Wednesday, September 5, 2012

August 2012 Family Visit to London


Our family visit to London this time around struck two of my sensitive nerve junctions, which were apparently at odds with each other – the first one was (and still is) my gastronomic binge and the second is my recurring lower back pain, which is now aggressively sullying my sciatic nerve (hence my previous posting on SCIATICA, its Causes and Cure).

While the first one was voluntarily imposed on me, and I happily and unfailingly consented it, the second one was foisted on me unwillingly, albeit due to my negligence and of course due to the unforgiving hotel mattress, which was overdue and unfit for sleeping purposes (and a collectors item for our “tilam lama…tukar baru” taukehs in Malaysia). 
The 'tilam lama tukar baru' bed at Travelodge City Road

The 14 hrs air travel from KL to Newcastle via Dubai and the 7 hrs bus journey to London from Newcastle augmented the predicament I was in. All these factors aggravated the back pain I had, and when I grudgingly tried to overcome it by refusing to surrender to the pain, things got worse.

The sciatic nerve pain triggered numbness on the calf of my right leg while at times producing shooting pain like tiny pellets. My physical mobility was also reduced and I am literally incapacitated as far as my walking movement is concerned.

But in this posting, I will render my thoughts on the nerve junction that excites me most, i.e. the gastronomic escapade my family and I had (while it is still fresh on my mind) on our 4 days, 3 nights London August tour recently.

We took the National Express to London as it was cheaper 
One of our biggest agenda on the tour this time (3rd time for me, 4th for wifey and 1st for the whole family) was to savour as much Malaysian dish as we can find in London. 

It was 6 restaurants and one small canteen altogether, and among these we could not escape having one final dinner at a Turkish eatery before we leave London as our hotel was not within walking distance of any of the Malaysian restaurants…well, except for SEDAP on Old Street (which served non-halal Malaysian Chinese dish and that was not on our gastronomic radar).

The list and address (in a timeline order) below:
1.     Noodle Oodle at 50, Oxford Street, W1D 1BG.
2.     Malaysian Embassy canteen at 45 Belgrave Square, SW1X 8QT.
3.     Pak Awi’s Malaysia Hall Canteen Restaurant at 30-34 Queensborough Terrace, W2 3ST.
4.     Nur Muhammad London Restaurant at 119, Trafalgar Road, SE10 9TX.
5.     Tukdin Flavours of Malaysia at 41, Craven Road W2 3BX. 
6.     The Best Kebab, 118 Old Street EC1V 9BD a Turkish Restaurant in Old Street
7.     Bonda Cafe on 90, Sussex Gardens, Paddington W2 1PU.

On the day we arrive in London from Newcastle by National Express (22 August), I contacted Azril Ikram, a son of an old friend, who is studying at London School of Economics and asked where we could find Malaysian food nearby his place, so that we can meet up. He said there’s one nearby call ASAP, but the price is relatively expensive. Later he said he found out that this restaurant is non-halal, so he gave another choice, Rasa Sayang Express in Tottenham Court Road.

With Azril Ikram in front of Noodle Oodle
When we arrive there, we found that the restaurant had changed its name to Noodle Oodle (what a name), and it was actually on Oxford Street. Since there is a halal sign, we gave it a try.

Noodle Oodle is a Malaysian Chinese restaurant, which has existed for quite some time (since 2006) in London. It has another outlet at Queensway, in the Bayswater area. Check the info here.

The food and service was good and although the restaurant is small, it has a warm atmosphere and the feel is just like in any modern Malaysian Kopitiam. Food is quite expensive, as we understand Oxford Street is a high-end business area and one of the busiest in London.

When we were almost done, a Chinese man sitting next to us asked, “Where you from?” I said “Malaysia…”
 “Ya..la, where..?” he asked, confident that we are Malaysians as we spoke Malay and our attires show.
The family at Noodle Oodle, with Mr Chen and Azril Ikram
I said Penang…Jelutong Mali…

He said he Ipoh Mali mah… and the conversation escalates to where we attended school, what we were doing here in UK, bla-bla-bla and ends with the info that his name is Mr Chen and he owns the restaurant….hmm, good PR! Together having food with Mr Chen was Miss Ellen Chew, the director of Rasa Sayang (according to the name card she gave us). Checkout Rasa Sayang’s website.

The next day we headed for the Malaysian Embassy in Belgrave Square for an official business as my wife needed to get some papers signed. We reached there at 8am but the Embassy opens at 9am. As we were early, we looked for a place to sit and wait and also searched the map, if there’s any food outlet nearby, but couldn’t locate any.

