Forget Pret A Manger, this is where the real flavour is: TOM PARKER BOWLES is blown away by this Malaysian cafe where a meal costs £16 a head
Tom ventures to a Malaysian café in Oxford – and is blown away by the quality of the food
You could walk past Kopitiam – a small, unassuming Malaysian café, just off North Oxford’s Banbury Road – without giving it a second glance. I’ve done so many times, assuming it was just your standard Chinese takeaway, albeit with a Malaysian burr.
Named after the coffee shops found everywhere from South Thailand and Singapore through Malaysia and Indonesia, the room is clean and utilitarian, the selection of teh tariks (pulled tea) and kopi (coffee) seemingly endless. There’s plum juice, hot or cold, and kaya toast for breakfast.
Serious dishes full of real flavour – Kopitiam is Tom’s new happy place
There are also two menus; the first is Chinese leaning, where sesame prawn toast, dim sum and sweet and sour pork sit alongside Malaysian classics such as five spice lor bak and beef rendang. But it’s the second, named ‘Lumch’, that you want, packed full with laksas and ho funs, hokkien mee and roti canai. And it’s those roti canai that always set the tone of the lunch ahead. If they’re turgid, wan and greasy, abandon all hope and all that. But these are magnificent; charred, just chewy and delicate as silk handkerchiefs. The homemade curry sauce has depth, carefully spiced warmth, and a handsome chilli heat.
Nasi lemak, that great all-day (and night) breakfast dish, mixes pandan-scented coconut rice with crisp fried anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg and a punchy sambal. Plus a dollop of mild, mellifluous chicken curry, cooked on the bone. All is as it should be, the rice and curry a study in mellow comfort. Then, joy of joys, Nanyang prawn noodle, which is near-identical to Penang prawn mee, one of the world’s great noodle soups. The broth is dark, rich and brooding, bracingly spicy with a deep crustacean grunt. Good prawn-head broth lies at its heart, and this is impeccable. Yellow noodles are firm, with good bite, while the prawns are plump and pert.
Singapore laksa has its chilli punch mellowed by coconut, but there’s still a robust kick, and subtle piscine depth. Flat, slippery rice noodles jostle for space with the mildly rubbery bounce (it’s a texture thing) of the fish balls. Tofu puffs do their duty, and soak up all that lovely flavour.
The fact that you can lunch here, on serious Malaysian food, for just over £15 a head, makes me very happy indeed. So forget Pret. And come to where the real flavour is.
About £16 per head. Kopitiam, Unit 19, Suffolk House, Summertown, Oxford; kopitiam.co.uk
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