A street food restaurant run by a fictional 80s Malaysian rock star. Only in London.
PENANG!, Shepherd’s Bush Review
As you’d expect at Westfield, the dining options are dominated by chain restaurants the likes of Busaba Eathai, Carluccio’s, Bill’s and Jamie’s Italian amongst others so as we were about to walk in to Wagamama, Antonia and I were both surprised to see a restaurant we’d never heard of – PENANG!
Penang is a coastal state in Malaysia, which I visited several times when I was living in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian cuisine itself is massively underrepresented in this country with roughly 70 restaurants across the whole of the UK versus over 1,000 Thai eateries within the M25 alone. Having grown up with Malaysian cooking I was excited to see how authentic PENANG! would be.
Malaysian cuisine reflects the multiethnic makeup of its population, mainly taking influence from the indigenous Malaysians with flavours from Indian and Chinese immigrants. As in the the rest of South East Asia, food is massively important in Malaysia and PENANG! takes it’s inspiration from Malaysia’s famous street markets.
The face of the brand is a fictional 80s Malaysian rock star called Mr. Zuhri, who founded the restaurant using royalties from his one hit wonder in Malaysia. Weird… but I kinda like it! As well as running the Twitter account, you’ll see him popping up with (pretty authentic) broken English here and there.
The decor is bright and vibrant, whilst fitting in perfectly with all the other trendy popup style venus in London. Happy hour was almost up when we arrived so we grabbed our excellent server and ordered a couple of cocktails each before looking over the menu. Antonia had the Rum Punch – Havana Rum and grenadine with pineapple, grapefruit and orange juice and I went for Tommy’s Margarita – Olmeca Tequila shaken with fresh lime juice and agave syrup. Both were good and £8 a pop but 2-for-1 during happy hour.
In Malaysia, it’s commonplace to order a bunch of dishes for the table to share but as we were only here for a quick bite before a Subways gig, we just ordered a couple of classic mains to share.
Two dishes immediately caught my eye as they’re two of my all time favourites. We ordered both the Nasi Lemak (£11.75) served with either Beef Rendang or Udang Sambal and the Char Kway Teow (£10.25) – flat rice noodles, cooked with soy sauce, prawns, chicken, beansprouts, spring onions and a mild sambal.
Nasi Lemak is probably Malaysia’s national dish and usually comes wrapped up in a banana leaf if you buy it on the street. Normally served with a portion of beef rendang, it’s a fantastic mix of coconut rice, a hard boiled egg, fried anchovies, toasted peanuts and cucumber.
I have to say, I wasn’t expecting much from PENANG! but it easily surpassed my expectations. I chose the beef rendang over the udang (prawn) sambal and it was excellent, with super tender but still moist chunks of beef and all the accompaniments I’d expect.
My only gripes are that the sambal was too sweet and lacked a bit of punch and that the anchovies were far too small, I had trouble finding them. These were more like anchovy shavings, probably because some people would be put off by tiny fish (with heads) on their plate. The peanuts should also still have their skins on but I’ll let that one go! It’s a shame because a mix of proper sambal, peanuts, anchovies and coconut rice is an incredible combination.
The Kway Teow was surprisingly good as well. Nice and sticky and full of flavour – a very good stab at an authentic Malaysian classic staple.
There are plenty of other dishes on the menu I know very well including Roti Canai, an Indian influenced flatbread, but it’s very overpriced here. Something that will cost you pennies in Malaysia is priced at £3 at PENANG! and you’ll need to fork out an extra £1 for the essential Dipping Curry Sauce.
All in all, I’m very happy to see the appearance of PENANG! Especially because of it’s location. I’ve read a couple of reports about bad service, but I couldn’t fault it – our guy was nothing short of excellent.
It’s not the most authentic Malaysian food you’ll find but it’s comfortably good enough to give Londoners an introduction to one of my favourite cuisines and that can only be a good thing.
Westfield Shepherd’s Bush,
London W12 7GA