Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rasa Sayang review - Malaysian Singaporean cuisine in London

Rasa-Sayang-London-Leicester-SquareHappy New Year everyone!

2009 looks like it is going to be a good year for South-East Asian food in London. After the resident blogger's take on Malaysia Kopi Tiam, I am happy to introduce you to another eatery at Leicester Square, Rasa Sayang, which commenced operations just a couple of weeks ago and which claims to serve both Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine.

It was a cold blustery winter evening on one of the first days of 2009 when my group chanced upon it. I was pleasantly surprised by its minimalist (albeit Ikea inspired) design. Nothing fancy but certainly classier than the usual gaudy design of its Leicester Square neighbours.

A nice touch was the black and white photos of life in Malaysia and Singapore on the walls. One in particular caught our attention. A photo of a man with a bared upper body, his back to the camera, waiting at a metal counter with canned drinks stacked high at the side, and a middle aged woman in the background making drinks. The man is presumably a coffee shop assistant waiting for his customer's drinks to be ready so that he can deliver them to the customer. A common scene that would hardly attract a second glance in the hustle and bustle of every day life in Singapore, but as a snapshot frozen in time, it transported this group of Singaporeans in London back home in an instant.

Rasa-Sayang-London-Leicester-Square-nasi-lemakRecovering from nostalgia, we ordered our food. The mains menu was pretty good, with a wide range to choose from. Our group ordered satay (skewered meat, like kebab), gado gado (a vegetable salad served with a peanut sauce dressing), nasi lemak (coconut rice served with curry chicken and fried peanuts), hokkien mee (back home, it is fried broad yellow noodles in gravy with seafood) and cha kway teow (dry fried broad rice noodles with seafood).

The deserts selection was rather pathetic. Just 3 dishes and hardly the usual suspects. No, they don't have ice kachang or chendol. I am afraid I can't remember they were, only that ondeh ondeh (glutinous balls coated with coconut with a syrup filling) was one of them as that was what we ordered in the end. We were delighted with the drinks menu though as it featured our favourites: milo (malted drink), milo dinosaur (milo but topped with a heap of milo powder), cin-cau (grass jelly drink), cin-cau with soya milk and of course, teh tarik (frothy milk tea)!

Rasa-Sayang-London-Leicester-Square-curry-laksaThe verdict? Overall, we were pretty pleased with the food. At £6 to £7 per dish, the mains cost more than those at the Malaysia Kopitiam, but taste more authentic. My companions were very pleased with their nasi-lemak, the gado-gado and the cha kway teow. A friend was disappointed with his hokkien mee. Instead of yellow noodles, the dish was made up of what looked like udon. Definitely not what he had in mind.

I had the laksa which was not bad, but different from what we had back in Singapore. Singapore laksa consists of rice or yellow noodles in a broth of rich, velvety gravy of coconut milk, spices, dried shrimp and chilli, with toppings of fresh prawns, cockles, and sliced fishcake. The version served at Rasa Sayang would be better described simply as curry noodles and no, there are no cockles. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Read about the rest of London's restaurants/eateries

Rasa-Sayang-London-Leicester-Square-teh-tarikIf you want Singapore laksa, you would be better off making your own with Prima's prepacked laksa mix. The ondeh ondeh is also off the mark. We can't quite figure out why it tastes salty when it should be sweet. Everyone was happy with their drinks though and their teh tarik was heavenly. At £1.50 per serving, their teh tarik is cheaper than that served at Malaysia Kopitiam, though it must be said that it comes in a smaller glass. The teh tarik was a perfect companion to the curry based dishes which were fiery hot as they should be. If I must choose, I would say that the teh tarik at Rasa Sayang is better than that at the Malaysia Kopitiam.

Who knows, we may just have our Chinese New Year Eve's dinner at Rasa Sayang. Now if only Prima will open a restaurant, similar to their eatery in Singapore’s Centrepoint, in London. Prima apparently has concept restaurants in China, the States, Canada and Vietnam. When will there be one in London? That will make my day!

Twinkle Toe

For a complete guide to London's restaurant, refer to ZAGAT's London Restaurant 2009.

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*lynne* said...

I really miss teh tarik and nasi lemak here in the US!!

kyh said...

Haha! The Hokkien Mee is Penang style, known as Prawn Mee elsewhere. In Malaysia's Northern regions, we have 2 types of Hokkien Mee --- the prawn mee (soup-based), and Hokkien Char (literally Fried Hokkien Noodles), which is the 'Hokkien Mee' known to Southern M'sians and Singaporeans. Prawn Mee is very famous in Penang and its neighbouring states, and it's almost always known as a mere 'Hokkien Mee' here.

Cashmere said...

I heard asian food over there is darn expensive... =\

Martin in Bulgaria said...

