The food at this pan-Asian chain is affordable and generous. The rice and noodle portions are well-sized and the sushi is freshly made on site and priced particularly well. It’s a vast menu with plenty to choose from. The soft shell crab temaki hand roll (£3.70) is wonderfully crunchy and delicious. Soft rice was wrapped in paper-thin seaweed paper and the lightly-battered crab claws curled out from the end of the roll. With a dabbing of soy sauce and a little ginger on the side, it’s one of the best hand rolls I’ve tasted.
Both the tori gyoza (£3.00) and chive and shrimp gyoza (£3.40) were a little wet inside and flat in flavour, but seared nicely on the outside for a burnt and crunchy effect. It’s just a shame that when opened there was barely enough contents to fill the pastry and the consistency was runny and watery. A bottle of Japanese Asahi beer (£2.70) helped them easily slip down and I’m sure that I’m only being acerbic after such a skilful introduction from the crab hand roll.
Dinners around me were tucking into noodles, rice, salads, tempura and nigiri. Side dishes are as varied as salted edamame beans to maguro tataki (fried tuna wrapped in chopped nori and sesame). Service was prompt despite a few negative reviews I’d read beforehand, commenting on “rushed and unfriendly” service. During a Friday lunch the service I received was attentive, if perhaps a little cold. I wouldn’t go as far to say that it’s run with enthusiasm, but dishes were served in good time and once I signalled to pay the cheque, it arrived within minutes. Perhaps they just wanted me out?
A plate of char keuy tiew (£6.00) sounds like a Star Wars character, but in fact translates as ”stir-fried ricecake strips”. Its origins are from Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, consisting of a mixture of flat rice noodles, dark soy sauce, chilli, a small quantity of belachan, whole prawns, bean sprouts and chopped Chinese chives. This char keuy tiew included some smoked bacon, unusually placed as it contested with the chilli and offset much of the spiced seasoning. A Chinese new-wave take on the surf & turf maybe (prawns and bacon)?
Char koay tiew is traditionally stir-fried in pork fat, yet these bacon croutons contained within the mix had a smokiness which tangled in combat with too many powerful ingredients. Its presentation was rather bland and uninspiring too, pilled onto a plate in a noodle heap, but then how do you present noodles attractively? They lay where they fall. Some red chilli and green vegetables would have lifted it from its vapid colour.
The restaurant itself (Kensington branch) is compact. It’s comfortable but lacks an authentic character, unlike many other Asian restaurants who decorate to create an immersive Asian dining experience, and even Wagamamas with its wooden bowls and cutlery and lined bench seating. Here, you’re given the chopstick or cutlery option but there’s a noticeable lack of decoration or Asian themed garnishing.