190 Sussex Gardens
Paddington W2 1TU
Telephone: 020 7402 5111
Walking around Paddington station, no one would realise that there is a honest to god, authentic Malaysian eatery less than 5 minutes walk away. The closest that one could probably describe this is that it is very similar to what one in Malaysia would colloquially call a "Mamak stall" (where the food is typically Malay or Indian influence, rather than Malaysian Chinese cuisine). Those Malaysians out there know what I mean and for those who are new to the “mamak” stalls, check out this website. It gives an insight into a small slice of Malaysian culture, and for a taste of typical Mamak fare in London, head to Nahar cafe.
Nahar Cafe is hidden away from the street and was only found after been led there by those in the know. It’s hidden down a flight of stairs and there isn’t even a sign board anywhere to show that this little gem existed. Upon entering this place, it’s obvious that the Malaysians students in London have found a place to feed their bellies with food from the homeland. A warning though - this isn't a place to come if one is expecting a restaurant. The setup is definitely basic, with only about 8-10 tables. But the food - for those who are homesick or just craving for decent "mamak" styled Malaysian food, this is the place to be. Where do I even start?
Firstly, Nahar offers 3 choices of set meals, with prices ranging from £3.90 to £5. At the lower priced end, one can enjoy a set meal with a choice of one meat dish and one vegetable dish served with rice. At the other end, for £5 you can a Nasi Campur II and have your pick of 3 meat dishes and one vegetable dish. For these set meals, there is a buffet service set up (not self serviced though) with about 8 different dishes available for you to choose from and these change daily. There are also quite a number of dishes from the a la carte menu, with starters priced at a range of £2 - £5 and mains averaged at around £5-6. The menu also includes several typically Malaysian beverages –Air (the Malay word for water, not the English equivalent!) Bandung – a rose syrup flavoured milk, Sirap Limau (lime juice) and other tropical juices (guava, mango, sugar cane - just to name a few) which would normally be available in Malaysia.
After spending some time on the menu I opted for the Nasi Campur, which gave me a choice of 3 meat dishes and one vegetable dish. My three meat choices for the day were lamb in green curry sauce, chicken curry and a spicy and sour fish curry. Unfortunately, you don't get to pick the vegetables but get given a helping of stir fried greens. The lamb in green curry sauce had quite a bite to it and it was lamb cooked on the bone in a home made curry paste (by the fresh bits of lemongrass, thick slices of galangal and whole cloves on my plate) was every bit as delicious as it looked. The chicken curry was faultless and remiscent of many a malay curry which I've had by the roadside stalls in KL and the best dish of the day was the spicy and sour fish curry. Thick slices of mackerel (on the bone still) was absolutely delicious. Not normally a fan of mackerel as its sometimes too overpowering, this curry certainly went down well. And all served with a large portion of plain rice to mop up all the sauce. Mmmm...I'm salivating just writing this review!
The Man, who I'd brought along to share the food love , also settled for the Nasi Campur but also decided to share a portion of Sup Kambing (Mutton Soup) and Deep Fried Crab Claws. Sup Kambing is a traditional Malay spicy soup which is prepared with cinnamon, cloves and of course mutton to produce a lovely flavoursome dish. Since arriving in London, I've only managed to find one other place (Mawar on Edgeware road - a review for another day) which is authentic as the soup that I've tasted in Malaysia. Nahar Cafe doesn't disappoint on this count. We decided to throw in an order of deep fried crab claws as we were especially hungry and the golden crab claws were meaty and encased in a light batter. It was all too much food, washed down with two servings of hot Teh Tarik (tea made with condensed milk and "streched" in two large mugs - Malaysian style!). Both of us could only sit back in the aftermath and groan. However, the only slight complaint of the night was that the curries from the bain marie for the set meals were slightly cold. That obviously didn’t stop me from enjoying the experience but the Man found it a little off putting, so be warned. Else, have a word with the friendly staff and I’m sure that they would heat your meal before serving it.
At the end of the night we managed to leave the place with a full belly, and take away for another meal with the total damage of only £30. With enough to feed 4 people (including the take away), Nahar is quite reasonably priced and with consistently good food, its enough to get me back there pretty often.
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