Saturday, 22 May 2010

Awana review - London premier Malaysian restaurant


Address: 85 Sloane Avenue,
London SW3 3DX
Tel: 020 7584 8880
Nearest Tube station: South Kensington

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £20 pp (with 50% discount)
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ****
Service: ****
Ambience: ****
Suitable for: long unhurried dinners
Even in the culinary capital of the world (I am referring to London in case you are wondering), the thought of a good nasi lemak (fragrant rice) is never far from my mind. I literally grow up on the humble dish. Every weekend morning, I would grow restless just waiting for Mum to return from the market with a banana leaf wrapped nasi lemak from the Malay stall with the ever present queue snaking in front of it.

Years later, in a bid to cut costs, Styrofoam boxes replaced the banana leaves. But the spicy fried chicken wings, egg sunny side up with yolk still runny and the crunch ikan bilis with roasted peanuts, not to mention the aromatic rice and chilli paste still did the trick.

Needless to say, it was one of the first dishes I sought after the moment I stepped into London. I had a rather decent one at Sedap and thought that the mackerel was a nice touch. Puji Puji offered a lower end and more affordable version. The nasi lemak at Rasa Sayang was quite good but Wife and I wouldn’t think of going again after someone we knew experienced bad service there.

Awana+review+London+Malaysian+food+restaurant

Other than nasi lemak, the other dish that I had difficulty finding would be roti prata (known as roti canai to Malaysians). The only roti canai (will use the Malaysian name for now) that I had tried in London was when I stumbled into Jom Makan some time back. It was clearly heated up from frozen packages, which was a real disappointment. After that, I made it a point to check whether the roti canai is freshly made before ordering. Thus far, other than Satay House Malaysian Restaurant, none seems to have it.

That was until we hit upon Awana.

The first time I came across Awana was during Malaysian Day festival at Covent Garden. Other than fresh satays (grilled skewered meat), they offer roti canai at £4.50 per serving. I was shocked. Never in my wildest dream would I imagine that something sold for a mere 20p back home would be peddled for over twenty times the price. Yes, the pound was way stronger back then but still. That was probably why I gave Awana the miss till I came across the 50% discount the restaurant is offering on Toptable.

Although Sloane Avenue is a far cry from Oxford Street, it still felt like stepping into a sanctuary when we entered Awana. There is something distinctly comforting about its Malaysian interior setting. It might be the beaded fabric wall decorations or the light brown wooden furniture. It might even be the pleasant smiles of the soft spoken serving staff.

All was well until I saw the menu. £16 is the minimum price for mains and that included my favourite nasi lemak as well, roti canai cost a whopping £6.50. Wife helpfully reminded me about the 50% discount. Now, with that taken into account, the Awana’s prices was comparable to that at Sedap.

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The nasi lemak certainly looked more substantial than any others that I had come across. Instead of mackerel or deep fried chicken wing, Awana’s nasi lemak comes with curry cooked chicken drumlet, battered prawns, nicely fried egg with ikan bilis and peanuts among the frills. More importantly, the nasi (rice) is definitely one of the most fragrant ones I’ve ever come across. I supposed it was a matter of how much coconut milk was added.

Awana+otak+otak+London+Malaysian+food

A complementary dish to nasi lemak would be otak-otak (£6.20). The chargrilled minced seafood dish came across as a tad tough but I attributed that to Awana using more fish than mere paste for bulking purposes.

Awana+roti+canai+London+Malaysian+food

We got a portion of roti canai with ‘herbs’, whatever that meant. I have tasted roti canai with onions, minced mutton, eggs and even cheese but ‘herbs’ was a first. Like Satay House Malaysian Restaurant, the roti canai came chopped up into regular square bite size pieces, which was great for sharing. Awana could be more generous with the curry that came with it but I am sure they would be more than glad to top it up if requested.

As if to prove that all roti canai are freshly made on premises, Awana boosted a large well ventilated cooking area complete with a chef furiously flipping roti canai till it was paper thin. Fear not if you are not seated in view of the preparation area for there are 40 inch plasma screens strategically placed around the restaurant bringing the action to you. There is even one just outside the toilet.

