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Normah Cafe

23-25 Queensway Market, London, W2 4QJ, United Kingdom

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This little Malaysian restaurant opened in March 2015, and is tucked away in the indoor Queensway Market. This is a slightly run-down mini mall, a collection of shops and other businesses that is much larger than it appears from the street, with as many as a hundred different traders selling everything from luggage to tarot readings. Once you go through the entrance there are actually several corridors of businesses, so it is a bit of a rabbit warren. Normah’s is in the near corner to the left as you enter. It was set up by Normah Abd Hamid, who for the last two years has also been the cook. Formerly she hired a chef to do the cooking, but now prefers to prepare her own family-style dishes. The dining room could seat perhaps twenty people. 

The kitchen is tiny and there seemed to be just two people working tonight, so unsurprisingly the menu is not lengthy. Soft drinks are available but no alcoholic drinks are on sale or can be consumed here. To start we shared a dhal with roti. The Malaysian roti is a version of an Indian paratha, the bread having many layers due to repeated kneading and folding before the dough is proved. This was a particularly light, fluffy and flaky roti. These breads can easily have either too much ghee and be greasy, or too little ghee and be dry, but this was the Goldilocks of rotis - just right. The dhal was good too, with yellow lentils and a well-balanced set of spices (14/20).

King prawn laksa (£8) had a very good curry sauce based on coconut milk. The noodles themselves were just a touch soft to my taste, and the prawns, though correctly cooked, were of modest quality, but then at this price I was hardly expecting the finest Brittany prawns. This was still an enjoyable dish, though I preferred the version at the now closed Kiasu, almost opposite (12/20). I was more impressed with beef rendang, the classic Indonesian dish where beef is slow cooked and braised with spices and coconut milk until the liquids evaporate. The result should be extremely tender as this one was, but all rendangs are not created equal, and some that I have tried over the years have some chewy elements – not here, this was very tender and gently spiced. The rendang was served with rice, hard boiled eggs, cucumber and peanuts and a spicy sambal (14/20).

Service was friendly, and Normah herself was very much in evidence, anxious that her customers were happy. The bill came to an incredible £12 a head, which seems to me great value given the obvious care and skill that goes on in the kitchen here. I will certainly return. 

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