the freezer - and good thing, too. It came down to deciding between this and the chocolate fondant (pictured below) and I couldn't have made a better choice. "It's a bigger portion" pretty much sealed the deal. I've never had a banoffee pie quite like this one before - you just want to take your time to savour each and every bite, everything from the biscuit base to the generous helping of toffee sauce.

Hot chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream and white chocolate chip cookie, except that the vanilla ice cream was replaced by custard that night. It was one of those comforting chocolate treats that on any other occasion would have been a nice end to the evening but this time paled in comparison to the banoffee pie.

The passionfruit cheesecake that almost didn't make it to the table. This was right on top with the banoffee pie. I like cheesecakes that have a bit of a zing to it as it balances out the richness of the cheese (which after a big meal could be a bit too much to handle). The passionfruit gave the cheesecake a light, fresh flavour and left me wondering why I've never had passionfruit cheesecake before this.

The best part of the night though, was the fact that we could all take a breather and forget about everything else for awhile. After the initial talk of exams, rent, letting agents and everything in between, we caught up with people who would have otherwise been locked away in their rooms or self-banished to the library, traded gossip and talked about silly things. The thing about growing up is that along with the freedom and independence comes a whole load of new responsibilities and I think that night we celebrated being right in between childhood and adulthood - a pretty good place to be, I must say.

A mountain of ribs and a pretty cake

May. The month for birthdays, pretty much in a row. It's a wonder we function so well together with 3 (at times) very bull-headed people in the group. With more than one birthday in the span of 2 weeks, deciding on a venue is pretty tricky. With the first of the May babies leaving her teens and joining us in our 20's, we decided it was best to consult Toptable for some ideas on where to go. Ratings and reviews are not the only reasons why we turn to Toptable - it lists promotions (that magical word!) and discounts as well, which really means that we get to choose the fancier places and still have money in our accounts after.

And so, on a Wednesday evening, after some confusion with the reservations, we set set off towards Oxford Street, to The Loop, a restaurant, bar and club all rolled into one.

The Loop
19 Dering Street, London, W1S 1AH
T: 020 7493 1003
F: 020 7493 0483

We arrived late (trying to get everyone out of the halls on time is quite the task) and were greeted by Ju Vern who had been holding down the fort and who started telling us about the meal promotions almost as if she was a member of staff: 50% the total bill and half price on drinks during happy hour. Music to our ears.

The evening started off with a round of cocktails followed by starters. As usual, there was more passing around of plates than anything as we had made sure that we had all ordered something different.

Avocado and Crayfish with a citrus Marie Rose sauce & wild rocket

Mushroom in a peppercorn sauce on toasted ciabatta bread topped with melted blue cheese, served with wild rocket.

The starters were in nice portions, not too small but not so big that it fills you up either. My favourites were the Chicken Liver Pate with wild rocket, red onion chutney & toasted olive bloomer (not pictured) and the mushrooms in peppercorn sauce (I have a weakness for mushrooms of any kind).

Hanad went for the first thing on the Main Course menu, the Loop Surf & Turf - Sirloin steak & half a Canadian lobster; char-grilled & drizzled with garlic butter & served with chunky chips and mixed salad. It was one of the first to be served, and we were impressed.

From the sizzling fajitas section - Tiger Prawn Skewers served with lightly fried vegetables, soft flour tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, salsa & grated cheese. A sure fire way to get that appetite going is the sound (and sight) of something sizzling. Gets me everytime.

My choice - Loop Sticky Chilli Lamb Rump served on sweet potato wedges and drizzled with coriander, mint & chilli yoghurt. I liked that there was certain sweetness to the whole dish (as the name suggests) but was a little apprehensive about the portion initially. Surprisingly though, it did leave me pretty satisfied. The sweet potato wedges were a nice change from the usual fare. For some reason, I was under the impression that the potato wedges were going to be fried in some sort of sweet sauce as opposed to them actually being made from sweet potato. I'm guessing that it has to do with me not having had any form of sweet potato since I got here.

Loop BBQ Pork Ribs slow cooked in a smoky bbq sauce and served with coleslaw & chunky chips. Anusha sat across from me at the table with her pile of ribs that somehow didn't seem to diminish no matter how many she ate. Of course, it gave us all the more excuse to help her out. The ribs ranked right up there with the best of the night in terms of taste and portion. They weren't kidding went they said it was slow cooked, nor were they kidding when they said it was delicious.

Some other mains that made an appearance that night were the Loop Salmon Steak & Whole Tiger Prawns, Crisp Skinned Sea Bass and the Wild Mushroom Ravioli.

