Sunday, June 01, 2008

Review: Awana at South Kensington

It's been 3 months since I've been home, but yet it somehow feels much, much longer than that ... It may be the working factor, which probably make the days feel more strenuous and long, or it might just be London itself, doing one thing to another non stop, and the only time you can slowdown is the weekend which is way too short to begin with :P

So with the taste of familiar dishes from home feeling ever so distant all of a sudden, P and I decided to go for some authentic Malaysian street food, albeit in a fine dining setting, at Awana Restaurant in Sloane Avenue, London.

Having been there once, I was pleasantly surprised as my initial doubts of losing the mamak stall atmosphere whilst having those street food wasn't really an issue after all. Awana proved that having authentic traditional Malaysian food in a classy setting is possible and the Malaysian cuisine is increasingly well known and accepted in London just like its other Asian cousins (Thai, Chinese, Indian etc). We had the Rewards Menu as P had enough points for redemption to get us both a 3 course meal free!

For starters, we had Chicken Satay with Homemade Spicy Peanut Sauce and Popiah Sayur Goreng, which are vegetable spring rolls served with sweet chilli sauce.

The Popiah/Spring rolls were fresh, crisp and piping hot when served, always a good sign. It was filled with minced carrots and chopped Chinese mushrooms, nevertheless I found it a little too salty for my taste, but the sweet tangy chili sauce balanced it out so it was okay.

Definitely preferred the chicken satay starter! Perhaps its the peanut sauce factor, but I found the succulent chicken pieces to be well marinated and grilled to perfection, slightly charred, just the way it is back home. Peanut sauce is delicious, I love the bits they sprinkle on which gives a chunkier texture so the sauce can hold better when you dip your satay into it. Would be more authentic if they had the rice squares (ketupat) to go with it as well! And of course, more peanut sauce, I could drink that thing :P

P ordered his favorite Bandung drink, which is a pink colored drink consisting of rose syrup with added milk, hence the color. A popular drink back home as its cold and sweet, Awana definitely created a classier version of this drink when served in cocktail style, with swirls of mango and raspberry puree, lychee juice, rose syrup, milk, brown sugar - Fruity Bandung. As you can see below, they've not mixed the drink entirely and the layers of red rose syrup and milk and clearly separated.

Definitely like the funky cocktail glass a lot ...

For mains, we chose Ayam goreng kacang gajus and Kari Ayam. The former is basically chicken fillets stir fried with peppers and cashew nuts, whilst the latter is good ol' comfort food of (corn fed) chicken curry served with coconut, potato and snake beans.

The dishes were served in a nice dark green/brown plate, giving the white rice a nice stark contrast. Somehow gives you an impression of the exotic tropical cuisine you're about to experience ...

All in all, I felt that they were presented well, nothing surprising or unexpected taste wise.. Perhaps its the choice of the dishes itself that is not too exciting, given that I had higher expectations from previous visit having things like Lobster Char Kuey Teow (Lobster Stir Fried Rice Noodles), so it's not comparable:) The only gripe I probably have, especially for P, is that the portions are too small, but then that serves as a great excuse to try out many other dishes in their menu, as we'll see later ...

Desserts was probably one of the more exciting courses given that I love and miss the kuih-muih (local Malay cakes/desserts) from home. We decided to go for Tiga Krim Chocolate - a trio of chocolate mousses, served on a crisp biscuit with raspberry sauce ...

and Dadar - a pandan flavored pancake with a sweet dessicated coconut filling, served with a scoop of coconut icecream! The coconut ice cream was Awana's own addition, but it matched the dadar perfectly as pancake and ice cream usually never go wrong together.

The chocolate mouse fits well into any chocoholic's dream, since it has white, milk and dark chocolate all in one plate. Being a dark chocolate fan, I was slightly disappointed as it was infused with Brandy or some sort of alchohol which distorts the bittersweet taste I was looking for... but that's just me :)
Feeling a bit underfed given the tiny portions, we decided to indulge in some extra Roti Canai goodness post desserts :) For those who are not familiar, Roti Canai is a type of local flatbread with many of its variations found mainly in Asia. It's a usual breakfast item or a great tea time snack. Definitely not the healthiest of all breakfast, but heck, its so GOOD!

We ordered a Garlic Roti Canai (£5.50) and it arrived on our table fresh and crisp 10 minutes later after witnessing the roti chef exhibiting his roti-flipping skills. Apparently they have a large flat screen LCD focusing on the chef and it seems to be quite a star attraction at Awana. And yes, I can feel all your wide gaping mouth at the price tag for this, especially when it's like 20 times cheaper in Malaysia, LOL. But rest assured, it's well worth every penny when its done to perfection as in Awana. The roti was garing (dry and crispy) outside, but soft inside and melts in your mouth instantly! The accompanying dhal curry was nice, mild and did not overpower the slight hint of garlic flavor in the roti. So they say leaving the best for last, in this case it was definitely accidental for us :)

Overall, Awana did Malaysian cuisine a great justice, providing creative improvisation of local dishes in a classy dining ambiance without losing the key authenticity features, very important in our increasingly globalised world of food.

A few words of wisdom to maximise your gastronomic and cultural experience at Awana: be brave, be adventurous in terms of trying out a variety of new dishes and definitely go for at least one Roti Canai!

85, Sloane Avenue,
London SW3 3DX
Nearest Tube: South Kensington


Lauren said...

hey grace! i always pass by this restaurant when i head to south kensington/sloane square. always wondered if it was any good, or was it just one of those places you to get ripped off. will definitely give it a try :) thanks for your review!! hope all's well. exams now. crunch time!! then i get to go home and eat my roti at my mamak. yayyy.

Grace said...

Lauren! Good to hear from you, hope exams go well :) Yup, this place is well worth a try for a taste of home, esp roti canai, let me know what you think if you check it out!