Awana+rendang+daging+awana+London+Malaysian+food

The rendang daging awana (£16) wasn’t too spectacular. Though the chunks of beef were suitably stewed and softened in the spicy gravy, it came across as a bit bland for my liking. Perhaps I should have saved some of the roti canai for the rendang’s curry.

Awana+sweet+roti+durian+London+Malaysian+food

Other than the nasi lemak, our favourite for the night had to be the roti durian (£6.50), which was part of the ‘sweet roti’ available for dessert at Awana. Instead of herbs, we have sticky rice and some durian paste sandwiched between the roti.. Having that alone was good enough but with the cold coconut dip and cinnamon powder, it was absolutely heavenly.

With the 50% discount, the bill for two of us came up to around £35 inclusive of the 12.5% service charge. Of course, if you fancy some wine to go with your nasi lemak (we had teh tarik), Awana had a pretty impressive wine list to my untrained eye, the bill will inch up a bit. A very decent meal for the price I would say. Awana definitely ranks above 54 at Farringdon Road and it’s quieter as well.

Awana on Urbanspoon

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7 comments:

Dave said...

Finally someone with a good word about Awana.
Everyone I know who has eaten there has said it is over priced and not that good. Maybe as with yourselves the 50% toptable offer may make me eat there. We'll see.
It's a shame that so many people say they have had bad treatment at Rasa Sayang, but I've always been served very well. I've also never seen anyone in there been served badly. But noone has ever said what the bad service is, all they say "we had bad service".
Maybe my expectations are low, so I'm never dissapointed.

Wild Boar said...

Glad to hear you enjoyed yourself. I didn't think the food was worth the full price when I went.

FĂ«anor said...

Hey man. We went to Awana today, encouraged by the 50% Toptable you mentioned. I had the rock-salt-and-pepper fried chicken wings, which I liked, and then the tiga rasa seabass, which was a bit less encouraging. There was hardly anyone else about, just another party of diners. The wife liked the roti canai, but says she prefers the Kiasu offerings. So we may not be going back, even at 50%. Possibly should have had the dishes you liked!

C K said...

@Dave,
Whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd. :)

But seriously, we did enjoy the food while we were there. Of course, without the 50% discount, I don't think I would pay 16 quid for a nasi lemak.

As for Rasa Sayang, I wouldn't say that they are epitome of good service. In fact, it reminded me of the hawker stalls back home where the hawkers will come over and clean your tables furiously after your meal and pointedly asked whether you had your fill.

Though it wasn't till that extent over at Rasa, I did have the dessert menu shoved under my nose immediately after our plates were cleared.

Probably it was the luck of the draw but I wouldn't be in a hurry to return.


@Wild Boar,
Ah, I would hesitate to return without the 50% discount.

@Feanor,
Fried chicken wings sounds great! Glad that you guys like the roti canai. I don't supposed you went for the durian canai, did you? Say, have you tried Zeen? Will probably head there this week.

The London Foodie said...

Awana is also part of the Malaysian Kitchen Campaign (http://www.malaysiakitchen.co.uk/diningcard/), it is completely free to sign up and you will get at least 20% off the food bill on various Malaysian restaurants across the UK.

Marketing pitch aside, I am pleased to read a good review of Awana, however it is VERY irritating to see that prices have probably been increased due to the 50% offer from Toptable.

Catty complained about the service at Awana, I had horrendous service at Rasa Sayang. Sedap has fantastic service but the portion sizes are just ridiculous.

Kiasu seems to be the all rounder though.

Luiz @ The London Foodie

smalltoast said...

Sounds really good.. Do you need to print off a voucher from TopTable to get the 50% off?

Or do you just turn up and get the money off the meal automatically.. ?

I went onto the TopTable website but couldn't find any link to a voucher or anything.

Thanks!

C K said...

@smalltoast,
The offer was opened for those who booked through Toptable, there was no voucher to print. That said, the offer was available till end of May. Not sure whether Awana will renew the offer after that.

@London Foodie,
Didn't get a chance to write a review for Kiasu, will get round to it one of these days.

You mean to say that Awana's prices were increased after the 50% discount come into effect?