What's a meal without dessert? Naughty but Nice Profiteroles - ice-cream filled choux pastry with Baileys and white & dark continental chocolate sauce. In the background, Eton Mess -
crushed meringues, strawberries & strawberry liqueur bound in whipped cream. The desserts were quite the opposites of each other with one being the comforting classic and the other packing quite a zing. I have to say that I preferred the profiteroles, the classic chocolate infused one.

Somehow, we had managed to get the birthday cake to the venue without the candles. We hoped and prayed that the restaurant would have at least one candle lying around. After some hushed conversations with the waiter, he promised that he would try to locate one (or 20!) but he couldn't and the cake came out all pretty-ed up instead. They definitely won some brownie points for service that night!

While we generally enjoyed the food, the portions were a little too small for our boys and most of them ended up with 2 main courses. The 50% discount certainly came in handy that night. Food on chic white plates, waiters constantly offering to help with the group photos, a pretty-ed up birthday cake - I'd say she said goodbye to her teens in style.

In Ecuador, apples are orange

We were told to make sure we got on the right bus on the first try as it gets "a bit messed up" the deeper you go. It was an extremely sunny afternoon, the type where the sun is right in your face no matter where you turn. We had spent the early part of the afternoon finding our way around Elephant and Castle (being told to "please board the right bus!" really didn't help with the anxiety) and were extremely hungry by the time we got to our destination, a friend's house in (what seemed) like a quieter part of the area. The only thing that had been driving us all through was the thought of lunch at the Ecuadorian restaurant that Anusha had told us so much about.

We went for some (of their) local bottled juices, 3 different types which the lady kindly picked out for us. Believe it or not, 2 out of the 3 were apple juice, and none of them were quite the conventional colour! Pretty soon it was just "Please pass the pink" or "Swap you red, for orange?"

In Ecuador, not only are their apples orange, but they have laksa, too. This was a tuna-based seafood soup that was a dead-ringer for the Laksa Pahang, only missing the noodles. I've always been under the impression that clear soups can't fill you up but this one was loaded with all kinds of seafood and really filled us up, even when shared between the three of us.

Mixed seafood with rice. It quickly became clear that Ecuadorians seem to really like their seafood. The menu was seafood-dominated and all around us, tables were filled with people tucking into their seafood dishes. The generous portions meant that we could hardly move after just 2 dishes shared between the three of us.

Sure, it probably cannot compare to some of the amazing seafood that we got recently in Malta but over here, where seafood is a rarity (or too much for my purse to handle) this is a good place to get your fix.

I really can't wait to go home, where seafood is fresh and in abundance. 3 weeks and counting!

When the company makes up for it

After some scouting around, we decided on Melur, the Malaysian Restaurant located just down the road from the more popular Satay House for our Malaysian Society get-together.

Melur, Malaysian Restaurant with Bar
175A Edgware Road, Paddington, London W2 1ET

We settled into our seats, in a little area that was reserved just for us. We were a hungry bunch and with the pressure of exams weighing down on most of us, we wanted more than anything for food to be served so we could get right down to it.

"I hope the portions aren't small"

Unfortunately, whoever said that had her (and no, it wasn't yours truly) worst fears come true. The portions were not tiny but they didn't look like they were enough to satisfy everyone of us either.

The evening started off with some cucur udang, which was a nice choice for a starter. None of us could remember the last time any of us had cucur so we dug into the crispy cucur quite gleefully. Cucur always brings back memories of evenings back home - sitting in the kitchen waiting in anticipation with the smell of cucur frying filling the air. Such treats they were back then and I have to say that even now, I still can never say no to cucur.

"It tastes like salt and coconut water"
-Anusha, being painfully honest about the chicken curry-

Sayur masak lemak. This seems to be a feature at most Malaysian dinners nowadays. While the bowl was still pretty much cleaned out, we've definitely had better.

We hoped that dessert would be somewhat redeeming and to a certain extent, it was. Banana fritters with syrup was a pleasant (and rather Malaysian) change from the chocolate-dominated desserts than we tend to go for usually. We did agree however, that vanilla ice cream with it would have been a nice touch.

After dinner, we were left feeling less than satisfied and by this time, conversations had already picked up across the table. Suddenly deciding that we were in no rush to head back (to the open pages of the book waiting on our respective desks), we took a walk to a place we knew we could always count on, McDonalds.

And that's how we ended our evening - squeezed into a booth too small to fit all of us, McFlurries in hand, talking about everything under the sun. On retrospect, we did achieve what we set out to do - we finally got our chance to get to know each other, something we had yet to do till then despite being in all the same classes for the past 9 months.

