Sunday, 1 September 2013

Makan Cafe - Notting Hill Malaysian restaurant (Portobello Road Market essential pitstop)


Address: 270 Portobello Road,
London W10 5TY
Phone: 020 8960 5169
Nearest Tube station:
Ladbroke Grove, Westbourne Park

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £10
Service charge: N/A
Taste: ****
Service: ***
Ambience: **
Planning for meals at Portobello Market used to be easier, at least for me. It was a no brainer - lunch at Nyonya right at the start of Portobello Market (near Notting Hill Gate tube station) and Makan Cafe at the end of it. While Nyonya had since being bought over and moved to Old Street (renamed as Sedap), Makan Cafe is still going strong.

It has come a long way since my last visit years ago. It is no longer a hole in the wall in the dingy part of the market. It has undergone a major revamp, cleaned itself up, took over the shop space next to it. It now spots a new logo and actually looks respectable. To top it up, I spot its full page advert poster in the nearby Ladbroke Grove Tube station.

Things are looking up for this little Malaysian restaurant, an obvious favourite among the Malaysian and Singaporean community in London. It is not hard to see why.

My trip through the Portobello Market took me faster than I expected. I am at Makan Cafe at 11.30am, not exactly lunch time and the place hasn't filled up yet. "What can I get for you, Sir?" a woman sporting a tudung asked from behind the counter. "I don't suppose you have any fried chicken, do you?" I ask having done a quick scan through the offerings. "No, the ayam goreng (Malay for fried chicken) aren't ready yet," she replied, "but let me cook some for you and it'll take just seven minutes." She takes my order and insists that the food be served together when the fried chicken is ready lest they turn cold. Brilliant, pipping hot fried chicken, what a way to start off the day.

I always have a penchant for ayam goreng. Tossing turmeric and ginger powder into the marinate makes all the difference. It is quite different from the soul chicken that is more common in this part of the world. When done right, the skin will be ever so slightly crisped, slightly moist and clings onto the tender flesh beneath. Only drumsticks, wings and thighs will be used of course, breast meat is just too coarse for this.

The best way to enjoy your ayam goreng is not to cut it with the cutlery but to use your fingers and bite through it. As your teeth cuts through the skin and into the flesh, the melted fats just under the skin will ooze through your mouth and the saltiness of the marinade will whet your appetite further.

Ayam goreng is certainly not the gourmet dish. Like all street fare, the better ones that I have come across are those that are freshly prepared. RIght out from the wok (or deep fryer for that matter), ayam goreng should be consumed before they cool and the flesh hardens. Doing otherwise would be a sin.

My heart skips a bit when I am told that a fresh batch will be prepared for me.

Nasi campur - with ayam goreng (fried chicken), ayam sambal (chicken sambal) and broccoli

The ayam goreng from Makan Cafe's kitchen didn't disappoint, not one bit. It is everything I would imagine it to be. To top it up, the chicken wings (centre portion) that are served are huge. Nothing like those with broken bones masquerading as chicken wings in Chinatown's buffet shops.

Just this morning, @PerfectTrough recommended Makan Cafe's chicken sambal. Sambal is one of the first dishes that we tried to replicate when we first come to London. Till now, we just can't recreate its unique taste. After having a tiny sliver of the sambal at The Modern Pantry, we gave up. There is no way we are going to top that.

Makan Cafe's sambal is in a class of its own. Fresh chilli padi grounded together with toasted shrimp paste with a splash of lime and sprinkle of sugar. The mix is just about right. You would be almost surprised when the heat hits you right in the face and then slowly creeps up on you again gradually warm you up just under your collar. If only the sambal chicken is warmed up. If I am to nitpick, Makan Cafe's chicken sambal does lose some of its kick when served at room temperature.


All that is downed with a mug of teh tarik. Getting sweet milk tea right is an art. Too much condensed milk makes it overly sweet and will irritate the throat. Too little of that and it will be overwhelmed by the tea's inherent bitterness. Makan Cafe's teh tarik is one of the finest I have tasted in London. I'll just have to remember to trek all the way down to Portobello Road to have my fix in the future. All the above for £8. I've done worse.

Makan Cafe is casting its net wide. It now offers a full English Breakfast complete chicken sausages for £5.20. I'm not sure whether that is necessary. Give me a roti canai for breakfast anytime. Or a murtabak if I had a light dinner the day before.

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