Unit 23-25 Queensway Market, London W2
It takes some time to locate Normah’s, tucked away as it is, in the strip-lit, labyrinthine bowels of Queensway Market, among the head shops, Brazilian supermarkets, Uzbek restaurants and Russian DVD stores. I used to have an office around the corner, and must have walked past the entrance a thousand times or more on my almost daily journey from Queensway Tube to West-bourne Grove. But never made it further than the juice bar, just inside the entrance. More fool me.
Because for the past four years I was mourning the loss of C and R, my favourite Malaysian restaurant, and home of the greatest Penang Prawn Mee west of, well, Penang. That, and those peerless roti canai, like great blowsy handkerchiefs of charred, buttery bliss. Sure, there’s another branch in Chinatown, but this branch was no more than a minute’s potter away. If only I’d known about Normah’s.
Normah’s. The room is small and fairly spartan, with a few black and white photographs of a Malaysia long gone. But there’s a warmth that runs far deeper than mere decor
I wish I could take credit for finding the place myself, but if I did, I’d be a liar. Nope, I heard about it thanks to food writer Jonathan Nunn and his exhaustive guide to London’s best-value restaurants. Google it.
Anyway, when I arrive, the door is firmly locked. I knock and attract the attention of the eponymous owner, bespectacled and wearing the traditional Malay tudung. She smiles nervously, and asks if I can come back in half an hour. The Westminster health inspector is in the kitchen, on a surprise visit. ‘It’s for the good of us all,’ she says with admirable sang froid.
Thirty minutes later and the doors are open once more, the health inspector sitting in a corner, scribbling his report. The room is small and fairly spartan, with a few black and white photographs of a Malaysia long gone. But there’s a warmth that runs far deeper than mere decor, from Normah’s nephew, Aizad, who runs the front of house. And Normah herself, bustling away in the tiny kitchen, which I can see from my table.
Her classic curry laksa may lack the advertised fish ball and tofu, but the home-made paste is majestic, the soup creamy with coconut and mildly spicy, with whole prawns and a rich, redolent depth. The lovely muddy murk of the broth is dotted with tiny droplets of chilli oil. Shards of crisp onion are scattered on top, while egg noodles are pleasingly slippery and bouncy. It’s exactly what you want from a laksa. Soothing, filling, generous and knowingly spiced.
Roti canai are wonderfully light and flaky, and come with a small bowl of beef rendang. Again, the flavours are subtle rather than strident, with whispers of lemongrass, galangal, coconut, ginger and kaffir lime. The meat is soft but still has a little chew. A dish entirely comfortable in its own skin, and one that doesn’t feel the need to shout. Quietly, confidently, just right.
By this point I’m flagging. But manage to make headway into a decent chicken mee mamak, with more of those egg noodles in a sweetish, eggy sauce. It has a hint of the wok’s breath, and the crunch of crushed peanut, but I do crave a little more seasoning. The dish is a little too polite. Still, a minor quibble. Normah’s is everything you hope it would be. Good value, home-cooked Malaysian food, prepared by one of the nicest women you could imagine. And served up by her equally lovely nephew.
Normah’s is everything you hope it would be. Good value, home-cooked Malaysian food, prepared by one of the nicest women you could imagine
And there’s so much more to try… assam pedas, nasi lemak with burnished fried chicken, koey teow, garlic chicken wings, sardine curry puff and ayam pendet. I’ll be back.
I leave and, about two minutes later, realise I’ve forgotten to leave a tip. When I return, Normah and Aizad are embracing, their eyes filled with tears. ‘We passed the inspection,’ she says, beaming. ‘We want the best for our customers. We are so very happy.’
About £10-£15 per head