If there’s a thread running through the orders I’ve made for national delivery, it’s this: less an attempt to keep up with what’s ‘hot’, more a calculated attempt to recapture happy memories.
Food as lockdown panacea.
And by extension- because I scrawl my ideas on the back of this virtual fag packet- to suggest meals which might do the same for you. Things which might bring you some small measure of much-needed happiness for a few moments.
I found Sambal Shiok by accident one afternoon in 2016, sheltering from spectacular rain. Back then Mandy Yin was running her latest pop-up at Soho’s The Sun and Thirteen Cantons, and I wrote about it here.
As she’s one of very few Malaysian women chef/owners in the country, I’ve followed her career with interest ever since. National attention followed: Jay Rayner recommended a visit, while Grace Dent called Mandy “something of an emerging national treasure”. Soon she made a home on Holloway Road and founded Nasi Economy Rice next door. Her cooking has its roots in her Kuala Lumpur childhood, her education in the blend of Malay and Chinese cuisine of her Peranakan Nyonya heritage.
I had to be patient and keep checking back for replenished stock via Pezu, a new shopfront for a cluster of small independents in London. I hope you’re luckier when you order, because you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to savour what Sambal Shiok delivers.
The pineapple sambal kit is a three course meal, from curry puffs (the only thing you’ll need the oven for) delicate little pastries stuffed with golden spiced potato to prawns golden with turmeric and perfumed with lemongrass and coconut, a welcome waft of sweetness and subtle warmth.
There’s broccoli pungent with garlic: a dish of shallots, red peppers and tofu with black bean is salty-punchy in all the right places.
A flourless chocolate and cardamom cake is lighter than you’d expect, enriched with olive oil.
All of this makes for an enjoyable meal for two. But the knock-your socks-off standout, the thing you need to try for yourself if you have any love of spicing and Malaysian food? That laksa.
Sambal Shiok’s signature dish is based on a ‘campur’ style laksa found in Malacca – a cross between Kuala Lumpur’s curry laksa and Penang’s fiery assam laksa. It is the food of Mandy Yin’s heritage and is nothing short of remarkable.
The special Laksa is assembled on the hob and is the work of mere minutes. It comes, it makes no concessions to the faint of heart- the lable warns of a “strong chilli kick” but you’re encouraged to adjust heat levels to your liking with milk.
And which among us can resist the occasional lactic tweak?
Chilli isn’t what hits you first though. Yes, it has it has sourness, it has heat. It has heft. But more than that it positively hums with that unmistakable dried shrimp funk. This is plump with prawns and chicken breast and cloudy, broth-sucking tofu puffs: this is stuff you want to wallow in.
The vegan version comes highly commended too, with that Grace Dent piece starry-eyed over the house vegan laksa paste. “…it is quite unfathomably good. I’ve mulled over it for six solid days now, and I’m still no closer to working out how you get that depth of umami without charring prawn shells.”
That’s some recommendation. This bowl has me reaching for words like comforting and sustaining and vibrant and I’m glad I’m not wearing white as I linger over its intensely flavoured depths.
It’s a bowl of sheer spirit-lifting, mood-enhancing goodness. A bowl of joy in a year sometimes short of the stuff, and one of the more satisfying things I have eaten recently.
Any fan of vibrant cooking will be hooked by Mandy Yin’s food: and you didn’t even have to end up soaked through in Soho to find out about it. Get involved.
You can browse the Sambal Shiok menu and order here- https://www.pezu.com/collections/sambal-shiok
And as always- “thanks for listening, thanks for understanding…”
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This blog is a very simple thing.
I won’t try to sell you any hand lotion, exercise programmes, coffee syrups or Patagonian nose flutes. You won’t find tips on dating, ‘wellness’ or yoga mats.
I write because I love it (and food, as indicated by my increasing girth). Greed happens to be my Deadly Sin of choice, but at least it is never shy of providing me with subject matter.
A simple thing, then: all you get is me wittering on semi-coherently about places I’ve eaten at; hence a ‘restaurant blog’ rather than a ‘food blog’, although there are a few recipes scattered throughout.
From mezze to Michelin ‘fine dining’ and all points in between.