Monday, 21 May 2012

The Potless Budget Restaurant Review #3: Makan Cafe, Portobello Road, London, W10

Being Potless isn't all about cooking at home - it's about having a fabulous value-for-money eating experience, wherever you are.

So, I present to you my series entitled: 'The Potless Budget Restaurant Reviews'!

Having trawled the globe looking for the best of the cheapest eating out establishments, I can now share my findings. 

'Cheap' is, of course, subjective. But what makes a restaurant qualify for this list is a sense of extremely good value. A greasy spoon cafe might be cheap (and delicious too, come to that) but it won't make it onto the list, unless the eating experience it provides is of the very highest quality in proportion to the price it charges.

Mrs Ribeye and I had a wonderful time at Portobello Road market on Saturday morning, although the polarisation of the cheaper shops, frequented by the locals towards the lower end near Golborne Road, compared with the over-priced tourist traps at the upper end near Notting Hill Gate, has never been more apparent. Portobello Road market, made famous in the Hugh Grant/Julia Roberts movie 'Notting Hill', is still as vibrant and busy as ever - the only negative is the miserable-looking, and sounding, buskers every 100 yards, drimbling their crappy music to the punters as they shuffle quickly past (an occasional upbeat tune or a smile would be nice, guys).

It is toward the lower end at Portobello Green, that this review comes to you. Mrs Ribeye, fresh from her purchase of an immaculate genuine vintage Burberry trench coat for an amazing £45 (most probably nearer £100 at the upper end of the road), and I, fancied lunch. Under the A40 overpass lurks Makan, along with a few other cafes and luncheries. The Thai restaurant, 'Garden & Grill', with the roof terrace overlooking the very middle of Portobello Road market would have been a great choice - had we been in the area on a weekday instead - but this being a weekend, the prices in that establishment triple on peak days, meaning that the only people they were entertaining were not exactly the local cognoscenti. So Makan it was, an authentic Malaysian cafe filled with 'Lahndahners' who know better.

Makan Cafe
270 Portobello Road
W10 5TY
Tel: 020 8560 5169

The Restaurant:

The place has a real street food cafe feel to it. The furniture is a selection of oddments, ranging from the regular formica topped tables, to wooden garden furniture, to some bar stools at a bar at the front of the cafe near the front door. Every seat was taken when we arrived, but the high turnover rate means that the most you would wait would be five minutes - enough time to place your order and be given a number to wait for your food to be delivered to you, before hurriedly scooting to the nearest available vacant seats.

There is a glass-fronted counter (pictured) with a large selection of Malaysian treats waiting to be microwaved and served to you, and a sign telling you to pick your choice of dishes with one, two or three combinations, in an ascending (but still very reasonable even at the most expensive) order of prices. The chefs at the back kitchen are hard at work preparing food to order if you don't fancy the zapped cabinet fare. Mrs Ribeye and I chose instead to order a couple of dishes from the large photographs suspended above the waiting staff - all coming in a choice of veg/chicken/seafood - and which are also very reasonably priced.

The Menu:

In the chiller cabinet are trays of varying lamb, veg, and fish dishes, from aubergine stews to chickpea curries, a spinach-y looking side dish, chicken noodle dishes, a variety of meat curries, rice and other sundries, including fried seafood-y stuff and dumplings. In fairness, the food doesn't look its best when sitting in its cold stainless steel receptacle, which is the reason why Mrs Ribeye and I opted for the 'made to order' selection instead, but this may have been a mistake, as the guy in the seat next to me
was delivered a most sumptuous selection of 'cabinet stuff' which looked incredible after its careful arrangement on a plate and being subjected to some warming gamma rays.

Never mind, ours was on its way and we ended up delighted with our choices. Mrs Ribeye chose a fried noodle dish with chicken, and I chose a large bowl of Singaporean (I know, not exactly Malaysian) laksa with seafood, and we decided to split everything down the middle to be able to sample a bit of each.

The last time I ate laksa was actually in Singapore, when my friend's mother (who was generous enough to let me stay with them for a week), made us her own home-made version. Makan's was almost as good - trust me,  this is an enormous compliment.

The dishes, when they arrived, were huge and brightly garnished with fresh salad vegetables. The noodle dish was a fried vermicelli-based creation with a generous portion of stir fried chicken and vegetables. The laksa was the star of the show though. A spicy coconut soup filled with noodles, fried tofu cakes, vegetables, and large coral-coloured king prawns. The accompanying chilli oil ramped up the spice quotient for me (a MASSIVE chilli addict), but Mrs Ribeye was happy to leave the heat levels where they were.

Together, the two dishes complimented each other perfectly, and the generous serving sizes meant that there was no need for any starters or side dishes to gild the lily.

The Bill:

With every dish here priced at under £7 - and most are way under - you would be hard pressed to pay more than about a tenner a head, whatever you order. Mrs Ribeye and I came away with a bill of £15 for the two of us, including a drink each, and I reckon that this is the cheapest lunch at a sit-down place in Portobello Road on a weekend market day. If you're around on a non-market weekday, you will love the aforementioned Garden & Grill with the far-ranging views from the first floor terrace, but on a weekend, Makan is the place to be for a delicious, well-priced, Far Eastern dining experience, after a hard morning's vintage clothing shopping.

The Experience:

While not exactly the Ritz, this cafe is a brilliant find for somewhere tasty, authentic and cheap after spending the morning trawling for bargains in London's most famous antique, vintage clothing and food market. I first came here a decade ago and loved the ambience, and as with the best places to eat in London, the ones that survive and prosper seem to always be upping their game. Makan is no exception - it is better than ever and offers one of the only good value eating experiences in Portobello Road on a Saturday lunchtime.

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