When it’s cold outside, I crave curry laksa. The sweet, creamy coconut milk and the spicy chili oil warms me up. So last week, because it was cold and because – like many Londoners – we’ve been reading Time Out’s Top 50 Restaurants in London issue, Jon and I visited Kiasu, which was Time Out’s best “Cheap Eat” in 2007.
Kiasu is right across the street from Bayswater tube. It’s easy to miss (i.e., we missed it) because their front window is covered by so much distracting window art that you don’t notice the restaurant name. I can’t say the decor gets much better inside, but when I’m eating cheap, super-nice decor just makes me suspicious (that I’m paying more for overhead than for food).
Overall, our meal was good enough for the price, but it wasn’t good enough that I’d make Kiasu a destination. The dishes we ordered were a tad bland, which is not an adjective I expected to use when describing food from the Malay peninsula, and given how good all the other reviews I read were, maybe Kiasu’s popularity has been its downfall (i.e., is the kitchen toning down flavors to appeal to more people)? It was cheap, though. Two starters, two mains, and two drinks cost under £30.
Chye tow kway (pictured above) was a little disappointing. I was expecting some spicy and some sweet mixed in with chewy turnip cake cubes and crunchy bean sprouts, but instead, I got wimpy flavors but with good textures. It was barely spicy (and I am not a spice masochist, believe me) and the sauce seemed more for color than for flavor. Our other appetizer, the oyster omelet, could also have used some more saltiness and spiciness.
I was sorely disappointed with my laksa. The noodles tasted like regular wheat-flour spaghetti, and the broth needed a lot more spice and a little more thickness. While it was a huge bowl of soup, I thought it was lame that the fish balls and the prawns were microscopically sliced to make the soup seem generous. Sure, cut out some of the relatively-expensive prawns, but fish balls? Since when were fish balls a big-ticket ingredient?
Jon’s char kway teow was essentially flat noodles with a mild teriyaki sauce. It also lacked Chinese sausage, despite the menu description including said sausage. We were both sad about the nonappearance of the Chinese sausage.
So I’d go back if I were in the area (it’s unfair to judge a place on one visit, I know), but really, if I’m in that W postcode part of town, I’d rather have the curry laksa at the High Street Ken Hare & Tortoise. I don’t like to rag on small mom-and-pop-style places, but Kiasu was packed to the rafters late on a weeknight, so I think they’ll survive my disappointment.