Serendipity is a surprising commodity; when you least seek it, that’s when you find it.
It was a cool rainy day in London in June – a typical British Summer – when I found myself wandering the streets of Bayswater without a clue of where I was heading. Seeking shelter from the wet gift from the heavens, I looked for a café or delicatessen for lunch. I glimpsed a flash of colour through the greyness of rain that was ‘Dapur’, which means ‘kitchen’ in the Malay language.
Wait a minute; let’s back up a bit so I can explain. I was born in Malaysia nearly 6 decades ago into Nyonya-Baba cuisine although I’ve lived, worked and eaten on three continents. So, when I saw the word ‘Dapur’, it meant more to me than just ‘kitchen’.
35-39 Inverness Terrace, Bayswater, London W2 3JS
It is located just a minute’s walk from Bayswater and Queensway Underground stations and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner because it also serves hotel guests.
Breakfast: Monday – Sunday 7am – 10.30am
Lunch & Dinner: Monday – Sunday 10.30am – 11pm
Dapur is an authentic halal Malaysian restaurant. Some of their signature dishes include nasi lemak (coconut rice) with beef rendang (coconut curry), mee goreng (fried noodles) with ayam goreng chili (chili fried chicken), and pumpkin masak lemak (cooked in coconut cream) for vegetarians. The recipes have been passed down through generations.
Sharizah Hashim is not a trained cook and everything she knows was learnt from her mother and grandmother. The first Dapur “take-away” outlet was founded in Holborn a little over five years ago and this 60-seat Bayswater venue started in 2019. It had been running for only three months when I visited.
When I walked in to see that seven of the nine clients and all of the staff were Malaysians, it already bodes well.
See it; Say it; Sorted.
For nostalgia, I selected Soya Cincau (pronounced chin-chow). This is a unique, regional fusion of two local drinks: soya milk and grass jelly. Grass jelly is a jelly-like dessert eaten in East and Southeast Asia. It is made from the Platostoma palustre plant (mint family) and has a mild, slightly bitter taste. The jelly is cut into thin strips so it can travel up the straw. The sweet soya milk is effectively complemented by the texture of cool, slightly bitter jelly.
Later, I showed off my cosmopolitan tendencies by ordering “American Champagne”, as an Italian waiter once called it….Coca Cola!
As a single diner, I chose from the ‘Comfort on a Plate’ section of the menu and tried the Nasi Lemak Dapur tasting platter, which was described as “Fluffy and creamy coconut rice infused with fragrant pandan leaves, served with ayam goreng, beef rendang, sambal, boiled egg, cucumber slices, fried peanuts and anchovies.”
Nasi Lemak Dapur
This is the classic and iconic Malaysian combination upon which, fortunes have been made in Malaysia and Singapore. Sultans, Prime Ministers and Presidents have been known to send envoys to the top street hawkers and fly packages home on private jets. My review shall break down the elements.
Cook books describe Sambal as a chili paste or sauce made from chili peppers with secondary ingredients such as garlic, ginger, shallot, scallion, palm sugar, lime juice and belacan (or belachan) shrimp paste. Check out my previous Malaysian nyonya reviews HERE and THERE for explanations about belacan.
I started with this smallest element on the plate because it is the most important. If you can’t make a good sambal, the whole plate doesn’t come together. The version at Dapur is made with dried anchovies and passed the test on egg and cucumber. That is the basic test of nasi lemak, which at it’s simplest and cheapest is only served with ikan bilis (anchovy) sambal and cucumber. Egg is an optional extra and nobody gets chicken or beef unless they’re rich!
Literally, ‘rice creamed’, white rice is cooked with coconut milk and aromatised with pandan leaves. Ideally, freshly squeezed grated coconut is used to produce the ‘milk’ but the version at Dapur was compromised by the canned or blocked coconut cream available in the UK. In fact, most people today don’t use fresh coconut and the ‘millennials’ may not have ever tasted old school nasi lemak before. This is the one change I would make at Dapur to get full marks.
