When Monsieur and I returned to London after our holiday in Malaysia, it didn’t take long before we were craving Malaysian food, so off we went in search of good Malaysian eateries in London. Before too long, we found ourselves eating at Nyonya, a restaurant in Notting Hill.
Nyonya is a word used to describe Peranakan women, that is, women who are the offspring of Chinese and Malaysian parents. The Nyonya culture is prevalent in Melaka, with food rich in distinctive spices such as tamarind, so we were keen to try it out.
Nyonya sits at the busy junction of two roads, within easy walking distance of Notting Hill Gate tube. Patrons can see the traffic and passers-by from their seats behind the floor-to-ceiling windows and passers-by can gawp back at them, if they have time to be interested. The wipe-clean tables and simple stools inside are not conducive to leisurely meals, however. This is an enter-eat-pay-and-leave type of place, but as it doesn’t pretend to be otherwise, you can’t be offended by the brusque service. Nyonya is a restaurant which has absolutely zero atmosphere with a decor so incredibly practical that everything even FEELS a sterile white. So why do a pair of atmosphere-seekers like us keep going back?
The menu is one reason. From deep-fried dumplings to satay sticks of chicken with a delightful peanut sauce that has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ about it, or the coolness of the Kerabu prawns with a sweet chilli-imbued sauce. (‘Kerabu’ means ‘salad’ in Malay). The Hainanese chicken rice is a typical Nyonya dish, which arrives looking typically white and uninspiring, but transports us back to Malaysia in one taste. I usually go for a laksa or mee soup, using my chopsticks to fish for noodles and other ingredients in the steaming broth, whilst watching my neighbours consume their choices and making mental notes to order what they’re having on our next visit.
The freshness of the ingredients at Nyonya is a huge plus in its favour, as is the laid-back vibe (even if it is a bit bland). We also appreciate the speed with which the bill arrives once it’s asked for. We hate that moment where the table is cleared and you ask for the bill but suddenly the wait staff abandon you to twiddle your thumbs. It can be a case of the invisible patron the instant you stop ordering food. Well, there’s definitely no risk of that happening at Nyonya. Masses of warmth and engagement, no. Speed and efficiency, yes. So much so that we often combine a quick bite at Nyonya with a trip to the cinema because we know won’t be kept waiting.
Monsieur and I still haven’t tried the kuih-kuih, a traditional dessert made from a family recipe, but we’ll give it a whirl next time. For now, I remember the driver who took us to our hotel in Melaka. “what do you like to eat?” I asked him. His reply was a veritable menu of dishes made with pineapple. I know he’d approve of Nyonya. They use pineapple in at least two of their mains.
2A Kensington Park Road, Notting Hill, London, W11 3BU, T 020 7243 1800