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London - Rasa Sayang in Chinatown

We walked into Rasa Sayang in Chinatown last night more out of curiousity than anything else. It’s been a while since I had Malaysian-Singaporean food in London, whilst my 3 Malaysian companions had never tried “Malaysian food”, London-style.

Honestly, we didn’t have high expectations but, even then, the food at Rasa Sayang came up short – hardly authentic nor passably good :-(

- Nasi Lemak, Malaysia’s unofficial national dish. Rasa Sayang’s version used tinned cconut milk instead of fresh one (understandably here in the UK) resulting in a less than “lemak” or “creamy-rich” flavor of the rice – but I found it strange that the rice also contained a star-anise scent. I’d had rare occasions of clove-scented nasi lemak (still a no-no to purists), but Rasa Sayang’s version was strange. Also, disappointingly, no “pandan-leaf” scent. The chicken curry was rather bland, whilst the watery “achar” pickles was a nightmare;

- Hainanese chicken rice- this came up more decent, although I’d had a version which tasted inestimably better here in London more than 15 years ago at Singapore Garden. Rasa Sayang’s rice lacked the oily-rich, garlicky, gingery taste which we Singaporeans (and Malaysians) treasure above all in Hainanese chicken rice. Again, the”pandan” scent was missing;

- The prawn & pork noodles in soup: seemed to be Rasa Sayang’s take on Penang-style Hokkien prawn mee, except that their soup stock lacked the prawny-porky robustness requisite of the dish, and was also way too salty. Also, inexplicably added squid & fish balls;

- The other side dishes we ordered were also odd: “Kueh Pie Tee” had green and orange-tinted fish roe topping, whilst authentic “pie tee” in Malaysia have crisp, brown shallots & sprigs of coriander. In Singapore, we sometimes add minced hard-boiled egg, too.

- The deep-fried spring rolls had curried potato filling, reminiscent of triangular-shaped Malaysian samosas. Again, we failed to understand why Rasa Sayang chose to unnecessarily tweak the dish – why not stick to authenticity?

Looking around, we noticed no other Malaysians-Singaporeans amongst the diners on the ground floor dining area we’re seated at - I guess that should have been a giveaway.

I thought the best Malaysian/Singaporean spot in London remained Sedap at Old Street. Their cuisine had also been slightly tweaked to suit local tastes, but at least remained decently tasty.

As for Rasa Sayang, well, we were sorely disappointed.

102 Old St, Islington, Greater London EC1V 9, GB

Rasa Sayang
5 Macclesfield St, London W1D 6AY, GB

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  1. Pics of the food at Rasa Sayang:

    2 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh


      I must say none of the dishes looked particularly appetizing from the pictures. :-( The Penang Har Mee looks the worst amongst them. Hmm, was the Hainanese chicken laid atop bean sprouts then doused w/ soy sauce? (Bean sprouts - for this dish - ick)

      Leicester Sq/Soho area - I guess the place is definitely dumbed down for the tourists/locals?

      1. re: huiray

        huiray, your observation as spot on - the beansprouts thang was also precisely the first anomaly I noticed. Raised eyebrows all round at our table - coincidentally, the Malaysian colleague who got the dish happened to be of Hainanese decent :-D

        Anyway, I reckoned that Rasa Sayang got the idea of serving beansprouts with poached chicken from Ipoh-style "nga choy gai", though in Ipoh, the beansprouts came in a separate plate from the chicken, and are *not* doused in dark-colored soysauce.

    2. We've had fairly decent food at CR Cafe on Rupert Court. Not quite up to sedap standards but more convenient if you're in town.

      3 Replies
      1. re: gembellina

        The wan tan ho at C&R is very good. But with many Singapore/Malaysian places there are usually strengths and weaknesses in a large menu, as many of these dishes are typically made by stalls that specialises in very few or sometimes just one dish. At Sedap I tend to focus on the Penang nyona curries and skip the more generic Singapore/Malaysian parts of the menu.

        1. re: limster

          If I may be permitted a bit of nostalgia, c&r was one of my first few discoveries ohhh a decade ago. Glad to know they are still doing some things well.

          Otoh, the Westbourne Grove branch always disappoints.

        2. re: gembellina

          Thanks for highlighting C&R. I'll probably check that out next time. Don't think I'm up for Malaysian/Singaporean again so soon - London offers so many other interesting dining possibilities.

        3. Well I am in a real quest for 'Malaysian' food.
          Singapore Gardens is not far from my house, and I really enjoyed Sedap.
          I am just bored of the usual chinese food served in London which I know is a big generalisation. I enjoy something with a bit more spice / kick.

          I also find Thai food in London disappointing, as the sauce and the meat / fish / chicken never seem to integrate the flavour, probably as the sauce is just poured over.

          Any suggestions gratefully received ... Thank you

          4 Replies
          1. re: condor

            I had pretty authentic Thai at the Heron recently:


            I'll leave the UK-based Hounds to recommend their favorite Malaysian/Singaporean to you.

            So far, Bugis St Brasserie (Millennium Gloucester) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/828467 and Malaysia Kopitiam (ShaftesburyAve) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/827639 which I visited on this short visit had been fine for the specific noodle dishes which I ordered at each respective place.

