Happy Chinese New Year to all my readers! Regardless of whether or not you are of the Asian persuasion, I hope you've all had the chance to celebrate and eat good Chinese food. In London we are blessed with a host of excellent and varied Chinese restaurants on our doorsteps, and in honour of the new year, I'd like to introduce you to three of these, starting with C&R in Westbourne Grove. It's high time I devoted a post to it since I have had countless happy meals here! Catering for homesick Malaysian Chinese expats seeking the elusive flavours of sambal, belacan and gula melaka, it's an established favourite with my family and therefore the perfect place to see in the Lunar New Year.
While flipping open the menu reveals the Chinglish typos that never fail to make me snigger (I'll bet smacked cucumbers make for a spicy evening. Yes, I have the immature humour of a 12 year old), the actual content is fairly different to the 'number 35' Chinese food you may be used to in most parts of the UK. At C&R, you can do so much better than the classic Cantonese takeaway staples of chow mein, sweet and sour pork and spring rolls.
For example, ask me about my favourite dish at C&R and I'll wax lyrical for about ten minutes about the wat tan ho. It's the closest I've found to my favourite childhood meal from 'Fatty's' in Petaling Jaya (no wonder I put on 5 kg every time I go back...) - thick, flat noodles, king prawns, fat fish balls and chewy squid swathed in a sticky egg drop sauce. Heaven.
For the true Malaysian, though, it's the fish-based asam (sour) laksa which is the main draw - rice noodles and cucumber strips swimming in that characteristically sour, spicy lemongrass broth that is catnip to those raised in Malaysia. According to my mum, C&R is the only place in London where you can get an authentic asam laksa fix. But beware - this is not a dish for the faint-hearted! The uninitiated may be left bewildered, eyes and nose streaming. Or worse, unconscious. I speak from bitter experience - but then again, I'm a spice wimp.
Usually when it's just the two of us we order the wat tan ho and asam laksa and leave with extremely contented (and often, distended bellies). But on special occasions we'll order a little extra. CNY eve definitely qualifies as such an occasion. The star dish, ordered on a whim, was the incredible butter prawns: deep fried and nestling in light flakes of batter interspersed with distinctive-tasting curry leaves and red chilli. At £16.50 this dish is not cheap by any means (by contrast, the wat tan ho and asam laksa clock in at a much more manageable £8.50 each) but oh my, it's worth it if you're willing to splash out a little.
Also incredibly delicious: this Japanese beancurd hotpot. Sizzling merrily away, it's another great dish for a celebration, and is just made to be wolfed down with a generous bowl of plump white rice.
There are so many more excellent dishes on the C&R menu that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend - the crunchy kangkung 'Morning Glory' belacan, the sweet cendol drink-dessert that transports me straight back to childhood, the roti canai and char kway teow. And for those reluctant to make the journey to the further reaches of west London, there's the younger sibling branch in the heart of Chinatown, raved about by Jay Rayner, which is also worth checking out. If you're new to Malaysian food, start here - I guarantee you'll be back for more.