Review: Hot Stuff, Vauxhall, London England

Just before we reached England, I read a lengthy article by the Financial Times about how the grand tradition of the British curry house is being threatened from all sides by a range of factors including: 1) the value of the British pound making the import of ingredients from India less affordable; 2) the decreasing profit margins as prices stay stagnant according to public expectations; 3) the growth of cook-at-home or reheat-at-home Indian meals from the supermarket; 4) the increasing willingness of the British consumer to try cuisines other than Indian – Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, South American are all becoming popular.

It’s the type of situation that faced Chinese takeaways in Australia in the mid-2000s after the launch of TV shows like Masterchef – suddenly everyone was cooking their own stir fries at home rather than ordering from the local takeaway. As I’ve mentioned before, that’s why my parents ended up closing our takeaway shop ten years ago after working in the trade for well over fifteen years.

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It takes a special restaurant to be able to weather this kind of bleak environment and still command a loyal following. Hot Stuff, the local Indian restaurant in Vauxhall, London, is exactly that kind of place. Located just ten minutes away from the Bed and Breakfast that we stayed at while in London, it’s the type of restaurant where locals are greeted by name when they enter and have a good chat with the owner about what’s been happening in their lives. It’s still a family-run restaurant, and I smiled when I saw their little girl bringing dishes out to customers – it reminded me of what I used to do to help in our takeaway shop.

Now I don’t know about you, but I often find it difficult to tell madras from tikka, tandoori from korma, or masala from vindaloo. If you find yourself in the same position, don’t stress over trying to order from the menu at Hot Stuff. You just need to tell the waiter what you like, and the kitchen can customise a banquet menu just for you. So if you prefer chicken over lamb, or can’t eat spicy foods, or are allergic to shellfish – just let them know, and they’ll sort you out with the right dishes to suit your tastes.

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We happily left the choices up to our waiter (no restrictions – we eat everything and anything!). Our first dish was the Jeera Chicken – bone-in chicken drumsticks slow-cooked in a mild curry sauce with a healthy serve of cumin seeds. This dish simply defines the word tender and is a real crowd-pleaser.

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Next up was the Lamb Kebab – dramatically served on a sizzling plate that sends plumes of smoke and the irresistable aroma of fried caramelised onions wafting over your table. The lamb was very fresh and nicely spiced, but I thought the highlight was actually the incredibly sweet fried onions which were the perfect accompaniment to the lamb.

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Appetisers done and dusted, these are the main dishes that we were served – Sliced Cabbage, Masala Fish and Karahi Chicken with a serve of Pilaf Rice and a Coriander/Garlic/Chilli Naan. Some great variety here, and a great way to sample a few different dishes. My personal highlight was the fish curry – incredibly soft pieces of fish cooked in a spicy red curry sauce that was just heavenly served on a bed of spiced pilaf rice.

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I also enjoyed the sliced cabbage – a surprise for me as I normally opt for an eggplant dish when ordering off the vegetarian menu at Indian restaurants. If cabbage is stewed in delicious aromatic spices like this though, it’s something I’ll have to get used to ordering more often!

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Unbelievably, the whole meal only cost us £35, which included the cost of two soft drinks and pappadums and dips to start. There was more than enough food for two of us, and we actually probably should have taken some of it home as leftovers rather than stuffing our mouths like the pigs we are. While it is a bit more expensive than your usual Australian takeaway Indian restaurant, I honestly think the quality of the food makes it more like a visit to Aki’s in Woolloomoolloo back home in Sydney, where a banquet for two can cost you almost double what we paid at Hot Stuff.

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One of the most popular features of Hot Stuff which we didn’t take advantage of is the fact that they don’t charge for corkage. It’s rare to find, and indeed in this review of Hot Stuff in The Guardian, the writer took advantage of this generosity: “I quickly calculated that I could pop into the local Sainsbury’s and pick up a bottle of something for less than the sort of money I would usually pay in most other restaurants, and drink very well indeed. And so, to go with my chilli chicken and my lamb with butternut squash, I bought a chunk of Bordeaux which, on most lists, would weigh in at the best part of £70 but had cost me £20.” Most other diners in the restaurant seemed to do the same and brought in bottles of champagne, wine, beer – whatever took their fancy.