Cucumber, Peanuts and Egg
These are the taste counterpoints for nasi lemak. The cool cucumber complements the sweet, sour, hot spiciness of the sambal and adds crunch. The hard-boiled egg is pretty tasteless on its own but the egginess is brought out by a good sambal and the egg adds ‘mouth feel’ to otherwise fluffy rice. The fried peanuts add crunch. Strictly speaking, the best are simply fried with peanut skins on instead of the dry-roast variety at Dapur.
This originated as a West Sumatran dry curry made with beef, cooked with a spice paste and coconut milk until the meat is fork-tender. The finishing process is to fry the beef with the remaining braising liquid until caramelisation around the meat. It was voted ‘Best’ in CNN’s World’s 50 Best Foods polls in 2011 and 2017.
I’ve seen grown men cry when reminiscing about their grandma’s rendang!
The version at Dapur is not quite in that league but certainly the best I’ve tasted outside Malaysia. The meat was tender as fat and collagen had rendered down without leaving a greasy mess. The spice mix was aromatic and balanced and the coconut cream had not split, that being a common mistake. Paired with the nasi lemak and cool cucumber, the combination did not overpower with coconut flavour, which is another error by lesser cooks.
This is unlike any fried chicken from Kentucky Fried Chicken. In fact, at one time in the 1970’s, the KFC outlet in Kuala Lumpur made more money per square foot than any other in the world. I thought at the time that it was a tremendous achievement in a country that knows their fried chicken. With Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist food restrictions, chicken is the meat of choice for most Malaysians, Singaporeans and Indonesians.
Dapur’s fried chicken is one of the best I’ve tasted. The chicken was lightly dusted in flour for a light crispy coating and tender, juicy, white meat inside. Obviously, the chili and spices imparted an aromatic aura and there were no bones in my “nugget”. The drumstick had a bone, naturally, that only served to keep the dark meat moist and equally flavoursome. Who would have thought that something as simple as fried chicken would get me waxing lyrical? No need for complicated recipes with buttermilk, pressure cookers and the colonel’s secret recipe….although I suspect the Dapur secret is in the flours used to attain that crispiness.
I usually don’t have dessert but in the interest of this review and nostalgia, I tried Cekodok Pisang with vanilla ice cream.
Cekodok Pisang with ice cream
Pronounced ‘chekodok’, these are essentially fried banana balls with over-ripe bananas, the version at Dapur was only average. The main handicap is the choice and proportion of banana. Whereas there are dozens of banana varieties in Malaysia, we are restricted to only one type in the West – the ubiquitous and tasteless Cavendish.
At Dapur, the lack of banana resulted in the fritters being dry and bulked out with wheat and rice flours. The frying technique was good but the substance inside was lacking. For a higher score, this would require more banana and flavour inside, as well as real vanilla ice-cream.
AlphaLuxe Two-Tongues Award
With only one tasting, I can immediately append the AlphaLuxe Two-Tongues Award for authentic Malaysian cuisine. To receive a higher grade would require further visits to assess the other dishes and improved service standards.
Opening for breakfast allows this restaurant to express a wider spectrum of Malaysian cuisine because some of the best Malay, Chinese and Indian recipes are for breakfast. Where else in London could you eat from 7am until 11pm?
Sharizah wrote on FaceBook, “As ever, we will stay true to our roots of serving authentic Malaysian cuisines. We will be open from breakfast until dinner, 7 days a week. To my customers who have been requesting for dinners and weekend openings, this is for you lot!”
If you host a large party or return repeatedly, you get to try other traditional Malay dishes and desserts such as nasi impit, cucur sayuran, sambal tumis, acar timun, bubur pulut hitam and kek gula hangus. That may not mean anything to most people but for the Illuminati, those secret codewords are enough to turn them into salivating foodies.
Classic Malaysian beverages such as teh tarik (pulled tea) and Milo (milk chocolate-flavoured) are Malaysian/Singaporean favourites at breakfast or anytime, really.
Other Malaysian Grazing Articles
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web magazine. He was former CEO of PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).