Awana, Malaysian Satay Bar – Awana Get Outta Here!

“Oh Dear!” I thought as I opened the wine list and saw that the cheapest bottle in the “monthly promotions” was £27. Then I looked at the next page and my eyes spotted the £480 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Wow, I thought. This place must really be something to have a wine list where 80% of the bottles are over £50. Maybe I’m just out of touch since I eat in budget places like Polpo and Koya and have rarely seen a wine list of this calibre outside of an enoteca where the wine list is the size of a bible and caters for every budget or a truly exceptional restaurant of the Michelin variety.

Nevermind, I thought, clutching my Toptable 50% off food offer – the cuisine here is going to knock my socks off so it is deserving of a great wine to go with it. Then I (happily!) found the £19 bottle of Argentinian Malbec at the very back of the wine menu. The waiter comes around and it is too warm. We ask him for a bucket to cool it a couple of degrees. He nods, then pours out a glass for everyone ignoring our request then leaves looking vaguely bewildered. We never see him again.

So far, we have staff with a ridiculous wine list and no clue how to serve wine.

The menu is tantalising, lots of great authentic dishes, a good handful of street food dishes – satay skewers, grilled meats, roti etc. Mains average about £10-£20 which makes the exorbitant wine list all the more baffling. Then the food arrives.

Our three starters are unremarkable. Spring rolls with very bland flavour, zinged up a bit by sweet chilli sauce. Ayam Cincang Wonton (little crispy parcels of chicken) are a touch greasy, not too crispy and taste of… bland chicken (a recurring theme, despite its “corn fed” status paraded all over the menu. Perhaps the corn was of a particularly crap vintage that year?) again zinged up by the sweet chilli sauce. My daging kerabu – strips of beef marinated in oyster sauce and palm sugar mixed with salad and sambal sauce was the most exciting of the three, nice smooth flavours, a little kick, but so far I hadn’t been bowled over by anything. The sneaking suspicion that the quality of the food was probably lower than Busaba eathai (which is a third cheaper) was beginning to grow.

Four mains later and I was less and less thrilled. My tiger prawn stuffed corn-fed chicken with sambal belacan and stir fried pak choi came with no pak choi, but two tiny strands of baby broccoli, non-existant sambal belacan, the ever present sweet chilli sauce and zero flavour. I couldn’t distinguish the prawn from the chicken, nor could you tell the meat had been anywhere near a chargrill (perhaps if I’d smoked a cigarette first or licked a lump of coal it might have improved things). Kung Fu noodles looked like a Mr. Wu £5 eat-all-you-like buffet noodle dish and tasted like one too, but cost £18. The other two might well have been the same dish except one came in a pineapple and one had a vague element of chilli which imparted some sort of flavour. Hooray! An achievement!

Thank god for the second bottle of Argentinian Malbec, so far my favourite dish of the evening.

The saving grace was the desert. I had a scoop of lemongrass and chilli sorbet which oozed delicate flavours and was cool and refreshing, sweet then tangy. Dadar coconut filled pancakes were incredibly morish and Kec Kakang chocolate cake was gobbled up so fast I didn’t actually get to taste any.

With 50% off, four of us ate for £104. Decent, but when I think it would have cost £208 otherwise to eat something I could have picked up in Wagamama – but more flavourful, I balked.

Awana needs to buck up on its spices or introduce a decent affordable wine list as well as reduce its prices, right now it looks, feels and tastes a bit Hong Kong Phooey.

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