It’s hard to re-create the hustle bustle, sounds, sights and smells of a hawker market (if you’re ever in Singapore and love food, it should be your first port of call), but East Street does a good job. As Asian food in London goes, it's now on our top ten list. From the outside, it has a half gawdy, half stylish look, complete with rather upmarket plastic stools outside (in Singapore, they’re all a rather battered, once-white colour).
Indeed, once inside, just close your eyes and imagine yourselves in a balmy land like Singapore. The noise of the street outside (especially if there are arguments going on) and saliva-inducing smells of fragrant cooking will help.
The sign outside East Street touts itself as offering ‘Fresh Pan Asian Cooking’. And it most certainly delivers on this promise, offering a handy map of the world placemat with a guide to the style of cooking from pan-Asian regions. The décor is simple and rather East London industrial - there are lit up ‘street signs’ hanging from the ceiling, brightly coloured metal ‘patio style’ tables, various ticket stubs, maps, leaflets and other papery paraphernalia stuck to the wall and wait, what’s that? Pokemon playing on a projector…
Back to the pan-Asian menu. And the staff. Let’s start with the staff. The waiter was lovely, most helpful, quick to offer up the (free!) red bush tea and didn’t bat an eyelid when my lunch companion turned to face him with chopsticks stuck up her nose. For those that are easily confused by unfamiliar dishes, don’t worry, East Street takes even the most timid diner in its stride. Each dish is clearly labelled with its country of origin and what it is (in plain English).
We sampled the Nyonya Chicken & Lime curry. This is a fusion of Malay and Chinese flavours and had a taste we don’t think we’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. I actually can’t describe it. Oh well, you’ll just have to go and try it for yourself. Rosie, my lunchmate, had the Penang curry – now this was full of flavours that we recognized – peanuts and coconuts came through in a sweetly, hot sauce.
We also shared a starter – Tod Man Khao Pod, or corn fritters. This is standard Thai nibbles and whilst perfectly moist on its own, could have done with a little more sauce. We were served what looked like finely chopped wet peanuts that we had to spoon onto our fritters, as opposed to a sauce that we could dip into.
There was no room for pudding, but we urge you to try one. I’m pretty sure they’ll be unlike anything you’ve tried before. And Iwe mean that in a good way.
Whilst we visited East Street during a particularly quiet 4pm lunch hour, the atmosphere will really crank up come evening. Get there early, enjoy a cold beer or Vietnamese coffee (hot or cold) and try something new. It's worth spending a long evening filled with gossip, a bit of Pokemon viewing, sharing plates, larger dishes and of course, dessert!
Best bit? Lookout for the section at the bottom of the menu listing things that aren’t meant to be eaten and are for flavouring only. Having seen people trying to chew edamame (shell and all), it seems as though this advice is much needed.
The only disappointing thing? No Hainanese Chicken Rice on the menu. Please sort that out, East Street.
East Street Restaurant Details
Why go? A learning and delicious experience for the taste-buds.
The crowd: Friends and families with children. Ideal for a relaxed first date.
How much? £30 for a meal for two, with drinks. Go between 12pm – 6pm and you can take advantage of their £8.95 deal that includes a starter and main from a set menu.
Where? 3-5 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1HJ