A labour of love of Malay émigré Jim Khor, Nasi Lemak (its namesake is a fragrant Malay rice dish cooked in coconut milk) is a street kitchen that’s hooked on flavours from the old country.
Here for a decade, and with a successful takeaway in nearby Salford that’s popular with vegans, Jim’s opening of Nasi Lemak in The Kitchens brings it in line with a project that’s offering small food businesses the chance for a city centre address for a few months (Monday to Friday noon to 9pm).
Nasi Lemak sits between Indian Chaat Cart on one side and the appetising dumplings of Dim Sum Su on the other. The temporary nature of the surrounding is perhaps best exhibited in its sparse décor. And although the long rustic pine picnic tables and benches dressed with potted cacti and tea lights alongside strings of flashing fairy lights festooning the windows might suggest a relaxed vibe, the food is far from thrown together.
Malaysia’s mix of cultural references makes for an intriguing and eclectic menu. The small kitchen necessitates a concise menu of food and drink, but with choices such as a local 5.6% IPA called Shindigger, with its well-balanced citrus zing and gentle bitterness (perfect to combat Malay heat) on offer, rest assured everything’s deserved of its place.
A starter of three tasting plates begins with salt and pepper ‘mock chicken’ or seitan. Sourced from Taiwan, it’s a vegan favourite, fresh and spicy and with a uniquely meaty consistency. Sambal prawns have serious heat courtesy of Jim’s dab hand with spice.
The Rempah fried chicken, already a local favourite, takes boneless chicken pieces and marinades them in a spiced batter, before deep-frying them with shallots. The mains bring more heat. Penang-style ramen noodles bring together crunchy veg with sweetly flavoured chicken pieces, and a mushroom sauce smacks of umami. Chicken laksa features prawns with bite alongside noodles and an aromatic broth laced with ginger, coconut, tamarind and chilli.
The early evening brings the best out in the venue, with jazz in the background tailing off around 8.30pm. Be sure to head here for good value authentic flavours.
Nasi Lemak: Malaysian Street Kitchen
The Kitchens, Irwell Square
Words by Kirstie McCrum, written February 2016
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