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.