Oh. this is a hard one – a real tale of the good, the bad and the average. There is a jazz club downstairs and a restaurant upstairs. The jazz venue looked great – exactly how a basement jazz club should look. There was a set playing whilst we were eating upstairs, and there were great sounds coming out of the room – we will definitely consider going back to try out the jazz basement. That's the good.
And so to the bad – which would be the food. My wife is Malaysian and I lived there for 4 years. We go every year to visit in-laws and friends and we are self-confessed ‘foodies’ so I do have some credentials for commenting on Malaysian cuisine. The menu is very limited – 5 starters and 5 main courses, all apparently cooked by a Malaysian (presumably Nolia) so we had high hopes that they would each be fine examples of Malaysian cooking. Disappointment was not long in coming.
Gado Gado (which is Indonesian, not Malaysian, but very nice if done correctly) was a bowl of thinly sliced raw veg, including lots of broccoli for some reason, sitting in a smear of very thin and fairly tasteless peanut sauce. This dish should be made with quite chunk veg pieces, which should be boiled – not raw – and thickly coated in a thick peanut sauce and should ideally include some pieces of tofu and maybe an egg. Everything needed is available in asian/chinese supermarkets and from wholesalers, so why this poor imitation using raw western veg and thin sauce?
Chicken Satay should be packed with flavour. It needs marinating for hours and the chicken should be cut into strips and then threaded onto a skewer before being chargrilled. These were thick pieces of chicken. flattened and pushed onto skewers. They were too small and bland – no hint of long marintating – and were almost certainly cooked under a conventional grill, so there was no charring. The accompanying peanut sauce was far too thin and lacking in depth of flavour. And at £6 for 3 small pieces of chicken, that is a woefully overpriced and underwhelming dish.
Daging Kichap: which if you are Malaysian you would expect to be beef – but this was the chicken version of the dish, which on a menu in Malaysia would always be called Ayam Kicap. Yes, that is nit-picking, but putting that aside, this was just bits of chicken that again did not taste as if they had been marinated, in a sauce that was far too thin and too heavy on the soy sauce.
Daging Masak Serai: Descibed as ‘Aberdeen and Angus’ (sic) beef marinated in turmeric, shallots,
ginger,cooked in coconut sauce with lemongrass and galangang (sic) – yes, just to be picky, there are a number of typos in the menu. Again the meat did not taste as if it had been marinated, and nor did it taste like prime Aberdeen Angus. The sauce was way too thin with barely a hint of coconut, lemongrass or galangal.
We both thought that the mains tasted as if they had come out of a pre-packed supermarket ready meal. I'm not saying that to be intentionally disrespectful to the chef – but that is honestly what it tasted like.
So that's the good and the bad. The average would be the decor in the restaurant, which is basically garden furniture. Nice in a pub garden on a restaurant terrace in the summer, but a little out of place here. It's great to see artist students / young artists given display space, so that aspect was pleasing and it creates a talking point. My beer could have been colder. The other disappointment occured when we explained to the waiter that the food had not been to our liking and was not, in our view, authentically Malaysian. He expressed surprise as the chef, he told us, is Malay. As we were the only customers, we would have expected the chef to come and have a chat to us and ask for feedback…but no.
So our conclusion…we won't be back for the food. It is hard to find good Malaysian food in London, but there are a handful of places that do it well, and Nolia's, unfortunately, based on this visit, is not one of them. However, we will definitely keep an eye on the jazz listings and try it out for the music.