A month ago, Jon and I checked out the Malaysia festival near City Hall with our friends Andy and Maggie. Generally, I’m never excited about the food sold at outdoor festivals. Regardless of what culture or event the festival celebrates, food stalls usually end up selling a mass of undifferentiated spring rolls, fried rice and sausages. You’d think I would just stop going to these things, but hope springs eternal, and this time, I was on a quest for roti canai (aka oily flatbread deliciousness served with curry dipping sauce).
Cue Awana, which had a stall at the festival serving crispy-yet-chewy roti, hot off the pan and served with an insides-warming yellow dal. It was tasty enough that this weekend, Jon and I went with two friends to eat at the restaurant itself.
We briefly considered eating early because Awana has a deal on London Eating that takes 50% off your food bill if you’re done with your table by 8 pm. But (a) I’m never hungry before 8; (b) it was Saturday night; and (c) we had other things going on earlier that day, so we resisted the temptation.
It’s too bad we skipped the deal, because while the food at Awana is pretty good, it’s just too much money for Malaysian basics like beef rendang (a coconut-milk-based quasi curry) or nasi goreng (fried rice). Most Awana main courses are £15-20; starters £5-8; and basics like white rice come at £4.50 per small bowl.
My favorite parts of the meal were the least expensive and roti-based. The chicken-and-spice-stuffed roti (murtabak ayam) pictured at top was delish. If Malaysia ever had to face off against Mexico in a stuffed flatbread competition, the murtabak‘s sweet-salty-spicy goodness would surely triumph over the quesadilla. The pickled onions on the side added a cool, tangy crunch.
Roti canai was no disappointment at £5.50 a portion, though the tiny bowl of dal was sad. Are yellow split peas just so expensive?
Beef rendang was the main courses I most looked forward to, but it wasn’t worth the £14. A little too sweet and liquidy. The coconut milk is supposed to cook out, but in Awana’s version, the beef, while tender and spicy, was still swimming in the stuff.
Fried pomfret was beautifully crispy and non-greasy, but it needed a sauce or salt; veggie chao kuew teow was inoffensive and forgettable. Red snapper curry was the best of the mains, with nice, big chunks of firm white fishiness and a spicy-sweet curry sauce.
The service was generally helpful, and the room was huge and sleek in a wannabe-hip way. We got seated in a corner that seemed reserved for tourists carrying London guidebooks, and the rest of the room was comprised of hen and stag dos. I saw more than one round of flaming shots go round. A weird vibe for a restaurant aiming for a high-end rep.
Our total for four appetizers, four mains, a forgettable dessert, and £65 of drinks came to £50 per person. I’d go back if I could get half-price food, but otherwise, I’ll keep looking elsewhere for Malaysian food.
Awana, 85 Sloane Avenue, SW3 3DX, 0207 584 8880; closest tube stations: South Kensington or Sloane Square