Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Naamyaa Cafe Angel Thai restaurant - bold with hits and misses

Naamyaa Cafe review Angel Islington Thai restaurant bar counter
Centrepiece of Naamyaa Cafe - its bar counter

Address: 407 St John Street
London EC1V 4AB
Tel: 020 3122 0988
Nearest Tube station: Angel

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £20 pp
Service charge: N/A
Taste: ***
Service: *****
Ambience: ****
Either I'm getting soft or the laksa's heat was getting to me. Beads of sweat glistered across my forehead; not exactly the most elegant dining experience after I unwisely declared to the waitress that I hail from the place "where we have laksa every other day".

Actually that's inaccurate on two counts - I'd rather have roti prata (flour based pancake) for breakfast, bar chor mee (minced pork noodles) and Hainanese chicken rice for dinner every single day in I can help it. Also, the laksa that I'm familiar with doesn't have remnants of chilli padi lying at the bottom of the gravy.

Naamyaa Cafe, which is Alan Yau's latest venture, finally opened at Angel Centre right next to Hummingbird Bakery and Jamie's Italian. Slated to be opened in October, it started business only in November. When asked about this, a staff brushed it off nonchalantly with a "we want to get it done right". Naturally, who wouldn't?

Unlike his sister's more modest restaurant, Isarn, which is just up along Islington Upper Street, Naamyaa sticks out like a megawatt light bulb beside Jamie's Italian. The bar and kitchen takes the centre stage at Naamyaa with tables arranged around them. There is something for everyone - bar counter seats for the loners, tables just beside the large windows for the exhibitionists, Parisian styled tables for those who'd rather look at bar and serving staff hurrying about rather than their fellow diners, and booth tables for those hatching their plans for world domination. In tune with Naamyaa's Bangkok cafe theme, there are even rows of little golden Buddhas perched on top of a wall. I wouldn't be surprised if there are actually 108 Buddhas .

Those who prefer to go for the safe choice of phad Thai at Thai restaurant would be sorely disappointed. In return, you get burgers, either with cheese, chilli or bacon. "Very much like a Bangkok cafe," a staff reminded me.

Naamyaa's menu looks rather curious; it feels like a menu in the works. While it has chosen to include photos for every item, the photos are small and badly cropped (very much like those you see on LondonChow) yet large blank spaces are seen below each section. Granted that it's difficult to make a skewer of beef satay looks appealing but Naamyaa can really take a leaf out of YiPin China's when it comes to including photos in its menu.

The rice dishes look suspiciously like the economic rice that is served at Chapel Market's Tai-An. Even after flipping through the menu for the umpteenth time, I decided stick to the seafood laksa (£9.70) ("Excellent choice!" claimed the waitress) and YQ went for Naamyaa goong (£9.50).

Naamyaa Cafe review Angel Islington Thai restaurant seafood laksa
A bunch of chilli padi hidden right at the bottom of the laksa

The laksa arrived soon after. Not surprising as the gravy should have been pre-prepared and simply scooped into the mix of rice vermicelli and other ingredients. It looked a tad darker than the ones I'm used to. No issue though as laksa varies quite a bit depending on which part of Southeast Asia you are in.

Looking at the dish that was tipped with sweet potato fritters (a nice touch), prawns, beancurd and dense fishballs, I started scooping up the laksa gravy by the spoonful and starting drinking it outright in an act of complacency. It was actually sweet to begin with until my spoon hit the bottom and trawled up a couple of chilli padi and beads of perspiration broke out almost on cue.

Served me right. I should have given the dish a good stir like how we do it back home - those chilli would have surfaced then. That said, I enjoyed the chewy rice vermicelli thoroughly though the portions could be a bit more generous.

Naamyaa Cafe review Angel Islington Thai restaurant naamyaa goong
The naamyaa goong tastes much better than it looks

The Naamyaa goong (£9.50) actually managed to look worse than its picture on the menu. The prawns seemed to have been mashed into the coconut based curry. The idea is to pour that onto a handful of kanom jin noodles.

Typically made from pressing dough through a sieve, kanom jin noodles become clingy when kept dry and that was exactly what happened. After pouring over curry onto the noodles, the dish looked like satay beehoon, another street fare back home, albeit with a much stronger heat that just wallop you when you least expected.

For those who can't hold their heat, I suggest you try it with just a spoonful of curry. But there is not a lot of kanom jin noodles, you might have to either have the rest of the curry on its own or chuck the rest away. Your pick.

Naamyaa Cafe review Angel Islington Thai restaurant calamari
Tumeric calamari too dry for comfort

Naamyaa added a twist on its calamari (£6.50). Instead of deep fried thick batter, it was dried, almost roasted with a dusting of turmeric. The result was a thin spicy rubbery dish, doing the mollusk great injustice.

Naamyaa Cafe review Angel Islington Thai restaurant mussels
Mussels soaking in sumptuous chilli jam

We were cheered up immensely by Naamyaa's mussels (£7.50). Served tossed in a chilli jam and basil mix, the fresh juicy mussels were soaked in a light gravy that had the right mix of sweet and heat. I was tempted to ask for some rice just so that I could clean up the gravy.

Naamyaa Cafe review Angel Islington Thai restaurant fried chicken wings
Skip those chicken wings, period.

I would recommend that you give the chicken wings (£4.50) a wide berth. I could barely catch a whiff of Thai garlic. Neither were they deep fried; they arrived limp. I didn't know such small chicken exist either.

The staff was friendly to a fault. The waitress serving us was quick to jump at the chance to tell us how Naamyaa comes about. She was even quicker to point out that both still and sparkling water was complementary should we so desire them. When asked for recommendation, she began enthusiastically explain what exactly is a laksa much to my amusement.

The tom yam goong suki set (£25 for two) looks particularly enticing. I would probably go for that during our next visit. A burger at Naamyaa? You must be kidding.

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