London - A taste of Burma at Mandalay Burmese Restaurant, Edgware Road
Finally got round to dine at Mandalay Burmese Restaurant this evening on Edgware Road. Coming to 20 years old and still going strong - I can't believe that I never noticed this place during the period I lived for a while on Northwick Terrace, St John's Woods, a mere 10 minutes' jaunt away round the corner, back in the mid-90s.
Edgware Road these days is even grungier than I remembered. When Mandalay first opened its doors back in 1994, Maroush and Ranoush Juice were the only two standout Middle-Eastern eateries - both located at the end of Edgware Road near Marble Arch. These days, Maroush has grown into a huge chain, and a multitude of Arabic eateries now lined Edgware Road, creeping ever closer to Maida Vale/Little Venice.
Dinner this evening:
- "Akyaw": three types of deep-fried fritters served piping hot - (1) julienned calabash/squash, (2) beansprouts and shrimps, and (3) chopped spinach. They tasted like a heavy Burmese take on tempura. Served with 3 types of sauce/dips: soysauce, tamarind and chilli sauce. I chose to drizzle the 3 types of sauces atop the crisp fritters. The textures here were heavier than the ones I tried in Burmese restaurants back in South-East Asia.
- "Mohinga": the Burmese national dish of rice noodles in a spiced, coconut milk-infused thin gravy. Slivers of lemongrass, coupled with the scent of dried shrimps and fish sauce gave the dish its typical aroma. But the version here was *very* much toned down compared to the more authentic versions I'd had back in Singapore (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/519238) or Kuala Lumpur (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/869339) where the Burmese communities are invariably larger. For example, the UK has roughly 10,000 Burmese (70% of whom lived in Greater London), compared to 270,000 who lived in Kuala Lumpur alone in Malaysia.
The "mohinga" I had at Mandalay lacked young banana stems - an essential part of the dish. The galangal scent was also missing, and I suspect lighter fish sauce was used in place of strong-smelling fish paste. The crisp mung-bean fritters were also not available - this garnish was also an essential part of the "mohinga". I think the lack of native Burmese ingredients in London makes it extremely difficult for any restaurateur to offer an authentic taste of Burmese cuisine.
- a Burmese egg curry - which turned out completely different from what I expected, though tasty all the same. Somehow, I was expecting hard-boiled eggs in a spicy-sour, tamarind infused sauce, but was served a large omelette smothered with a thick tomato-curry sauce instead. But it went well with the moist lentil-rice, which was cooked to the point of mushiness.
Overall, the meal wasn't exactly as I'd expected. It had been highly-recommended by various guides and publications like Time Out Eating & Drinking Guide which voted it 'Best Budget Meal" winner in 1996. But I found its cuisine very much toned down and rather bland - lacking the spices and assertive flavours I usually experienced in Burmese restaurants in SE-Asia.
Mandalay Burmese Restaurant
444 Edgware Road
London W2 1EG
Tel: +44 207 258 3696
My only experience with Burmese food was in San Francisco (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/900789), but it was fantastic and locals rave about it. In particular the Tea Leaf Salad. Interesting to see this has yet to be mentioned here? I was led to believe it was something of a Burmese specialty?
Went a few years back at the height of its popularity, i.e., when Timeout mentioned it.
Thought it was mostly bland though recall kind of enjoying the egg curry. Pub down the road was not a pleasant place to get a pint whilst waiting for my table -- nothing like the sight of a pregnant women downing alcopops to ruin an evening.
I've been there twice - once about three years ago, when it blew me away. Fantastic food - I haven't eaten Burmese before, so I am no expert, but it seemed authentic, and the dishes had a decent chilli kick.
But I went back a couple of months ago and it was really disappointing. The fritter starters were still great, but the main reason I went back - the pickled style lamb curry - was nowhere near as good as it had been - it was divine a few years ago. But this time I couldn't even detect the vinegar in the sauce - it was really bland. I mentioned that to the bloke who runs/owns the place, and he took it away. He brought it back and sure enough, it tasted of vinegar - but only because the chef had just poured some in - it was really strange.
I had remembered that dish ever since the first time, and have tried to find a recipe for it, but to no avail. So I was gutted when it was so rubbish - obviously a different chef.
I read in one of the old articles pasted on the wall in the restaurant that - at least when it first opened back in the 1990s - the restaurant was owned by two Burmese brothers, Gary and Dwight Ally, and their wives, Rebecca and Farzana, did all the cooking. Dwight was still running the restaurant when I was there - but my guess is that their wives may have passed on their aprons to new chefs.
I've been three times now, twice before my trip to Burma and once after.Even before I'd been to Burma I wasn't bowled over. Tried the Mohinga on my last visit and as you say a toned down version of Burmese food and a distinct lack of accompaniments.
The lack of ingredients is one issue (though I have found a Burmese shop in Turnpike Lane so I can get my pickled tea fix).The other issue is that they need to make money and Burmese cuisine isn't that well known so they have to temper it to attract local custom
.I was talking to a Mexican guy who has a restaurant and he said he has to offer burritos and the like because that's what people expect and he's got to make a living.
OMG, klyeoh! You used to live in St. John's Wood??!! ME TOO in the late 70's - early 80's!! Just off the high street at St. John's Wood Terrace!! Further north to your Northwick Terrace. BTW, there's a Delicatessen around the underground station, famous for American style Corned Beef and Pastrami. Wonder if its still there? ( Panzer's the namis ?? )
Anyways back to Burmese food! Thanks for the intro! Never tried this type of cuisine before! Look spicy!! No??!!
re: Charles Yu
re: Charles Yu
Same neighbourhood, different time periods, Charles. I was still in Australia during your London years. Your fave London restaurants during those years?
The Burmese cuisine I had yesterday was not spicy at all! Unlike the strong, assertive flavours of the Burmese cuisine I'd tried back in Singapore.
'La Terrazza' - Hands down!! Just off Shaftsbury Avenue inside Soho. Used to occupy all floors of a white stucco building.
Great Linguine con Vongole,.A Bisteca a la Fiorentina that I always order each time my Father come down to visit me from Wales. Lastly, an Italian style stuffed crab claws. However, one dish that stuck in my mind but never saw that appear in the menu again was Veal Medallion with a medley of sweet peppers in Vin Santo reduction. So good!