I don’t know London all that well yet. I can’t tell you how to get anywhere on the tube without a map and large swathes of the place are a complete mystery to me. Since I am mostly there for work or for films and theatre, I spend most of my time in the parts of central London that are not known for their chowhounding potential. Nonetheless, there are some things I consider to be a matter of basic pride. I can direct you to a very good Thai restaurant. I can take you for house-made pork dumplings. And I know where they make good nasi lemak.
Nasi lemak is real comfort food. Often considered to be a national dish of Malaysia, this combination of coconut rice, crispy anchovies, peanuts, cucumber, sambal and often chicken, egg or other proteins hits all the right spots of flavour and texture. Originally eaten for breakfast, it has become so popular that it’s now served all day. I haven’t yet made a thorough study of London’s more far-flung Malaysian restaurants (though obviously, this is an urgent goal) but if you’re near Soho, you can’t do better than C&R Cafe, located down the kind of alley I think of as highly promising and some of my friends view as mildly alarming. C&R is exactly the kind of Malaysian place I like – lacking in decor and general warmth, but more than making up for the formica atmosphere with reassuringly flavourful food. Their char kway teow is shrimpy and chewy, their Singapore laksa is rich and coconuty, and their Assam laksa is hot and sour. And their nasi lemak is the very definition of soul food for the hungry and out of sorts.
Yesterday, I had an early start at work and found myself in London at 4pm not having eaten all day. Obviously, I am not the kind of person that just forgets to eat, so I wasn’t feeling especially great about my situation. Luckily, while I had a plan to meet Thifty Gal in the evening to see Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein at the National Theatre, she couldn’t meet me beforehand and I had a couple of hours free. Much as I love the very generous Thrifty Gal, my idea of a promising alley is her idea of hell, so eating solo was just what the doctor ordered. I made a beeline for C&R and, since it was technically breakfast, couldn’t resist a plate of nasi lemak. Their version comes with a substantial portion of curry chicken, as well as achar, or pickled vegetables. Their home-made sambal is only moderately spicy but nicely oniony, and those crunchy anchovies are little nuggets of salty heaven.
As it turned out, we both hated the play (seriously, there’s a good reason the book’s not told from the monster’s perspective) and wished we’d gone to a bar instead, but I can’t complain. I got to see a good friend, watch the charismatic Benedict Cumberbatch on stage, and set my over-stressed self to rights with a restorative nasi lemak.
C&R Cafe, 3-4 Rupert Court, London W1D 6DY