Don't much at all about far eastern cuisine, but you make it sound soooooo good.

We have one Cantonese restaurant in Yambol, but it serves mainly soggy, deep fried dishes. Really it's a halfway house for authentic cantonese recipes, which doesn't work.

Twinketoe said...


@Lynne I thought south asian food is more easily found in the US? Prima has an outlet there.

@kyh thanks for the clarification!

@Cashmere everything is expensive here! However most cheap eats here are asian, averaging around $5 to £7 per dish.

@Martin in Bulgaria Hope you get the chance to try authentic asian food one day!

C K said...

Eh? Like TwinkleToe, I always thought that it should much easier to get S.E.A. food in the US. But come to think of it, the predominant Asian food featured in Hollywood movies are those of Chinese Cantonese food... :)

Hmm, I've been to Rasa Sayang as well but am a bit disappointed about it not serving Singaporean food although it claimed it does. Then again, Malaysian food fits my palate as well.

lol, after awhile, you'll get numb to it. It's all a matter of supply and demand of course.

I know exactly what you mean. In fact, there is one Cantonese takeaway (just like you mentioned) just outside my place.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... yet another foody reason to visit London - hehhee - but seriously there is hardly any good chinese food here let alone singapore food - but we do know 1x place - see my blog ;) thot i must say the meun is limited by ingredients which is available here.

The said...

you can check out more of the photographer's pics at www.flickr.com/photos/kutacrusader


Su-Lin said...

Oh, thanks for the review - I'm definitely going to head there!

C K said...

I think it depends on how many Chinese are there in your area. If there's demand, there'll be supply. In fact, most of the stuff sold here in London's Chinatown is imported from HongKong, China, Thailand and Malaysia.

Thanks for the link. Will check it out. Cheers!

Let me know what you think about it. There are some grumblings about the service there though.

Eh, try to avoid the ondeh ondeh... for some obscure reason, its salty.

HP said...

I just received bad service at this place tonight. I have not been this upset with service before (whether it is a leicester square restaurant or otherwise) for almost 2 years now that I have been in london (and to warrant my time to make this comment) so this tells a lot about the service.

I was there with a friend. We just had dinner and wanted to go there for an after dinner drink. When we sat down, I ordered a teh tarik straightaway and told the waiter to leave the menu with us so that we can take a look. My friend and I were too full so we couldn't order any food. My friend wanted to order soya bean drink though so we beckoned a waitress to come over. A middle aged waitress came over and my friend told her that she wanted soya bean at which point in time I asked my friend if she wanted to order later as she wanted to do take away so I didn't want her drink to get cold while I am taking my tea. Anyway, the waitress said that they do not have soya bean to which we said it was fine then. The waitress then asked what else we wanted and we said nothing else and that we have already ordered. She asked what we ordered and I said teh tarik and she repeated only one teh tarik? You must bear in mind that all this time she was talking, she was unfriendly to put it mildly and in fact was rude I would say. She went off to speak to her other colleague who took our order and came back to ask again and repeated that we only ordered one teh tarik which we confirmed. Rudely she said we only ordered one drink and they can't do it for us and if we want it, we will be charged 8 pounds for it.

Given that it was already past 930 pm and the ground floor (there is also a basement) is probably only about half full, I don't see an issue with us being there with one order but ordinarily, if there is such a policy, I would have appreciated it and would be fine with it. Problem now is that the middle aged waitress had put it across in such a rude manner, with no apology at all, all that clearly shows that they do not value customers at all.

With the above in mind, may I suggest a few reasons why you can hesitate going to this place:

1. Bad service as per above.

2. The decor is very plain. Nothing distinctive, characteristic or pleasant about the place.

3. The food is only alright, mediocre. Nothing to shout about or for them to be proud about. In fact, the teh tarik varies in consistency as sometimes, it can be relatively good and at other times bad (such as overly diluted).

4. The food is not cheap by chinatown standards espeially given the quality (see 3. above).

There are sometimes places with good food but not so good service which you live with. Places with not so fantastic food but with good service which you can close an eye to. But places with not so good food and yet bad service, you know where you stand.

It is a shame that they employ staff like this middle aged waitress. Clearly, they do not appreciate or underestimate the power of word of mouth. I have previously told friends about this place but of course, far from recommending this place now to anyone, I will be recounting this experience to them. If she is the person in charge or the boss of this place, well, if this is her management style and the way she runs her business, then there's nothing much anyone can say.

Competition is tough. I have heard places such as Jom Makan and Sedap recommended to me by several people but no one has ever mentioned this place to me let alone recommend this place to me before (except for a friend who chanced upon it one day in chinatown and who told me about it). Also given the current economy, this place had better either rethink (a) its business strategy or (b) its employment criteria.

So next time you come across this place, you might want to reconsider going somewhere else instead.