Malaysians in London can be creatures of habit, not least when it pertains to the all-important matter of mealtime. If you haven’t already noticed, there are a few requisite things to eat and places at which to do so that must be ticked off on every visit to the city. And, should you feel homesick, there’s the highest chance you would bump into a fellow countryman dining at any — or all — of these joints.
Having opened in 1966, The Brass Rail is legendary department store Selfridges’ oldest restaurant. And although its iconic salt beef sandwich is more redolent of New York than London, you will find many a Malaysian invariably stopping by here to refuel in between exhaustive shopping expeditions. The hot salt beef sarnie is the undoubted crowd favourite, but if you are vegetarian, don’t despair. Just order the Salt Beet Sandwich, made using beetroot, instead.
Slightly more elegant than its shabby-chic peers in Bayswater and Leicester Square, Pearl Liang in Paddington is the frontrunner when it comes to the London lobster noodle stakes. Other notable dishes include its foie gras fried rice with garlic shoots and crushed olives, peppercorn baby squid and crispy aromatic duck. The recent opening of its late night cocktail bar (the Bombay Sapphire-based Lychee Martini is a treat) gives you yet another reason to make a reservation for dinner posthaste. A perfect venue for celebratory family meals or entertaining business associates.
Also in Queensway, Gold Mine is undoubtedly the Malaysian go-to for roast duck rice. The restaurant is simple but famous for serving up hearty portions of classic Chinese favourites, including crispy chilli beef, spicy aubergine and prawn sesame toast. The weather is turning nippy already, so an order of hot and sour soup will not not go amiss either, alongside the house special of Cantonese-style roast duck. If you are staying in or spending a night out in the West End, rejoice. Gold Mine has opened another outlet in Wardour Street, right next to the infamous Wong Kei. So, if you are looking for a quick but tasty pre-theatre meal, this outlet should tick all the right boxes.
This Seven Dials stalwart set up by Anita le Roy is famous for its fair-trade single origin beans and baked goods. But the Malaysian (and indeed Asian) obsession with the 44-year-old establishment is a particular peculiarity. There’s booth-style seating inside and the service is always friendly and knowledgeable. If you are in a rush, grab a cuppa joe to go and be assured you won’t spend your day sleepwalking.
Helmed by chef Danny Tan, who cut his teeth with the Shangri-La Hotel group, Laksamania is dedicated to the pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles — laksa, in particular. The versions are inspired by Malaysia’s various states: There’s peppery and creamy Ipoh curry laksa and Penang assam laksa. The unusual ones to try, however, would be the London Laksa, made using mussels from the British coast; the soft-shell crab laksa; and the Signature Beef Curry Laksa. Ensuring there is something for everyone, Laksamania also offers a vegan menu, featuring a Melaka Laksa made using mushroom broth.
The original outpost remains in Euston’s Doric Way but the latest Roti King may be found in Battersea Power Station’s Arches Lane. Just a stroll from the river, it’s the perfect place to tuck into roti canai with curry, seafood curry laksa, char kway teow and nasi lemak after a long day’s walk in nearby Battersea Park. The teh tarik tastes especially lovely now that, as House Stark says, winter is coming. There is also a selection of dessert roti — pisang, Planta and condensed milk and kaya — if you need a sweet finish to the meal. For those who consider Instagram of utmost importance, don’t miss a snap with the Ernest Zacharevic-inspired wall art depicting laughing children on a bicycle.
This Queensway institution might have had its fair share of bad luck recently. Covid-19 dealt it some harsh blows and a few disgruntled diners have lamented that its standards have dropped of late. But local legend does credit Mandarin Kitchen as the restaurant which invented and perfected lobster noodles — the now-iconic “must eat” when in the city. It has also given its once-dingy interiors a white and bright facelift. Service is still hit and miss but, honestly, the allure of a thumping platter piled high with noodles and studded with chunks of lobster will make your heart sing regardless.
The vibe of this new establishment in Spitalfields is punctuated by the sounds of happy slurping — for good reason. Noodle & Beer’s métier lies in its perfection of humble Chongqing-style noodles — or xiaomian to those in the know. Liberally laced with smoky chilli oil, preserved pickles and palate-numbing pepper, this dish is the ultimate winter-warmer. Sichuan-born owner Xiaoxiao Wang started in fashion school but decided to swap sewing machine for spatula. Nothing corrals the crowd like appetisingly spicy noodles with the promise of a cold one to soothe the burn after.
Offering one of the city’s best and centrally located kebabs, the tiny but mighty Taza has been pleasing palates with its shawarma sandwiches for decades now. The flavourful succulent lamb is by far more popular than the chicken and, given how reasonable its prices still are, long queues are, naturally, par for the course. A caveat: Do not expect service with a smile.
Housed in the Malaysian-owned Berjaya Eden Park Hotel in Bayswater, Med Salleh (founded by Med Pang and Koi Lee) serves up halal street food and kopitiam favourites. There's Hainanese chicken — and also duck — rice, satay, rojak, vegan nasi lemak and oyster omelette. Come for sarapan pagi where roti bakar and half-boiled eggs will go nicely with a cup of kopi or keep the kids happy with orders of Milo Dinosaur.
This article first appeared in The Edge's London special issue on Oct 10, 2022.