            1. re: condor

              I had a great lunch at the Bonda cafe in Paddington last week. Absolute bargain price for authentic homestyle Malaysian fare...£6 odd for a plate of rice 2 mains and vegetables. Delightful service in fairly utilitarian surroundings and free WiFi. There is plenty on the menu to explore.

              FYI Malaysia Kopitiam is on Charing Cross Road and IMHO serves the best Roti and Chicken Rice in town

              1. re: zedman_1

                On weekends Bonda Cafe serves a range of dishes with rice a la nasi padang, but I think that the £9 buffet that klyeoh mentioned above is a slightly better deal, albeit with different types of dishes. I like the place a lot too, but need to try the nearby malaysian student canteen, which DaveMP liked more than Bonda. Have you tried Eatzone in Kentish Town? Liked some of their dishes but haven't been in a long time.

                Also has anyone had the satay at Puji Puji? A Malaysian friend said the satay there was good but everything else is poor. That was a couple of years ago, and I've still yet to follow up on that tip.

              2. re: condor

                Khaosan (Westbourne Grove) appears to be related to the Heron as mentioned on their website and serves an excellent soft shell crab. Need to go back to sample more dishes.

                For central Thai, Kaosarn in Brixton Village (unrelated to above) is probably the best I've tried, but you have to get the chef to do the cooking. It's happening less and less now, as they've gotten super busy and many dishes are deputised to cooks. One possible strategy is to order off menu, since as greedygirl mentioned as long while ago, that they're willing to cooking any Thai dish provided that they have the ingredients for it. We've had a great banquet there by specifying price range and number of people, and letting the chef cook whatever he wanted: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/782829 so that could be another strategy.

              3. Interesting article in The Star Malaysia last Saturday on Rasa Sayang's Ipoh-born owner, Teddy Chen, who first came to London from Malaysia back in 1964:

                1. Yeah this place sucks. C&R is also not great.

                  Try Malaysia Kopi Tiam on Charing Cross Road and Bonda Cafe (i think it's a cafeteria/restaurant in the basement of a Malaysian student hostel).

                  1. Rasa Sayang was featured in the Food Channel program "Singapore Flavours" (http://www4.mediacorp.sg/contentdistr...) recently. Each episode of the program concentrated on one particular Singapore food item, e.g. fish-head curry, Singapore laksa, etc., and different hosts will visit disparate cities on different continents (Tokyo, London, San Francisco, Adelaide, etc.) to suss out the way Singaporean owner/chefs there re-produce the dish for their local clientele.

                    The recent episode on Hainanese chicken rice saw one of the hosts, Chen Han-wei (陳漢瑋) visiting Rasa Sayang in London. What I thought was interesting was that the lady owner-chef of Rasa Sayang said they actually serve *different versions* of the Hainanese chicken rice to their clients, depending on whether the clients are Caucasian or Oriental. The Caucasian clients will be served chicken white (breast) meat, and the chicken will be warm, whereas the Oriental-looking clientele will be served the dark (drumstick/thigh) meat relatively cold - the way Singaporeans (& other Chinese) are used to eating poached Hainanese chicken.

                    What raised my eye-brows was when the owner-chef said that, in the days when the orders were hand-written manually, they'd mark order chits of Caucasian customers with the character "鬼" (meaning 'ghost') so the chef in the kitchen knew which preparation he needs to make. Of course, with the new computerised system nowadays, the orders are differentiatied by the words "Hot" (for Caucasian customers) or "Cold" (for Chinese/Oriental customers). Anyway, this program was broadcasted in Mandarin-Chinese - not too sure what some London clients would think of being labelled as 'ghosts'! ;-)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: klyeoh

                      Okay, I returned to Rasa Sayang again this evening to see if the Hainanese chicken rice was *any* better arising from the Singapore TV program (mentioned above) which seemed to have positive reviews of the place.

                      Verdict: Nope, it's as disappointing as the last time: the poached chicken has a strange flavor which I didn't think resemble the taste of Hainanese-style chicken we get back home in Singapore. The rice, too, tasted different from what I'd expect Hainanese-style chicken would taste like.

                      The saving grace was the "sambal petai" (stink-beans) with prawns which was piquant and aromatic. I ate more "petai" this evening in one sitting than all the "petai" I'd eaten in Malaysia/Singapore in the past one year! I'd probably some back to Rasa Sayang for this dish, but not much of anything else.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        What *did* it taste like?

                        Does "Hainanese-style" chicken rice in other places in the UK taste similar to you?

                        1. re: huiray

                          I'm not sure why they seemed to have a 'sauteed' or 'browned' onion/shallot flavor, or why the rice was slightly beige in color - soysauce added during cooking? The rice also had a less pronounced garlic flavor, probably to suit local tastes here.

                          In Singapore, good Hainanese-style chicken rice would taste of chicken fat, ginger, scallions & garlic, with fresh pandan leave-scent - you walk into just about *any* restaurant or food stall, and you can find good, correctly-cooked chicken rice.

                          Singapore Garden in Swiss Cottage here serves a good version, but I haven't been back there for yonks.

                          I'm disappointed with Rasa Sayang but think they *can* produce an authentic version if they *really* want to. In the "Singapore Flavours" program I alluded to earlier, they did show how they prepare Hainanese chicken rice, and all the right steps (and ingredients) were used then. The end-product also looked *vastly* different from the ones I'd tried twice already at the restaurant :-(

                    2. Agreed that place is absolutely awful.