Mandalay, 444 Edgware Road, London W2 1EG
19 March 2014
Once you realise that “Burmese food can best be described as a fusion between Chinese and Indian cuisine with a slight influence from Thai food” (1), you know that you are in for a good time.
Mandalay is unprepossessing from the outside, and might be easily passed over for the shiny Azmar restaurant next door, but it is certainly worth going in. It’s a smallish place, unmistakably Burmese with large photos and pictures of distinctive golden temples, and fabric wall-hangings with embroidered maps of the country.
We asked the waiter for something specifically Burmese, and he explained (with a certain amount of pride) that while there are certain dishes that might be considered ‘national dishes’, in fact the Burmese cook dishes that may be familiar from other nations in their own distinctive way. For example, they might serve a curry, but they won’t use cinnamon or cardamom, so the flavour will be quite different from an Indian one. In other words, we could order what we liked and remain authentically Burmese.
For starters we tried the bottle gourd soup, the “dozen ingredient” soup, and a variety of fritters including calabash, bean sprout and ‘leafy green’. All of these were excellent, apart perhaps from the bottle gourd soup which was very peppery but had little else going on. We couldn’t work out what the leaves were in the leafy green fritter, but they were delicious; this delicately fried fritter was almost like seaweed tempura.
For main courses, Steve had chicken and lemongrass with coconut rice. “Good choice” said the waiter, and it was. I’ve cooked with lemongrass myself a number of times but never managed to get the beautiful lemony flavour out of it that was present here. Joe had the “twice-cooked fish” with lentil rice, the meaty fish delicious in a rich sauce that probably involved some tamarind. (We couldn’t see any lentils, but the rice was good.) Sophie had the special fried noodles, which were more of a standard stir-fry, but still good.
Often on these evenings, we come to pudding with a certain weariness, having stuffed ourselves in the earlier courses, and with a growing realisation that most nations on Earth don’t seem to be that crash-hot at pudding. However, Burma excelled again. Steve’s semolina didn’t promise much but turned out to be a firm, warm block of the stuff, soaked and surrounded in a light syrup. Sophie had banana fritter and ice cream, and Joe got ‘faluda‘, a drink common to the whole Indian subcontinent, but presented here in its special Burmese form. It’s a sort of milkshake, flavoured with rose syrup and strawberry ice cream, thickened with agar and also featuring tapioca, basil seeds and vermicelli.
Burmese food rules. This place is a definite recommendation.