Wednesday, 11 July 2018

(The Star) More than just fish and chips

Does the seriousness of a true British restaurant rest in its fish and chips?

The irresistible, steamy and perfectly battered fried fish with a side of chunky, golden fries is as ubiquitous to the English as a plate of hot nasi kandar in Penang is to Malaysians.

But, what was just said is not true, specifically the part about fish and chips being the holy grail of British cuisine.

No, their national dish is the Chicken Tikka Masala. This is partly because anyone who has been to London will know they can find any food their hearts desire, just like us in Malaysia.

The Chicken Taquito has fresh and crunchy textures.

It was actually Britain’s former foreign secretary, the late Robin Cook, in the early 2000s who claimed the spicy, Indian curry as their national dish because of the way Britain “adapts and absorbs external influences”.

“We have everything in London,” exudes W1 – Dining, Bar, Cocktails co-owner Daniel Thompson.

The newish and charming restaurant has joined the foray of “chic” dining joints along Bangsar’s Telawi enclave.

From the outside, along Jalan Telawi 2, you might miss W1 (which is a postcode district in London) because of its subtle, black and gold industrial-themed interior nestled behind a perfectly pruned “W1” hedge, ironically.

Forty-something Thompson has been around the Bangsar block, literally, since his heyday helming the famed and now defunct Telawi Street Bistro. His other venture was Twenty.One Kitchen + Bar, and he has come a long way from working in his father’s restaurant in north- east London as a teenager, to running a chain of vodka bars in London.

W1 in Bangsar’s Telawi area offers a casual dining experience.

An Englishman in Kuala Lumpur who considers English food as boring, Thompson elevates W1 by offering eclectic, London-style dining in a relaxed ambience, replete with London-inspired art of painted murals and Banksy prints on the matte black brick revealing walls.

And of course, there is the essential Pimm’s special drink menu reminiscent of the English summer.

They are not in any way posh (think modern, gastropub), so he says, as evidenced in the way he and chef Chong Chee Seng are doing away with the rigidity of the starter-main-dessert type menus.

Prices are not expensive in the least, ranging from the low teens to high sixties, in spite of the location.

In fact, they encourage constant grazing, where no one is kept waiting for their food and every dish arrives at the table simultaneously.

Their London Street Food specials, which will last until July 31, has Chicken Taquitos, Duck Noodles, Baked Cheese Meatballs and the Steak & Egg Sandwich.

The light and velvety Beetroot Spaghetti.

One audacious customer scoffed at the un-British inclusion of duck noodles in the menu.

The taquitos comprising pimento cheese and guacamole in a crunchy corn tortilla, and the duck did not disappoint, especially with crispy duck skin enhancing the texture of the dish.

For August and September, there will be a Malaysia Specials menu to coincide with Merdeka celebrations, followed by a British India theme for October and November.

Their small plate of Beetroot Spaghetti with feta cheese mousse will have anyone blushing as bright as fuchsia from its light, velvety goodness.

W1 doesn’t serve Chicken Tikka Masala, but their Butter Fish Tikka Masala is impressive, made with such respect to the fish where Chong infuses it overnight with ginger, lemongrass, garlic, curry powder and herbs. In keeping with the ambience, the healthy chunk of perfectly cooked fish is embellished with almond cream, okra tempura and green chilli.

Avocado lovers can rejoice, as much as I did, with the Grilled Avocado, drizzled with well-balanced onion puree and quinoa, with sprinkles of sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds.

We decide to give W1’s Englishness some justice, with Thompson’s willingness to abet, by ordering the Pie & Mash, Fish & Chips and Steak Diane.

Thompson says he finds British food boring.

A nice, flaky crust envelopes the creamy chicken and potatoes. As someone who initially did not want fish and chips on the menu, fearing its blandness will cramp the style of the other dishes, Thompson included it in the menu anyway. The seabass is as fresh and crispy as it should be, with hot fries and warm mushy peas.

The striploin in the steak had a medium doneness and was succulent, and uncomplicated.

For dessert, ending your feast of flavourful non-bland food has to include the very English Eaton Mess, which has a delicious and refreshing strawberry sorbet and yoghurt cream, and the Sticky Cola Pudding.

As the name suggests, Chong uses the soda instead of dates. I liked that both desserts had just the right amount of sweetness that left me feeling satisfied.

W1, 22, Jalan Telawi 2, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur. (Tel: 016-221 6512). Business hours: 4pm to 1am (from Tuesday to Saturday); noon to 10pm on Sunday. Closed on Monday. Pork-free.

This is the writer’s observation and not an endorsement by StarMetro.