Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Nonya Laksa @ Kiasu (Pan-Asian), London

{Update Jan 2011 - Kiasu has closed and has been replaced by a pan-Asian buffet joint. What a shame.}

Together with Sedap and Rasa Sayang, Kiasu is one of the most commonly cited places in London to try Straits cuisine. Although best known for its dishes from Malaysia and Singapore, the menu is also peppered with Indonesian, Filipino, Thai and Vietnamese dishes as well as some traditional Chinese fare. To be honest, you'd have to be a bit of an idiot to order Vietnamese pho here but if there's one thing I've learnt living in London is that there are plenty of those in the capital.

I kicked off with some murtabak (£4.50) – this was lukewarm and instantly forgettable. Not even the tasty curry dip could rescue this refugee from Greggs The Baker. This was nothing like the flaky-eggy affairs I ate in Singapore but let's not dwell on my disappointment, as that's not what I came here to try.  

I came for the laksa, which to many people is the dish that epitomises Straits cuisine. I ordered the Nonya Laksa (£6.90), which consisted of prawns, fish cakes, rice noodles, and daun kesum in a healthy sized bowl of coconut 'gravy'. I'm sure there should have been fried tofu in the mix but otherwise it seemed pretty authentic but for ……

I know I'm going to sound contrary as I moaned that Koba's jjambong was too spicy but I thought the laksa here lacked a certain 'smack in the mouth' sensation. The thing that I remember about eating laksa in Singapore was that it was much more flavoursome with a powerful 'prawn-shell' aroma that hit your nostrils.

I did a bit of t’internet research and found that there are different kinds of laksa out there and that my nonya laksa or laksa lemak was meant to be 'coconuttier'. I don't eat enough laksa to be an expert and whilst far from insipid, I would've preferred it to be spicier and to taste more of the sea.

Service was very good and I liked the stylish interior. The damage was around £15 including drinks and service but £10 would cover it, if you ditched the rather crap murtabak.

Verdict: This was my first visit to Kiasu for a couple of years and there are many things I like about it. However, next time I think I'll try something other than the laksa and I'll definitely steer clear of the chicken pasty murtabak.

Other Stuff: Kiasu is part of a small group of Bayswater restaurants including Hung Tao (HK style caff) and Kam Tong (Cantonese dim sum restaurant), which also has a branch in Chinatown.

Kiasu on Urbanspoon


  1. Have you ever tried Assam Laksa? It's quite different from the other laksas as it doesn't have coconut milk. It tastes like a cross between thai tom yum soup and laksa with a fish base, so delish! Unfortunately, it's not that common a variety, so hard to find it done well anywhere but KL...

  2. The only time I've really tried Laksa was in Australia where it seemed to be everywhere - although that may be my memory playing tricks. I do remember it being quite spicy-hot though - i imagine it would stop the coconut from being too rich. Sounds like it's not one for the 'must dine' list just yet.

  3. I haven't been to Kiasu for years, but remember having a fairly average curry roti there. Fab write up.

  4. Tracy - I've not knowingly eaten Assam Laksa but I can't be certain ! If I spot it in London then I'll certainly give it a try.

    Grubworm - I just wonder whether the flavours have been dumbed down at Kiasu. I'll certainly give it another chance as I like the vibe here.

    Gastrogeek - thanks ! The adjacent table were eating roti but it looked distinctly average. Mind you it couldn't have been as bad as my murtabak.

  5. You are right in assuming that there should be a well-flavoured prawn stock for laksa lemak (the word lemak means "fat", and means that coconut milk or cream is one of the ingredients). The essential ingredients for a good nasi lemak stock are:

    Well-flavoured chicken stock (preferably home made)
    About 250 gm prawn shells especially heads (I save them from other cooking sessions and keep them in the freezer until required)
    Sambal belacan (chilli and prawn paste mixed together)- this ca be varied in quantity depending on how hot you want the final dish to be
    Dried prawns (har mai in Cantonese), pounded or ground fine
    Daun Kesom or laksa leaves (can be obtained in Vietnamese stores under the name rau ram)
    Lemongrass, turmeric root, ginger, shallots and garlic, ground together to a paste
    Coconut milk

