The Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisines have been trodden to death in this country. It was a breath of fresh air to try something different for once – fare from Malaysia.
Awana – a nice sounding name. Maybe because it rhymes with “nirvana”? The meaning isn’t far off though. A modern Malay word, “awana”, means “in the cloud” and once you taste the food you will understand why.
Now in its fourth year running the restaurant is hustling and bustling with hungry mouths in search of good food. Now I understand the two hour turnaround time for tables; as soon as a customer gets up, another fills his seat immediately, keeping the seat permanently warm.
My dining companion for the evening was fellow blogger Kok-Loong from Only Nature Food Porn. He is a homesick Malaysian who yearns for food from home but thus far has failed to find a restaurant who serves authentic Malaysian cuisine. Instead, he cooks most of his meals at home. With a proper guide I was ready for this meal!
My usual strategy of choosing items from the menu through a process of elimination failed miserably this time round because all the dishes sounded delicious. Instead I sat there like a blithering idiot who couldn’t make up her mind but in the end after a lot of “uhm” and “ahh-ing” things got on a roll.
But first, what would a meal be without a cocktail?!
The cocktail menu is extensive with lots of creative flair and a dash of Malaysian influence. Cue another ten minute session of “uhm”s and “ahh”s. We got there in the end.
What struck me most of this drink was the crystal clear taste of guava that came through.
Sweet and fruity, just the way I like it. It’s a shame the glasses were so small because both drinks were terribly moreish.
We opted for the platter of starters simply for the sake of variety.
Crispy pastry cups filled with prawns, chicken,bamboo, mushroom, carrot and coriander.
Delicate and crispy. If bamboo was always served so well I would eat it with gusto.
Popiah Sayur Goreng
Mixed asian vegetable spring rolls served with sweet chilli sauce.
Well made and generously filled. No dirty tricks like filling it up with dreaded cabbage. Earlier the day I had some spring rolls in China Town which were dripping with oil. These were remarkably “dry” in that regard.
Pomelo & Green Mango Salad
The salad was somewhat of a surprise because I didn’t expect salad leaves to be mixed in with the fruit. The mango was a bit tasteless and watery but the other ingredients paired with a sweet, spicy dressing made up for it.
Kepak Ayam Goreng
Deep fried spicy chicken wings served with vinaigrette chilli.
Not your standard but sombre Kentucky Fried Chicken. Covered with a thin, crispy batter it was lovely dunked with the sweet chilli sauce provided.
Lamb Satay Skewers
Lastly, the best of the starters dipped in a fresh peanut sauce. Yum!
Stir-Fried Morning Glory with Sambal
As a side dish we ordered the greens which I found quite spicy but not overwhelmingly so. Funnily enough, Kok-Loong found it not hot at all. Isn’t it odd how palates differ from person to person?
Special Malaysian dish of chicken curry, deep fried prawns, ikan bilis and coconut rice.
Apparently, Nasi Lemak is commonly eaten for breakfast in Malaysia. Think of it as their answer to the British fry up. A generous portion, although I would have preferred just the meltingly tender chicken on a bed of coconut rice, drenched with a gallon of the delightful curry sauce. Let’s analyse this dish.
The fried egg was a surprise because it wasn’t mentioned in the menu’s description. It was perfectly cooked though. Next to the chicken drumstick were fried onions and anchovies which had the distinct flavour of cod liver oil, which I wasn’t very fond of. Deep fried prawns in the Chinese cuisine tend to be covered in thick batter that is quite off-putting. You could discern the shape of these prawns and they were so crispy and flavourful.
Caramelised peanuts with crispy anchovies.
For me Ikan Bilis makes one scrumptious mid-afternoon snack but combined with the other ingredients on the plate the whole dish ended up being on the dry side.
Butterflied king prawns with pepper leaves and house-made chilli jam.
This item is from the Chef’s Specials Menu and completely blew us away. The prawns were meaty and tender, and the sweet and spicy coconut sauce was to die for – the star dish of the night!
When we finished the plate there was still some sauce left. Among friends and family I’m famous for my finger-licking habits but when I realised I was sitting in direct view of Bill Bailey I refrained. There was no way I was going to give him new material for upcoming sketches!
Pandan pearls with red beans in coconut cream with caramel and shaved ice.
Unfortunately, this was the only dud of the evening. Kok-Loong was disappointed with his favourite childhood dessert which turned out to be not very sweet and tasteless. It is traditional street food that you can get by the roadside or from a vendor on his bike in various neighbourhoods. If it is served in a bowl, all the ingredients go in the bottom and are topped with shaved ice, thick coconut sugary syrup and condensed milk.
Sweet coconut filled pandan pancake served with coconut ice cream.
Although the pancakes should have been a bit more browned, the sweet coconut filling was extraordinary. After such a big meal I felt tonnes of guilt for not being able to finish it.
Durian is a fruit from the Far-East that is notoriously banned from public transport and hotels because of its stench, which smells of fried onions and garlic. Being a durian virgin, I thought the fabulous ice-cream to be a gentle introduction to the fruit.
Lemon Grass and Chili Sorbet
The manager brought us another treat from their frozen section. Sweet and refreshing this sorbet had all the elements balanced just right.
All ice-cream and sorbets are made onsite. They are silky smooth with no hint of pesky icy bits in them and exuded quality through and through. Awana also boasts not adding any MSG to their foods and everything is made freshly from scratch, proving to other establishments it can be done.
Lastly, if you end up eating alone or are in boring company this guy will amuse you at the Satay Bar.
He makes pizza dudes look like complete amateurs.
He churned out one Roti Canai after the other like nobody’s business.
9/10: Except for the Chendol flop, the food was par excellence.
6/10: The Nasi Lemak was a very generous portion which makes it at £16 very good value in terms of London prices. On the other hand, the Udang Harimau costs £25 a shot which includes no starch or accompaniments which makes it quite pricy in the eat-for-survival and budget-conscious sense. It really depends on what you order. A three course meal plus drinks costs around £50 per person.
10/10: Congenial, clued-up, attentive yet unintrusive.
9/10: Modern, in working condition and some goodies for your hands.
9/10: Instead of music you could hear customers happily chatting away without being too rowdy.
9/10: For a lot of people this restaurant won’t be their weekly hangout simply because of the prices. But for those of you who have adventurous palates, save up your pennies, order a Satay and Udang Harimau and you won’t be disappointed. Have a memorable night out!
85 Sloane Avenue
020 7584 8880
P.S. Many thanks to Awana for the complimentary meal on Saturday evening, 16 January 2010.