85 Sloane Avenue, LondonSW3 3DX
Tel: 020 7584 8880
Fax: 020 7584 6188
We had been wanting to try Awana for such a long time. The only turn-off being the hefty price tag attached to their ala carte dishes. I'm sorry. Let me explain.
Half of my family is from Malaysia and a husband to boot. Nothing beats sitting down on makeshift rickety benches, maybe on the roadside, with the sun beating down and the humidity saturating your undies to your skin, flies swarming whilst you slurp down your favourite hawker's bowl of steaming spicy har mee, Ipoh hor fun or chicken laska. Or maybe Hainnese chicken rice or char kway teow followed by a refreshing bowl of iced cendol or ice kachang. All watched closely by a mangey stray malnourished cat pacing and meowing impatiently for scraps.
The point being that these hawkers cook day after day, with recipes passed down from generation to generation, undiluted in quality and in taste. The price you pay? Most times less than a pound, and very affordable for the locals. Some of these hawker stalls are legendary and so popular with the locals, we often suspect, despite their dressed down demeanour and carefree attitude, with a lot of undeclared cash, they probably do drive back to their mansions in a suped up mercedes.
So this brings us back to Awana. I was curious what a £22 char kway teow would taste like (with lobster, no less). After reading their website, they claim to be inspired by Malaysian "street food". In fact Lee Chin Soon, the head chef, crafted his skill in Penang and Lankawai and honed his art based on the traditonal hawker stalls.
Only when a Toptable special came up offering 50% off all food ordered I pounced on it. Either now or never. Coincidentally we also used this opportunuity to celebrate my husband's birthday. On this accord, it did not disappoint - a great place for a celebration.
As soon as you enter Awana, you get the sense that you're in for something special. Very chic, sophisticated...uber cool. We sat down for delicious cocktails (around £8) and then proceeded to a spectacularly set round table for 10. The wine glasses were so huge they practically took up most of the dining space. This led us to our first dilema...do we order seperately as in a western meal? Or do we order to share? We looked around. Yup looks like sharing is not encouraged.
We each ordered an entree and a main. I won't harp on each dish mainly because I simply can't remember. (Uh oh...danger sign for me when dishes aren't rememberable). I will tell you about the ones which did embed in my conscience...good or bad. The Pemaiuri scallops (grilled queen scallops with lime leaf, lemongrass and chili £8) looked impressive. I'm sick of the times scallops are presented to you in inhalable proportions. Can't tell you about the taste as I didn't have it, but my friend did give an orgasmic seal of approval.
Have to talk about the £22 seafood and lobster char kway teow. Would be admiss not to. It was impressive, with meaty lobster in its shell and massive king prawns, scallops and squid. No skimping on quality here. Yes it was delicious but something was missing. It wasn't so terrible that it was a rendition of soy sauce with rice noodles tossed with lashing of expensive seafood. But I would still rather have a traditional Malayian char kway teow than this fluffed up version. Maybe they should have fried it with melted pork fat as they do on the streets.
The Kari Ayam (corn fed chicken curry with coconut, potatoes and snake beans £13.50), I thought was too sanitised for my liking. No chicken on bone at all, just fillets. Corn fed or not, I like my chicken curry to have bone in there. Gives it texture and flavour. Big disappointment and couldn't really see the point of eating it.
The rest of the dishes were quite good. Tasty, palatable...not the best I've eaten by any means...otherwise I would write about them all to let you know. I simply can't remember enough. But mind you, halfway through the meal we were all quite jolly after the bottles of wine constantly plied upon us by the very attentive staff.
Their dessert menu is quite impressive as well. Traditional Malaysian desserts for £6 each. Yes I know, £6 ain't expensive but I know most of these desserts are quite easy to make and can be whipped up in no time with inexpensive ingredients. Most of us opted for the homemade ice cream with intriguing flavours such as ginger and chrythsathenum, and the usual green tea and durian. A very nice end to the meal.
Despite the 50% discount, we all still did take a sharp intake when we saw the bill. Still over £50 per person including drinks. Gosh we must have ordered quite a few bottles!
Despite all of my sniping, it still was a great meal and occasion. Awana's staff offered imaculate service and the ambience was buzzing with diner's enjoying themselves (were they on the Toptable special too?) You pay for the location (Chelsea), attention to the service and quality and of course the spectacular setting of a Maylasian teak house. Would I go again? No. Simply as there is no value for money at all. I know that's not what Awana is all about. But I still stick by my constant mantra - if you don't see a restaurant filled with patrons of a similar origin, there is probably a good reason why.