    The initial step is to fry the prawn heads and shell in a little oil (I use rendered chicken fat) with some slices of ginger, whole garlic cloves and 2-3 whole dried chillies. When the shells have turned red, use a blunt instrument like a ladle or end of a rolling pin and mash the shells as hard as you can, adding a little chicken stock at the same time. The stock will turn a red-orange colour. Drain the shells through a wire sieve and continue to mash the solids to extract the maximum amout of flavour. Add the rest of the stock, laksa leaves, and the other ingredients (except the sambal belacan and coconut milk), bring to the boil and simmer for at least 1 hour. Discard the laksa leaves, then add the sambal belacan to taste. Fially add the coconut milk and allow to simmer for another 20 minutes or so. I also add cubes of fried bean curd (taufu pok)together with the coconut milk - that is traditional back in Singapore but was what you missed at Kiasu! The round white rice noodles we use back home are not available i London but I find the Cantonese "Laifen" a good substitute, although it has to be simmered for a good 30 minutes to soften sufficiently (ignore the instructions on the packet which gives a ridiculously short time for cooking the noodles), or you can even use spaghetti!

    Incidentally assam (the word means sour) laksa is completely different, it is made with a fish stock, and no coconut milk is used. Its essential flavourings are lemon grass, tamarind skin (a kind of mangosteen which is a strong souring agent),laksa leaves, a dark sweetish prawn paste (NOT the same as belacan), pineapple and the unopened buds of the wild ginger flower. It is almost impossible to get the last ingredient even in London (I get my supplies brought over by visiting friends and relatives!), so the dish is seldom encoutered here. The one restaurant where it is served (as they have their ow supplies of ginger flowers) is Fifty Four ("54") at Farringdon, a Malaysian restaurant (, so if you wish to try it, that's the place to head for.

    There are many other varieties of laksa found in Malaysia, including Johore laksa, fish-based stock AND coconut milk, and even in Malaysia it is usually made with spaghetti, Sarawak laksa, etc. The common ingredient is rice noodles served in a well-flavoured stock, but otherwise there is a wide variation in ingredients and seasoning. Laksa lemak and Assam laksa are probably the two best known. Interestingly enough, two of the main noodle dishes from Myanmar (Burma) resemble these two, mohinga is very similar to assam laksa and kauk swee to laksa lemak.

  6. I love Nyonya Cuisine, having tried it for the first time in Malaca a few years ago and more recently in Singapore. I'd never heard of this place, so will be trying following your review.

    I am just about to post my review of Sedap, I really liked Sedap but thought that the portions were minute.

    @ Londonchinese - gosh, thanks for explaining that, I had no idea about the differences between the two types of Laksas, I would have been a bit confused if I was served a Laksa without coconut milk i.e Assam Laksa. I will make sure to order Lemak from now on!

  7. The laksa looks a little too pale for my liking, some sambal and lime on the side would have been better :) I have a murtabak post if you can be bothered making it :)

  8. I visited Kiasu once and was very disappointed. I'll take Sedap over Kiasu any day.

  9. Hi there, found your blog via The London Foodie, who just did a review on Sedap. The laksa at Kiasu seems more like Singapore-style laksa rather than the original version of Nyonya laksa from Malacca. I am from Malacca and lived in Singapore for 10 years. Although I really enjoy Singapore laksa, nothing beats the Malacca version. Assam laksa is also delicious if you like sourish & spicy version & it originates from Penang, Malaysia.

  10. LC - thanks for the insights ! With this much knowledge, you really ought to start your own blog.

    LF and A-in-L - I'm in two minds about Kiasu, I like the place and I'm not gonna dismiss it after one mediocre meal. I do plan on visiting Sedap to see how that compares to Kiasu and also Rasa Sayang.

    3HT - it was too pale. As LC pointed out, it could really have done with some prawn shells to turn it red. Sambal and lime would've been good too to add some pep to this dish. Just seen your murtabak post - looks better than the Kiasu's version.

    PN - welcome ! From what's been written, my sense is that the laksa at Kiasu is London-style. I definitely need to get myself down to Malaysia & Singapore for the real deal !

  11. If you ever want a really awesome assam laksa in Malaysia, let me know. I found a roadside stall in Penang last year that served the best version I ever had. It's really old school as well, sitting on stools and eating off a tin metal table beside a storm drain.

  12. WB - aren't those kind of places, the best ? My travels in Malaysia have been quite limited but I'll be sure to tap into your knowledge if I ever find myself back there.

  13. The Laksas I've had so far in London were just curry noodles. No laksa leaf in it. I tried it at Malaysia Kopi Tiam and Rasa Sayang among others. I've been coming to London every spring and eat mostly Cantonese, Japanese and Straits chinese(all three of which you wont find easily or authentically in Bombay). Now your blogs are beginning to give me a better idea. I'm coming again in April. Wish me a good month's eating!

  14. catface - thanks! The best of luck in eating in London. BTW - Kiasu is now closed.