Flavour fit for a Malaysian king
40 Doric Way, London NW1
Noon, in the backstreets of Euston, on a soggy August afternoon. And a queue, ten people deep, shuffling slowly, so very slowly, down some shabbily insalubrious steps. Above us there’s a cheap neon ‘Open’ sign. And another above that, ‘Euston Chinese Restaurant – Eat In or Take Away’. That place has long gone, not that you’d know it. Because the current occupants, Roti King, have placed their sign a few metres to the right. As if advertising a different location altogether.
And as you descend those stairs, any conversation muted by the roar of the air-conditioning unit, there’s plenty to read. ‘Please keep noise to a minimum.’ And ‘Cash only.’ And ‘£10 charge for any alcohol brought in.’ Welcoming it ain’t. But as the legions of Roti King loyalists know, it’s what’s inside that counts. The place is perennially packed, punters sitting hugger-mugger on communal tables, packed in like Bernard Matthews turkeys. At the front, behind a glass window, the roti master pounds, flattens and spins oily dough into flaky sheets, before griddling them and sending them out to the adoring masses.
Roti King is certainly no insider secret. If you love Malaysian food, and London, it will be a regular haunt already
Damn they’re good. Rich, finger-singeing hot and blissfully buttery, dunked into a metal bowl of runny daal, deftly spiced. Better still is the fish curry, murky as a backwoods pond, with a sharp, tamarind-based kick. Not shy with the chilli either. I guzzle it by the spoonful. Nasi lemak melds coconut-scented rice with the brittle, intensely fishy snap of deep-fried anchovies. More piscine pong from a splodge of throaty, chilli-spiked sambal. A few slices of cucumber add their welcome cool. And a rare flash of verdancy. This food is, on the whole, pretty beige. Nothing wrong with beige. Half a boiled egg loiters with intent while peanuts add yet more crunch. A few pieces of fried chicken are a touch dry, but otherwise it’s as classic a rendition of this classic Malay/Indonesian dish as you’ll find anywhere. Although no two versions are ever quite the same anyway.
Kari laksa mixes lush coconut creaminess with serious submarine depth. A good cinnamon warmth too. Flavours are not especially fierce or strident, and the sourness is beautifully judged. Fish balls are suitably bouncy, the noodles pert, tofu spongy, and generous with the prawns. A big-hearted, generous bowl of laksa loving for £7.50. It may not quite reach the superlative heights of the version at Sambal Shiok. But then they’re laksa specialists, and here it’s just one dish among many.
Kangkung Belacan, or morning glory cooked in prawn paste, is both stinky and fresh, just as it should be. That fetid gasp is all-important. Char Kuey Teow, stir-fried flat noodles with chicken, prawns and egg, are less thrilling, lacking the true char of the wok. And compared to the broad, bold flavours of the other dishes, they just seem a touch dull. Which is, perhaps, their point. At lunch there’s a whole other set menu, filled with Cantonese and Sichuan greatest hits. For all I know they may be wonderful. Or perhaps not. But there are other places that specialise in such things. At Roti King, you stick with what you know.
Who needs million-pound refits, vast wine lists and tedious tasting menus when you can stagger up those grim steps, merry as a well-fed raja, lips oily, shirt stained and belly stuffed?
Eating here can be an exercise in contortion, your next-door neighbour so close you can smell their shampoo. Sometimes, it’s necessary to wait your turn to bring spoon to mouth. Otherwise, elbows clash and things get awkwardly and very Englishly embarrassing. Paper napkins, as you’d expect, are authentically useless, disintegrating at the merest thought of food. While service is not so much brusque as brisk. Roti King is certainly no insider secret. If you love Malaysian food, and London, it will be a regular haunt already. Big flavours at small prices. And some of the best roti in town. Who needs million-pound refits, vast wine lists and tedious tasting menus when you can stagger up those grim steps, merry as a well-fed raja, lips oily, shirt stained and belly stuffed? For little more than the price of a couple of pints of beer.
£14 a head