In front of the Malaysian High Commission in London
When we were at the Embassy again at about 8.45am, we saw a small queue of Malaysians on the stairs leading to the main entrance, mostly Chinese. And there my wife noticed a small canteen on the basement entrance of the Embassy.

I went down there and asked the canteen caretaker if she is Malay, as she looked Asian (could be mixed), but she said she’s Nepalese and cannot speak Malay. When I checked the food displayed, the saliva in my mouth starts to literally drip. Stacks of Nasi Lemak, Bihun Goreng and Mee Goreng, in plastic containers and plates of karipap, cucur udang and cucur kodok were placed on the counter….just like in any office canteen in Malaysia…what luck.

We tried Nasi Lemak (GBP3.50 each), very basic with sambal ikan bilis, 2 slices cucumber and half of a fully boiled egg -- quite expensive though for a small canteen. But the teh tarik (GBP1.00) was cheap, nice and tasty like any Malaysian made teh tarik. The karipap costs 50p each and I ate 2, but it was not very tasty. Before leaving I bought one container of Mee Goreng (GBP3.00) for wifey and she said it was delicious. If you have any dealings with the embassy, come here early and try the food there. 

Since the papers that my wife needed signed at the Embassy couldn’t be done immediately and were to be collected at 3.30pm, we headed for Trafalgar Square for some photo shoot and also visited the National Gallery. At about noon we continued our gastronomic journey at (Pak Awi’s) MSD canteen restaurant in Queensborough Terrace in Bayswater area.
Pak Awi's menu is the best
The MSD Canteen is our regular place when in London. Since our first time here (2009), we can’t deny that this is the best place that serves delicious authentic Malaysian dish and the service is very good too. And the most important thing is it is affordable, especially if you are here touring London with your family and are on a tight budget.

This canteen was actually established for the convenience of Malaysian students in London. With an added bonus of cheap prices subsidised by the Malaysian government, this place is a must for any Malaysian visiting London. The atmosphere is just like being in one of the restaurants or eating stalls in Malaysia with almost everybody speaking Malay. So, if you are in London, this is the best place to fill in the empty blanks in your tummy without having to dig a hole in your pockets. Check their page here.

On the third day (24 August) we set our journey to Greenwich. The Greenwich Park is where the Royal Observatory and London Planetarium are located. This is also the location of the prime meridian.

Cutty Sark on the background
After taking some photos at the waterfront and historic ship Cutty Sark, we walk towards Greenwich Park and tried to enter the Observatory through the entrance of The National Maritime Museum. We were told the entrance has been shifted elsewhere due to the Paralympics preparation, which was located on a huge part of the Greenwich Park.

Feeling tired and hungry we decided to walk another one kilometer towards Trafalgar Road to find another Malaysian restaurant here, the Nur Muhammad London Restaurant.

Visiting Nur Muhammad London Restaurant is one the main reason why I chose Greenwich as a place to visit in this London family tour. I knew about this restaurant when reading a blog post on NurMuhammad. This blog was introduced to me by a blogger, Dr. Yati from Heliconia weblog (http://heliconia.wordpress.com/).

The food was delicious, albeit relatively expensive as compared to Pak Awi’s. A plate of Nasi Lemak with chicken costs GBP4.50 and other ala carte costs around GBP4.00 – 4.50. Drinks are also a bit expensive, a teh tarik or sirap bandung cost GBP1.50 each. Actually, I don’t mind they charge the same if the restaurant is in zone 1 in London city area. Greenwich however is in zone 2 and if you consider the transport charges to get here just to get a taste of Malaysian food, it can be regarded as expensive, I would fairly say. So, this place is not highly recommended, unless you are here for something else, like visiting Greenwich Park.

We were there for around 40-50 minutes (service was very slow), but there were no other customers beside us. When I had almost finished my plate of nasi lemak, the second dish we ordered arrived and we had to wait some 15-20 minutes for the third, fourth and last order to arrive after that.

Nasi Lemak ayam goreng that took ages to arrive
That is why I see so many things amiss about the Nur Muhammad London Restaurant. Firstly, the location is very far from places where Malaysian students and Muslim tourists usually flock. Second is that the service is slow. You know what they say about priorities for survival in starting or opening a business outlet – a good location must be the number one priority among all else. Second is customer satisfaction. To me it seems that the restaurant has relegated all the priorities and put idealism and politics above all else. But I stand corrected.
With Saedullah Din, Nur Muhammad London manager


I had a talk with the manager, Tuan Saedullah Din and asked why they chose this location? Not much info can be gathered from him as he said he had only taken over the running of this place since 5 or 6 months ago and the financial aspects and business accounts of the restaurant was done by someone else (he did mentioned an Ali Tahir who managed the restaurant before him) and under the main organisation, Global Ikhwan Sdn Bhd (GISB).