Sadly, our B’n’B host told us that upcoming local property developments have meant that all the shops and restaurants in that area have been given notice to vacate within the next 18 months, so that the area can be developed into the usual soulless corporate supermarkets and luxury apartment blocks. Small family-run businesses like Hot Stuff will soon have to find another location to serve delicious, homemade Indian fare. Get into Hot Stuff before it’s gone!

Hot Stuff is located at 19 Wilcox Road in Vauxhall, London, England.

A Day of Eating in Seremban, Malaysia

The paternal side of K’s family hails from Seremban in Malaysia, in the state of Negeri Sembilan. It’s only an hour and a half south of Kuala Lumpur on the train, so we try to make an effort to go and visit relatives for at least one day every time that we go to Malaysia.

We have to prepare carefully before we go though – like most Malaysians, K’s family is obsessed with food and will plan out a whole day of eating for each of our visits. I don’t just mean breakfast, lunch and dinner – in the Choy family, a day of eating isn’t complete without breakfast, morning tea, elevensies, brunch, lunch, twosies, afternoon tea, pre-dinner snacks, dinner, dessert, supper…you get the picture!

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On this visit, we managed to cut back the eating a little bit by only catching up with one branch of the family, rather than trying to meet up with everyone. We started the day with a trip to Pence Food Centre, where a number of different hawker-style stores are located. We got the Hainan Chicken Rice Balls – warm tender hainan chicken served with chicken rice shaped into balls like arancini. The clear chicken broth served with the chicken is incredibly more-ish and flavourful.

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Also at Pence, we had a bowl each of Seremban’s famous Beef Noodles. There’s a number of different stalls around Seremban that sell this type of beef noodles, and there’s also non-stop arguments amongst locals about which actually serves the best version of these noodles. Members of K’s family prefer the noodle stall at the market near the train station, but I think this version from Pence is still pretty amazing – rich, savoury sauce, sloppy noodles, and incredibly flavourful beef.

Pence Food Centre is located at 422 Jalan Seng Meng Lee, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.

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Our next stop was just down the road at the Siew Pao Master for the famous Seremban Siew Pao – they’re so famous that you can now get them in Kuala Lumpur in places like the Lot 10 food court! There’s a long queue in front of this semi-industrial bakery of locals wanting to buy box after box of the siew pao, as well as the other baked sweets, pastries, buns and delicacies. The quality and quantity of buns that the bakery churns out is incredibly impressive, and all the ones that we tasted held up surprisingly well over a few days without showing any sign of staleness at all.

Siew Pao Master is located at 368 Jalan Seng Meng Lee, 70200 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.

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The next stop was at Restoran Asia for their famous Asia Laksa. This is K’s brother’s favourite laksa shop in the whole world, as evidenced by the fact that the elderly owner of the shop remembers the boys from their visits over the years as they’ve gone back to Malaysia.  If you have the language skills and the know-how to make the request, you can customise the laksa noodles however you wish with a choice of size, noodles, spiciness, toppings, and so on. I got the mee hoon noodles, all the better for soaking up the intensely rich spiced laksa soup. The curry chicken addition on top was deliciously fragrant, though a bit too bony for my liking.

Restoran Asia is located at 364 Jalan Tok Ungku, 70100 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.

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Following the Asia Laksa, we went with K’s cousin Geraldine who took us to Haji Shariff’s for dessert…but first their Rojak! This was a really nice interlude between the heavier meals of the morning and dessert – the fresh tofu puffs and bean shoots were really refreshing, and the slightly spicy sweet sauce was very more-ish. The only downside is that Haji Shariff’s isn’t air-conditioned, and the large ceiling fans don’t do much to help cool down from the overwhelming Malaysian heat!

