Ticking many boxes
Don’t expect too much from this Malaysian place. Tucked in an alley off Rupert Street in Chinatown, C & R Cafe is one of those cheap, sterile-looking oriental eateries that don’t always get everything right. BUT. I was not dissuaded by the glaring fluorescent lights or the cobalt blue tables. During my two visits, the promises were in the food. It began with an ethnic crowd and a bustle of sort every time that I walked past, which was justified by the pricing of no more than £7.50 per dish. And, in the end, it was the extensive and inviting menu of uncompromising Malaysian flavours. Two words – “petai” and “shrimp paste” – convinced me enough to give this cafe a go.
My two meals were pretty much a powerhouse of decent Asian flavours. Sambal Ayam Gorent (£6.50) was this naughty dish of spicy deep fried chicken wings with cleansing fresh herbs (coriander and chervil). Moist and succulent, the wings were tossed in chilli sauce that had been infused with oil, shallots and tomatoes. The heat was both balanced and enhanced by the sweetness from the shallots and the diluted acidity from the tomatoes. Sambal Goreng Telor (£6) was an alternative for egg lovers. These hard boiled eggs were deep fried and cooked in a dry and piquant (as in dryer and more piquant than in Sambal Ayam Goreng and without tomatoes) chilli relish. This would be ideal with steamed rice. I couldn’t help getting very excited seeing Petai with Sotong (£7.50) on the menu, but I won’t recommend this to just anybody. Petai, or stinking beans, are typical to Malaysian/Indonesian cuisine as well as in some Southern Thai dishes. Slightly bigger than broad beans, the petai are notorious for their rancid smell (and the nefarious effect in your toilet the morning after). To many, this stir-fry version at C & R Cafe with baby cuttlefish, onions, chilli and shrimp paste will be a test of endurance. Personally, I loved it. The crunchy, pungent beans were expertly sauteed; the cuttlefish was pleasantly springy; the concoction of chilli and shrimp paste oozed wonderful fishy fermentation. Still, I insist, it was an acquired taste (and a damage to your nostril in your own bathroom). Universally likable were C & R Rice Cake (£7) and Hainanese Chicken Rice (£6.50). The rice cake, also known as Chaye Tow Kuey, is a common snack dish in a few Southeast Asian countries. It has a Chinese origin and features steamed mooli cake, which is cubed and stir-fried with preserved turnip, egg, dark soy, chives and beansprouts. The C & R version was passable. I found the cakes, though fluffy and light, too mild and flour-y, while the stir fry combo did not come together as distinctly in term of taste. (I much prefer the versions at Cha Cha Moon and +65 Supper Club). The chicken rice, however, was delicious (not as OMG as Old Town 97 next door) and generously portioned. The poached chicken breast was adequately tenderised and served with a gingery soy sauce; the rice was nicely cooked in garlic perfumed oil and stock and retained bites; the chilli sauce on the side formed a ballistic contrast and set my tongue on fire.
C & R Cafe offers enough authenticity, enough boldness and enough boundary-pushing options that will account for my return. And, these two meals below were, definitely, among the better ones I have had in Chinatown.
C & R CAFE
4-5 Rupert Court
Tel. 020 7434 1128