This Malaysian restaurant is in the Edgware Road, quite near Paddington station, and has been open for jist over a year. Its owners previously ran a restaurant called Pak Awie in nearby Southwick Street. Melur is a long way from one of those gussied-up pan-Asian places operating in Knightsbridge. This is more your cheap chairs in a basement lit by neon type of operation. The menu was lengthy, with plenty of Malaysian and Indonesian dishes, and the odd Thai dish too, but no alcohol is served here. The menu has groupings like “starters” and “meat” but as we discovered, this kind of compartmentalising was restricted to the mind of the menu designer.
Beef rendang is a benchmark dish in any such restaurant, a sort of coconut beef stew that had its origins in Indonesia in the days before refrigeration. Coconut milk and a spice paste are used to coat the pieces of meat, which are slowly cooked until the cooking liquid disappears as it is absorbed into the beef. The anti-microbial properties of the spices act as a preservative, and the dish apparently can be eaten weeks later if correctly prepared. The version here was good, all but one piece of beef tender, the meat dark brown from the cooking but avoiding being burnt. The spices were blended nicely, and although I have eaten better rendang this was certainly good (13/20).
The other star dish was roti canai, the thin paratha style bread prepared fresh to order, which is apparently a very recent innovation in the kitchen. The bread had excellent texture, served with a rich curry sauce, which in this case included cloves, for dipping (13/20). Sadly, this standard of dish was not universal. Deep fried prawns with crisp garlic featured cheap prawns with not enough garlic. The prawns were breaded before frying, which is not the way I recall this dish usually being prepared, but doubtless there are lots of variations. However the end result was a rather clunky set of fried prawns with not enough spice (barely 11/20).
Stir-fried vegetables were also distinctly underpowered in the spice department, and were edible but no more than that (10/20). Better was gado gado, the classic salad of vegetables, tofu and boiled eggs with peanut sauce. This had more beansprouts than I was expecting but the sauce had a decent kick of spice, and the tofu was fine (12/20). Nasi goreng was very ordinary, just fried rice with a few slices of vegetables on top and some crisps to one side, a long way from the versions I can recall eating in Malaysia and elsewhere (10/20).
The bill came to £30 a head. Service was generally well meaning but almost comically bad. When we arrived to an almost empty dining room we were ushered through to a cramped, badly lit table in a hemmed-in corner. I asked to move to another place amongst the sea of empty tables, but this shocking request required much consultation amongst the waiting staff. Eventually, after much deliberation and tsking from the staff we were allowed to move elsewhere. The ordering itself was a curious process. I suppose I should be used by now to the “the plates will appear in whatever order we see fit” formula adopted by many London restaurants, but what followed was bizarre. We had ordered some prawn crackers, then two items on the menu labelled as starters, and then some further dishes. We waited, waited some more, and waited a bit longer. The waiters wandered about, chatted to each other, but no food appeared, not even the prawn crackers. It was like being characters in a Samuel Beckett play, but at least in “Waiting for Godot” Pozzo and Lucky had a carrot to share while they waited. Eventually almost everything appeared at once, starting with the beef rendang. Some time later the prawn crackers emerged, rather sheepishly. Last of all was the “starter” roti canai. One noodle dish never appeared; perhaps they are still working on it. The final oddity was that, when we finished eating, a waitress asked whether we wanted dessert; we declined and requested the bill. She left all the plates on the table and wandered off but nothing happened. Many minutes later an entirely different waiter turned up and we repeated the same scene. This waiter also made no attempt to clear the plates, but went off to consult with a third colleague. More time passed, and this was not a busy night – at no time were more than four tables taken when I was there. Finally the third waiter arrived with the bill, which would barely fit on the table since all the food plates were still there. He squeezed the bill under my dinner plate and I produced a credit card. It was only when my wife began to stack some of the plates to make some room did the original waitress pop up and start to half-heartedly clear the dishes. Otherwise they would probably still be there to this day.
Service entertainment aside, the evening was pleasant enough, and it was inexpensive, but the dishes varied in standard quite significantly. If you lucked into ordering just the roti canai and the rendang you would leave happy, but if you just tried the prawns and vegetables you would be unimpressed as you surveyed your un-cleared plates and waited for your prawn crackers to turn up. It is hard to find good Malaysian food in London, but although there were some nice touches here it is hard to wholeheartedly recommend Melur.