TOM PARKER BOWLES reviews Malaysian food at Mambow in East London

  • In Clapton, East London, Tom savours simple yet sensational modern Malaysian dining 

It starts with a blast – Nyonya pickles, not so much palate cleanser as a gutsy, glorious statement of intent. There’s the balance of textures – crisp cauliflower, crunchy peanut, soft pineapple – and flavours too, rich, sharp and gently sweet, with a robust chilli punch. 

But that’s just the beginning. 

Because at Mambow, Abby Lee’s electrifyingly good modern Malaysian place in Clapton, East London , every bite is a belter, each mouthful a heady jamboree. ‘Malaysian heat and juicy wine’ says the website, a description that barely skims the surface. 

Trout ceviche, startlingly pure, is awash in coconut milk 

For this is food at its most exhilarating; regional cooking both familiar and entirely novel; a taste not just of Nyonya cuisine (the food of the Peranakans, descended from early Chinese settlers, and a blend of many culinary influences), but of Lee’s own magic too. 

The kitchen is tiny, the room long and thin, but what emerges from that cramped space is nothing short of sensational. Lor bak – five-spice pork and prawn, encased in a crisp, puffy bean-curd skin – is a masterclass of the deep-fryer’s art, the filling subtly seasoned, the rolls dipped in a fiercely spiced chilli jam. 

Otak-otak prawn toast: ‘Nothing short of sensational,’ says Tom

Otak-otak prawn toast: ‘Nothing short of sensational,’ says Tom

Otak-otak prawn toast is a mashup (literally) of Cantonese and Nyonya, adding red curry paste, fish sauce and coconut milk to the finely chopped crustacea. 

The bread is local, from The Spence Bakery. At the other end of the spectrum is a grilled banana-blossom salad, the sort of dish that could squeeze tears of delight from a granite gargoyle – sour, clean and pertly refreshing, with a hefty chilli punch. 

Trout ceviche, startlingly pure, is equally elegant, awash in coconut milk, topped with a tart tamarind granita. There’s a gently medicinal herbal pork rib soup, scented with star anise, a break from all that heat. 

And a tangle of cold tripe salad, soft but intensely flavoured, where finely sliced slivers of braised stomach sit alongside herbs and beansprouts in a multi-layered masterpiece. What’s really remarkable is that Lee only really started cooking the food of her homeland during lockdown.

And she’s not even in today, leaving the kitchen in charge of her very capable co-owner, Vanessa Fernandes. But beg, borrow or steal your way to a table here. Flog the children if you must. 

For this is modern Malaysian cooking like you’ve never eaten before. Thrilling, in every possible way. 

About £25 per head. Mambow, 78 Lower Clapton Road, London E5;

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