Rustom Irani reviews the Ramadan Set Menu at Awana
85 Sloane Avenue
Tel: 020 7584 8880
Tubes: South Kensington or Sloane Square
Awana considers itself to be the leading exponent of Malaysian cuisine in London. With a Chelsea address and a plush interior of teakwood floors and pillars, batique silk walls and red leather seats, the restaurant has cultivated an image of a posh ethnic dining experience, yet at manageable prices. It often offers special promotional set menus to entice punters through its doors.
To mark this year’s Ramadan (the Islamic practice of fasting during daylight hours), Awana is offering (until September 19th) a Ramadan set menu (£23.50) for Muslims (or indeed non-Muslims) which can be served up to 11.30pm. Billed as a seven dish menu, it is in fact a three course menu in disguise.
The opening dish is a plate of succulent honey dates, a traditional way for Muslims to break their fast and raise blood sugar levels. On to the starter, a ‘satay daging’ (beef skewers with a peanut sauce) alongside some ‘roti canai’ (Malaysian bread). My guest thought the beef tender and despite disliking peanuts still enjoyed the subtle satay sauce.
Having abstained from meat for decades, I was offered a vegetarian alternative of (organic) tofu with plum tomato skewers. The tofu, crisp and perfectly cooked, was truly excellent, although the tomatoes didn’t combine well for me. The satay sauce was delicate, though, unlike my guest, I don’t mind a stronger peanut kick. The roti, which one can watch hand-thrown and cooked behind a corner counter, was we both agreed sensational, delicate with almost a pancake texture.
The restaurant was by now full and buzzing, but with plenty of waiting staff, the service was attentive. Main course was a combination of steamed rice, a vegetable stir-fry, and a dish of corn fed chicken pieces cooked in a tomato stew (and a vegetable curry alternative for me). The waiter explained that this food very much reflected the multicultural make-up of Malaysia: the chicken dish is typically (muslim) malay, the stir-fry obviously Chinese, and the vegetable curry Indian. Again my guest thought her (chicken) meat was cooked well and the sauce mild, while I found the curry of high quality (although as much Thai as Indian). The stir-fry vegetables were a decent mixture of mainly cauliflower, peppers, mange tout, sweetcorn and aubergine. Portions weren’t huge but sufficient. Meanwhile, for those who wish to drink alcohol, we were recommended one of the house white wines (£5.50 a glass or £19 a bottle), an Australian Semillon Chardonnay, which my guest took to like a fish to water.
To round off the evening we finished with a ‘Bobo Chacha’ dessert, an extraordinary combination of yam and sweet potato pieces (found in Malaysia as well as the Caribbean) with a little jelly in warm coconut cream. I hardly know what to say. The head waiter said it wasn’t everybody’s cup of tea as obviously customers have mixed reactions. Both I and my guest could have eaten pints of the warm milky cream and yet were intrigued and ultimately baffled by the yam and sweet potato.
Overall, I’d say Awana is well worth a visit, for the Ramadan menu or a la carte or indeed for its veggie options. It definitely has the feel of a special night out and with the above average food, friendly staff and regular price deals, I can see why it was packed full on a mid-week evening.