While most of us probably felt that we didn't get our money's worth that night (what with the McFlurries being the highlight of the meal), we still went home satisfied. I guess some things you just can't put a monetary value on.

The different ends of the world.

We were seated at the dining table in the kitchen, the three of us, digging into our respective plates of pasta.

The Irishman - pasta topped with smoked salmon and chopped tomatoes
The Polish-German - pasta and pesto with a side of mozzarella, basil and tomatoes,
and the Malaysian - pasta in vegetable paprik sauce with a side of ikan bilis.

We always knew pasta was a versatile one.

Of singing for supper and food on fancy plates.

You know you're somewhere out of the ordinary when dessert arrives in the form of ice cream in flavours like lemongrass and chilli, five spices, asam jawa and durian. Who needs your safe and (in this case) dull flavours like chocolate and vanilla when you can have ice cream flavours that truly celebrate the Malaysian palette? As we eagerly sampled the variety of ice cream that kept coming our way (thanks to the very generous owner of the restaurant), I couldn't help but wonder why these flavours are not already abundant back home. I especially liked the lemongrass and chilli variety - sweet, tangy, spicy - like a lemon-lime popsicle with a kick. I'm beginning to think anything can be an ice cream flavour now. Lime and curry ice cream, anyone?

Awana Malaysian Restaurant and Satay Bar
85 Sloane Avenue,

It's one of those places you hear about but never think you'd end up in, especially not on a student budget. Located in one of the more expensive parts of London (which isn't somewhere we often find ourselves in), it's a Malaysian fine-dining restaurant - a concept I'm still finding difficult to grasp. When I think Malaysian food, I think busy stalls and noisy restaurants where cutlery can be easily bent out of shape and where you can hear your order being shouted across the room.

By some stroke of luck, we found ourselves seated at a long table on a Friday night in traditional costumes, desperately wanting our performance (my singing group had been invited to perform at the event) to be over and done with so that we could get on with the eating.

To tease and tantalise those tastebuds, they brought out the starters (which we attacked like ferocious beasts out of hunger and nervousness).

Permaisuri Skallop - grilled queen scallops with lime leaves, lemongrass and chilli.

Chicken satay. I always think that satay is a tricky one - too long over the fire and you get dry, blackened, hard pieces of chicken and otherwise, you risk food poisoning from undercooked meat. They seemed to have gotten just the right amount of cooking time here and the meat was extremely tender and juicy.

Rusuk kambing panggang - baked lamb ribs, char siu style. I have to say that if we had any initial doubts about the restaurant, this one took all those doubts and threw them out the window. Like the chicken, the meat was tender and had really soaked in the marinate. The ribs were surprisingly meaty, too.

"You know how people say that with lamb, you really want to try to get rid of that smell that it gives out? I think you're extremely good if you can work with the strong flavour and complement it instead"
-Kar Wye, after sinking his teeth into the succulent lamb-

"I'm sorry, but I really really want another piece!"
-Zee Kin, eyeing another rib after his first one-

And that's what they did, they didn't try to musk any of the natural flavour but got everything else to complement it instead.

Natasha shows us the right way to enjoy a rib - use those hands!

Sayur lemak - tofu, snake bean, tomato and okra tumeric curry. For someone who had so much sayur masak lemak in college that the thought of it makes her cringe, this was one of my favourites - creamy but light, spicy but with a nice balance of other spices. The best part? Unlike what its name might suggest, it really wasn't oily.

Sambal ayam - chicken with onions, coriander and sweet peppers in sambal. This one had me picking off the plate even when dessert started arriving.

Rendang daging awana - slow cooked tender beef curry with coconut milk and awana blended herbs. While I don't eat beef, I was assured (quite adamantly) by everyone else at the table that it was good and I suppose judging from the speed at which the plate was cleaned out, they weren't kidding.

For dessert, banana cheesecake. After the add-ons of durian creme brulee and ice cream to our table, the banana cheesecake seemed somewhat un-adventurous.

Zee Kin with the durian creme brulee and ice cream

You really cannot (and shouldn't) try to fool a Malaysian when it comes to durians so it's definitely a compliment when more than one person at the table goes "wow, it really does taste like durian!"

There we have it, my very first Malaysian fine dining experience - where durian is made into creme brulee, starters involve scallops and lamb ribs come artfully stacked on wooden platters. The thing about fine dining that puts us off sometimes is the portions, visions of tiny portions of food that look more like works of art than a substantial meal come to mind. Thankfully, the portions here left us all content and satisfied.

At a place like this, I really wouldn't mind singing for my supper, and that's exactly what we did.