What do you do if you arrive in a country, wanting to make a new life, but craving the flavours of home? You bring it to the UK yourself!
Two friends arrived in the UK from cosmopolitan Hong Kong back in 1999. Street food was not in vogue here back then, so sadly the food they loved was nowhere to be found. Undeterred, they created Ekachai, bringing Cantonese, Thai and Malaysian street food dishes to our shores. Their Wandsworth branch has just been relaunched with a brand new décor and exciting new menu.
One feature of the restaurant I instantly approved of was the open kitchen. I love to see chefs at work, I admire their skill, enjoy watching the interaction between the team, the creation of the dishes. The view here is uninterrupted and possibly addictive. You won’t get ticked off for playing with your phone here, your companions will want you to stop watching the cooking and concentrate on your conversation!
I love South East Asia, travelling around it is joy. There’s always something to see, there are friendly people willing to help you everywhere you go…. And then there is the biggest draw for me: the food! As I work through my list of places I must visit and slowly tick them off one by one, I am continually impressed by the variety, verve and vibrancy of the food. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in to the food from the new menu!
Wor Tip Fried Dumplings (£4.50 below right) are a Hong Kong dim sum favourite, with more than a little similarity to Japanese Gyoza. I was delighted to see that these are handmade on the premises, rather than bought in frozen. The pork filled dumplings are filled and crimped by hand, and steam-fried. The pastry to filling ratio is well judged, meaning they have bite but are not cloying.
The cooking is spot on to prevent them becoming oily or tasting deep fried. I am a self-confessed dim sum addict, and thoroughly enjoyed these little parcels, served with a dip made from Chinese vinegar and ginger. A vegetarian option (£3.90) is also available for those who do not eat pork.
Another iconic dim sum dish is Siu Mai (£4.80 last but one pic). Again, these are hand made on the premises by Ekachai’s chefs. Minced prawn, crab meat and minced chicken are mashed up into a fresh tasting filling, and carefully shaped into a round pastry skin, which is then steamed. Healthy and low in fat, these are cute little morsels which taste so much better than the average bought-in dumplings which are so often the stock in trade of restaurants.
Salt and Pepper Tofu (£4.80 top left) fried Chinese style was next. Crispy on the outside, soft and airy on the inside, these were spiced up with sea salt, pepper, finely sliced chillies and spring onion slivers, served with a sweet chilli dip. Light, crispy and not greasy at all, these were a great little nibble, perfect to share. Although you might find that if you have a vegetarian in your party, they will not be pleased that you keep pinching their food!
The founders of Ekachai are passionate about their food, but they are also full of a sense of fun and mischief, so their launch event reflected their personalities. Demonstrations of dim sum making were not there purely for entertainment; we were being challenged to follow suit! Whilst this is the food I love, I am more of an eater than a chef. My attempts were… well, a little dodgy. Not quite “Generation Game” ridiculous, but somewhat lopsided and misshapen!
Time to sample the main courses… Seafood Laksa Curry (£8.80 pic 3 top right) is a typically Malaysian/Indonesian dish. Here it features mussels, prawns, calamari and tofu. These are served with vermicelli rice noodles in a vividly orange, turmeric infused laksa gravy with a coconut milk base. It had a little warm heat to it, rather than being incendiary, so those who crave chillis might want to ask for a little chopped chilli to go by the side.
I nearly didn’t get to try the Thai Beef in Chilli paste (£7.20 pic 3 bottom left)… all the other press invited appeared to know something I didn’t. They hoovered up all the little dishes before I had the chance to grab one! Luckily more supplies arrived, and I found that this was rightly a highlight. The Thai beef has a good chilli kick to it, the thinly sliced beef having been flash wok fried in a Thai chilli paste with fine green beans, lime leaves and dried shrimp. This reminded me of the wok stalls on the road in Thailand to be found in Chang Mai and around the Golden Triangle. Authentic and delicious.
Other dishes I would suggest are worth trying are the Vietnamese Summer Rolls (£5.20), the Char Kway Teow (£8.20 for prawns, £7.50 for tofu (pic3 top left), this dish being a Penang street food classic), Roast duck & BBQ pork rice with pak choi (£8.80), and Malaysian Chicken Kapitan (£7.20 above). Travel the east without leaving South London!
The revamped interior is informal and casual, perfect for friends and families to meet. There is a children’s menu (for a very reasonable £6), where the dishes are a little less spicy to suit younger palates. The location is perfect for the cinema, being only about 5 yards away, making this a more original pre-film dinner than your usual. Hardened foodies may feel put off that this restaurant is in a shopping centre, but I would say Ekachai deserves to be judged on its food, flavours and service over its location.
The people of Wandsworth are fortunate to have such an inventive, good quality and good value restaurant on their doorstep.
In addition to Wandsworth, Ekachai can be found at Liverpool Street, Selfridges London and Selfridges Birmingham.
205 Southside Shopping Centre (Upper concourse (1st Floor)
Wandsworth, SW18 4TE 0208 8871 3888