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Luckily, Haji Shariff’s main business is in selling different varities of  ice-cold refreshing Cendol. K got the plain cendol, but I opted for the one with red beans. Not too sweet, but sweet enough. Intensely creamy. Incredibly refreshing. Very more-ish. I was tempted to have a second bowl of the cendol just to cool down further, but I was already too full from all the eating we had already done that day!

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Haji Shariff Cendol is located at 44 Jalan Yam Tuan, 70100 Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia.

And there you have it – our day of eating in Seremban, Malaysia. We managed to squeeze six meals into six hours, and virtually had to pour ourselves onto the train back to Kuala Lumpur where we made the decision to skip having a ‘proper’ dinner. If we’d chosen to stay for dinner in Seremban, I would probably be sharing photos of roast sucking pig with you, as that’s what we had the last time we were in town!

I really enjoy visiting Seremban and K’s relatives whenever we’re in Malaysia…but boy oh boy, I always feel like I’m going to burst from overeating every time I visit!

Review: ABC Bistro Cafe, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

Now I don’t know about you, but K and I have very particular morning routines when we go travelling. We either like to have breakfast in our accommodation (e.g. breakfast included with a hotel booking or a DIY breakfast in an apartment with a kitchenette), or have breakfast very close to where we are staying, so that we can go back to our room and digest a little bit before we head out for the day.

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On our first morning in Kuala Lumpur, we found Restoran ABC Bistro Cafe, located around the corner from our hotel right near the new Nu Sentral shopping centre. ABC stands for “Always Best Choice” – a big claim! It’s the type of cafe that does a bit of everything. Run by Indians, ABC Bistro Cafe provides everything from tosai to roti, or kaya toast to ‘Western meals’. They’re open nearly around the clock as well – from 7am when we went for breakfast, to 11pm the night before when we walked past on the way back to our hotel.

Tosai Pisang (RM2.60)
Tosai Pisang (RM2.60)

I ordered the Tosai Pisang (banana dosai – or Indian-style banana crepes for those unfamiliar with dosai/tosai!) as I felt like something a little bit sweeter. Given that my experience with tosai pisang has always been as more of a dessert dish, imagine my surprise when it was served up with a range of curries! It actually worked surprisingly well, with the cooked caramelised sugar bananas working well with the spicier and more savoury curries.

Roti Chanai Biasu (RM1.30) and Roti Boom (RM2.10)
Roti Chanai Biasu (RM1.30) and Roti Boom (RM2.10)

I also ordered the Roti Boom, another sweet roti served with butter and sugar inside. It was supremely buttery and more-ish, and definitely was more of a dessert than the tosai pisang! Overall though, I feel like the tosai was tastier than the roti.

K ordered the Roti Chanai Biasu, a standard roti served with the usual two curries. Again, the roti was nice, but not quite up to scratch. When you can get better roti in Sydney (Mamak!), it’s a pretty good sign that the roti isn’t the house specialty.

Egg Float Toasted Bread (RM5 in a set with a kopi)
Egg Float Toasted Bread (RM5 in a set with a kopi)Bistr

Feeling the need for a coffee after a long flight the day before, K ordered an Egg Float Toast Set – two poached eggs on buttered toast with a coffee. The yolks on these eggs were super runny, and when drizzled with soy sauce and sprinkled with salt in the Malaysian way, are absolutely delicious when soaked up with thick cut white bread.

ABC Bistro Cafe is nothing special, and not something I would specifically seek out the next time I’m in Kuala Lumpur. What it is though, is a great example of simple Malaysian-style food, served up quickly at a cheap price. There are cafes like this all around the country, and they offer small bite-sized snacks of roti and tosai at all hours of the day. The next time I want a roti boom at 7am, 2pm, 9pm, 11pm – no matter where in Malaysia I am, I’ll find a place similar to ABC Bistro Cafe to satisfy my craving.

ABC Bistro Cafe is located at KL Sentral Monorail Station (NU Sentral), Kuala Lumpur, Brickfields, 50470.