GISB is a successful Malaysian Muslim company doing all kinds of businesses from restaurants, trading to halal food production, graphic design, printing and also video production. Their offices and restaurants can be found worldwide, mostly in middle east Asia. Will try to write about this company and their successes in another posting. Anyway, Tuan Saedullah did tell me that Ali Tahir was about to open another Nur Muhammad Restaurant in Manchester. They have already found a location. I wish all the best to them, Nur Muhammad Restaurant and Global Ikhwan Sdn Bhd.

In front of the Meridien Line 0'0'0'
To get to the Royal Observatory we had to climb a steep road, and this was a big challenge for me as I worry my back pain would recur, but luckily it did not. After visiting the Greenwich Royal Observatory, London Planetarium and the location of the prime meridian we were really tired. So, we headed back to the hotel and dozed off for a while before deciding on our next visit. 

Later in the afternoon we did some asking around and searched the net to locate Tukdin restaurant in Craven Road. We know the restaurant is in Bayswater area, but which tube station is the nearest to get there? A friend informed us that the nearest tube station is Lancaster Gate, but the map shows that Paddington is nearer. So we decided on the latter.

But getting to Paddington station is very tricky, as there are 3 Paddington stations on the map, and we had to change trains at Edgware station to get to our choice of Paddington to be at the nearest way out to Craven Road. The food and service at Tukdin was good, but as we had expected, the price was a bit on the expensive side as Tukdin is a fine dining restaurant. We had rice with oxtail soup, fish in spicy chilly, chicken cubes in sour gravy, and sirap bandung and cream soda for the drinks. But surprisingly, the price was cheaper than Noodle Oodle. Checkout Tukdin Flavours of Malaysia website.
with Tukdin



And the best part was that we managed to chat with Tukdin himself and ask about how other Malaysians are doing in the food business in UK. I wish I had more time to chat on other topics …a very charming and talkative person indeed, Tukdin.

Dinner that night was at the The Best Kebab, a Turkish restaurant at 118 Old Street nearby our hotel in City Road. As I was a bit full from Tukdin’s, so I didn’t munch much. But wifey said as compared to our other London visits this was the best middle-eastern food she have had so far. I do not know what was on the plate, so I dare not comment. But you can see them on the pic below.
The next day we had to catch the bus back to Newcastle at 12.00 noon. Since we had time in the morning so we decided to try Bonda Café in Paddington. Bonda Café is a Malaysian restaurant owned and run by a friend of a friend (both are psychiatrists in Malaysia) who recommended that we try out this place.

We reached Paddington Station early at around 8.30am. At this moment in time the pain on my leg got worse. So, I was not able to join the rest of my family members at Bonda Café. My wife took the kids there while I waited near Paddington Station, as I was writhing in pain and not able to walk anymore.

This part on Bonda Cafe was written by Bakiah Shaharuddin:
The small Bonda Cafe signboard
Bonda Cafe is a halal restaurant situated at the basement of MARA House at the intersection of Sussex Gardens and Spring Street (Full address: 190 Sussex Gardens, Paddington, London, W2 1PU).  It turned out that the owner of the café is a Psychiatrist who used to work and study at our university in Malaysia, and the visit was actually recommended by our colleague.

There was only a simple bunting indicating the café near the staircase leading to the basement. As it was still early, there were not many customers besides us, another family was having nasi lemak (fragrant rice), and since there wasn’t much on the offering, we opted for the same. The drinks were of course, teh tarik for all of us. The ceiling was low, being at the basement level, it gave a gloomy ambience and the café wasn’t decorated much, catering to the basic needs for a standard eatery, and would be a letdown if you’d expected a fine dining experience. The nasi lemak was nothing to shout for, but according to my son, the sambal was very tasty (as he mostly likes spicy food). For 4 servings of nasi lemak (one with a fried chicken) and drinks we were charged £23.50, which is relatively cheap for the regularly overpriced London restaurants.
Traffic crawl after leaving London City
At around 5 minutes before 11.00 we reached Victoria Coach Station to catch the bus back to Newcastle on the 12pm schedule. The ride back home wasn’t a smooth one, as for the first 3hrs out of the 7hr ride, we had to go through a massive traffic crawl. Wife told me it would be a public holiday on Monday, so London city workers who drive are rushing back in droves to their hometown up north, as it was a Saturday.

A bus ride from London to Newcastle would normally take 6hrs with one stop.

Related article: Malaysian Restaurants in the UK
Newcastle upon Tyne, Fenham dan Komuniti Orang Melayu Part 2


9 comments:

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