Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Rasa Sayang - not perfect but still the place to go for fuss free Singaporean food in Chinatown

Rasa Sayang - the only Singaporean and Malaysian restaurant in London's Chinatown is always packed in the evenings. 

Address: 5 Macclesfield St,
London W1D 6AY
Phone: 020 7734 1382
Nearest Overground station:
Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £25
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ***
Service: **
Ambience: **
It has been some time since I had last been to Rasa Sayang, not because I was indifferent to their food but simply for lack of time - there are just so many new restaurants in London to check out. I recalled from my my last trip to Rasa Sayang that the food was good, bringing to mind the tastes of hawker dishes back home so it was with high expectations that I set off for Rasa Sayang.

Opened in December 2008, Rasa Sayang (or "loving feeling" in Malay language) is the only other Malaysian restaurant within London's Chinatown besides C&R, which is tucked in a tight alley at Rupert Court. Being close neighbours, it is hardly surprising that the cuisines in Singapore and Malaysia share the same vein. And that is what drawn us to it in the first place.

We were there early on a Friday evening and the restaurant was filling up quickly. The black and white photos of street scenes from Singapore and Malaysia which lined the walls on my last trip were still there. They sent me on a trip down memory's lane the last time round but perhaps of the busy environment those photos just faded into the background this time round.

We were tempted to go for their set menu which for £13.30, one could choose starter of fried wonton or curry spring roll, main course of nasi goreng, nasi lemak or beef rendang, or desert of kueh dadar (pandan pancake roll with coconut filling) or sago gula melaka. I was particularly excited by the deserts available . Other than Sedap near Old Street which serves the most delicious nyonya kuehs I have not found any other Malaysian or Singaporean restaurant serving local deserts. At best they might serve banana fritters which hardly does justice to the variety of deserts available in Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine (ice kacang, bobo char char just to name a couple). So to see an old favourite like kueh dadar on the menu makes me giddy with delight.

We opted to order from the ala carte menu thinking that we will work our way through to the deserts eventually. I requested otak otak (fish meat cake) but the service staff informed us that while it remained on the menu it is no longer available. What a shame as that is another street food easily available in Singapore but you hardly ever see it here.

Roti canai

We settled for roti canai and crispy chicken wings as starters. The roti canai taste more like crispy pancakes from frozen packs rather than the big fluffy confections that they should be.

Mixed satay plate

We had better luck with the satay (grilled meats). Being a traditional street fare back home, they would normally be considerably tougher especially if the hawker didn't keep a keen eye on the fire. That said, the satay at Rasa Sayang weren't grilled over a charcoal fire thus lacking in that bit of carcinogenic goodness. To give them some credit, the accompanying peanut sauce was thick and flavourful though.

Fried chicken wings

The chicken wings were a bigger success. Tender and moist in the inside, crispy on the outside, they ticked all the right boxes. Tasty but if you are looking for a burst of turmeric done in Malay style, you would be sorely disappointed.

Fishball mee pok

We had fishball mee pok (flat noodles) and prawn mee (noodles) soup for mains, Fish ball mee pok was also off the mark for us. The noodles were bathed in a sweet dark sauce, much too sweet for our palettes. Then again, I understand that is way the dish is served in Malaysia; Singaporeans are more used to having a tinge of vinegar and chilli paste added to the mix.

Prawn mee 

The prawn mee was delicious and I was a fan of the fragrant broth. What was missing for me though was the lack of the chilli powder which usually accompanies this dish in Singapore, not unlike the chilli powder used in ramen. I did ask the service stuff for the chilli powder but was met by a blank look. They did provide us with cut chilli padi instead.

We washed all these down with teh tariks and found that we simply could not contemplate desert after such a heavy meal. Perhaps it was just as well the restaurant was heaving with people and it was difficult to hold a decent conversation above the din. Perhaps I should simply just come for tea the next time and make a beeline for the deserts. Otherwise I will simply not get round to sampling them!

If you are in the Soho area and are craving for Singaporean or Malaysian food, Rasa Sayang is probably your best bet. While the dishes are not replicas of what one would find back home they are nevertheless closest to the real thing one can get in Central London to fix that craving.

This Rasa Sayang review is brought to you by Cox & Kings Travels as a part of their feature on Chinatown restaurants for their holidays to China segment.

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