21 Jan Sambal Shiok
Opening restaurants is a labour of love, much like any start up business. Sambal Shiok’s story has a pleasing progression from street food stall in 2013 to a pop up shop and finally, last year, to a full blown laksa bar. Malaysian chef and owner Mandy Yin calls on her childhood in Kuala Lumpur to inspire the menu, focussed on laksa. This spicy rice noodle soup is the stuff of legend. There are as many laksas as there are states in Malaysia, each with their own local twist. At Sambal Shiok you’ll find a Malaccan ‘campur’ laksa, said to be a halfway house between KL’s curry laksa and Penang’s fiery sour assam laksa. I’d heard of this spot from my brother and it also got the seal of approval from my aunt and uncle who are experts in the field of Malaysian cuisine. Since then, critics Jay Rayner and Grace Dent have written glowingly about Sambal Shiok and the resulting increase in diners has been off the charts. Last week I decided to get in there and see what’s going on for myself!
My brother and I were seated at the counter, right in front of the small (and remarkably calm) kitchen. This is the best place to get all the action and nosey at what other people have ordered. We decided to order Gado Gado, an Indonesian salad, instead of the fried chicken since we were getting chicken and prawns in the laksa. It was a tricky decision as who doesn’t love fried chicken and the chef doing the frying was right in front of us, tempting us with ASMR worthy sizzling oil noises.
Incidentally, as we sat down I noticed the couple next to us had a seemingly full plate of fried chicken left but empty noodle bowls. I presumed they might still be eating, but it does seem weird to leave a starter until after your main. While I was mulling this over, a waiter came to take their plates away and before I knew it, I was asking them if they’d finished their chicken and if so would they mind me trying some….!!!! I surprised myself as I was saying it 😀 To be fair, they’d just throw it away which is just sad so really I’m doing the world a favour. They were lovely and let my brother and I have a piece each – they’d eaten half the chicken but were so full they couldn’t finish the rest. My brother did offer to pay for their drinks in return but they said not to worry, how nice! 🍗
After all that, how did the chicken taste? Obviously it was slightly cold as it had been sitting there for a while, but I imagine it was nice and crispy straight out of the fryer. There was an aniseed note which gave it a point of difference, possibly in the form of pounded fennel seeds in the batter. I would definitely recommend getting these, next time I’ll buy my own 😀
The Gado Gado was well dressed in a peanut sauce. The salad’s main components are cucumber, potato and firm tofu chunks as well as large coconut flakes and slices of red chilli. A light touch of vinegar helps balance the creaminess of the peanuts. There is also a good blend of crunchy and soft textures making this an all round tasty snack.
Now for the moment we’ve been waiting for, laksa time! It’s such a happy making dish. A bubbling pool of lava-like broth marbled with coconut milk, bobbing pieces of poached chicken and a delicate mound of shredded herbs. The traditional soup is shrimp based. There is a vegan version too and from those in the know (my family) – it is as good as the shrimp version. Hooray! Delicious broth for all! This is crucial as the soup is where laksa gets its character, that’s how you can get so many variations all over Malaysia. As well as the wonderfully succulent chicken breast, the bowl includes fat rice noodles, bean sprouts, green beans and fried tofu puffs which soak up the sauce and are fantastically squidgy. I’d put them in every curry sauce if I could, their texture is unbelievably satisfying.
The prawn version comes with five large prawns, again cooked perfectly which is to say, just cooked to allow for the fact that it’s going to be sitting in hot soup for fifteen minutes. I asked for medium heat which at first felt really chilli-fied as it was emphasised by the hot temperature of the soup, but after a while the intensity mellowed. They don’t do mild, rightly so in my opinion. It wouldn’t be authentic without a kick to it! It’s so tasty you’ll find yourself addicted to the chilli 🌶Next time I’ll go for the ‘Special’ which has both chicken and prawns, plus I’ll get half a soft boiled egg for its luxurious yolky goodness!
We had just asked for the bill when we saw the chef plating up a cute dessert. Turns out it was a pandan coconut pudding with peanut brittle and actually no we won’t leave yet we’ll have one of those please and thank you 😀 For those of you who haven’t experienced pandan yet, it’s a tropical plant whose fragrant aromatic leaves are used in both sweet and savoury dishes. This pudding had quite a strong pandan flavour which I love, particularly when paired with coconut milk. It isn’t too sweet so the pandan isn’t overpowered. What sweetness there is mainly comes from the brittle which also adds crunch. This dessert is particularly good for cooling your mouth down after the spiciness of the soup.
To my mind this is one of the best laksas I’ve eaten! It was busy when we went – it was a weekday just after 7 and we had a twenty minute wait. A hundred percent worth the wait. I came home and skyped Mr Munch who said he could tell I enjoyed it as I was talking about it ten to the dozen. Counter seats are the most fun if you get a choice – the head chef that day was friendly and had a bit of a chat with us. One favourite moment was when they were timing dishes for a table of three and two young chefs were silently staring at the covered pan containing green chilli chicken, like they were mentally willing the chicken to cook 😀 It was very endearing to watch, they seemed very concerned about the timing so they could start their noodles at the right moment! I’m very glad for their conscientiousness and long may it continue!
Thank you for reading my post! Please give it a thumbs up if you enjoyed it and if you love laksa 👍🏼Don’t forget to check out my instagram for more food and travel photos. Have a good week! 👩🏻🎻
Total receipt (2 people): £38.93
1x Chicken laksa 10.8
1x Prawn laksa 12.3
1x Gado gado salad 6.5
1x Milk pudding 5
Rating: 🌟10/10🌟I need this on a laksa drip