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Mei Mei

Unit 52, Borough Market, Rochester Walk, London, SE1 9AF, United Kingdom

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Mei Mei (the word “meimei” means “little sister” in Mandarin) opened in December 2019. It is the first solo venture of chef/owner Elizabeth Haigh. Ms Haigh was formerly head chef of Pidgin, which gained a Michelin star, and before that worked at Bubbledogs Kitchen Table with James Knappett. She was also head chef at Smokehouse and started her culinary career at The Royal Oak in Paley Street under Dominic Chapman. With Mei Mei she returns to her roots in Singapore, where she was born. Singapore is renowned for its hawker stalls serving cheap and often very good street food. The Mei Mei restaurant is at the western end of Borough Market near Brindisa, and at the time of my visit was open just on Thursday to Saturday evenings. There were 14 seats, mostly at a counter in the open air in the main covered market. An eight-course tasting menu for £45 was offered, along with an optional pairing featuring “low intervention” wines, or corkage at £25 per bottle. At other times a more limited three course menu was available at £25.

A milk bread roll, made in-house, had pleasant texture and came with brown butter. The first dish was beef sate, made with rump steak, and came on a bed of compressed rice cake. The beef was tender and had a peanut sauce with plenty of flavour (14/20). This was followed by fried chicken flavoured with mirin, avruga "caviar" (actually a minced herring caviar substitute that does not contain fish roe), miso mayonnaise and a “tare”, a Japanese dipping sauce. The flavours were nicely judged, the slight sweetness from the mirin working nicely with the chicken (14/20). The next dish had tomatoes (from Essex) with onion, a Hainanese chicken vinaigrette, chive oil and Thai basil. This was pleasant, though the tomatoes won’t be giving Amalfi coast tomatoes a run for their money any time soon (13/20).

The best dish of the meal was barbecued mackerel with laksa noodles, which had flavours of coconut, lemongrass, mint, shiso and coriander. The fish was precisely cooked and its natural oiliness worked really well with the spices, which combined very well; the noodles had excellent texture (15/20). This was followed by a salad of crystal lemon cucumber (a round cucumber with slightly crunchy flesh) and nectarines with a Thai style dressing involving Timur pepper from Nepal, a relative of the Sichuan peppercorn. Generally, the flavours from this kitchen were quite bold, but this dish seemed a little tentative – more of the pepper might have been beneficial (13/20). 

The final savoury course was poached Hainanese chicken with spring onion and ginger dressing with a little jug of chilli sauce. On the side was a little heap of fried rice and a side of soy-braised chard. This was all very enjoyable, and I liked the chard, which went particularly well with the chicken (14/20). For dessert there was roasted plum rice pudding, Pandang coconut and coconut sorbet, which was a pleasant way to finish the meal (13/20).

Service was directly from the chefs at the counter rather than from waiting staff, and was very friendly. The chef-owner was very much in evidence. The bill came to £74 per person including corkage. Mei Mei was an enjoyable, fun experience. It is interesting when a classically trained chef, who earned a Michelin star, turns her hand to street food. Clearly the price point means no luxury ingredients, but flavours throughout the meal were vibrant, with good use of spices, with enough garlic to fell a vampire. The cooking was precise, and it is nice to see good Singaporean food, a rather overlooked cuisine in the UK, getting a higher profile in London.

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