Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Birthing pains? Naamyaa Cafe - Jan 2013

You can almost hear David Attenborough's hushed and breathy tones describing the place as he peers unobtrusively through the window..."Carefully created.. And lovingly placed next to a recently spawned Jamie's Italian for shelter and contrast.. Small and comparatively week now, but within years this will be a force to reckon with. Under an anonymous new build office block here in the Islington foothills, we are present at the birth of a chain..." It'll go great at the start of the next series of Human Planet.

Naamyaa (or N-U-M-indecipherable squiggle as the sign would have you believe) is, or certainly what feels like, a new concept being rolled out by Alan Yau. Many of his creations have become chains over the years; Wagamammas, Busabi Eathai, Yauacha, the mighty Hakkasan and ChaCha Moon (actually, scratch that last one... It's the black sheep of the family in so many ways) and while Wagamammas may have blossomed into mediocre provincial ubiquity, it's a damn site better than most high streets could have offered even 15 years ago.

The menu at Naamyaa Cafe, created in partnership with Michelin starred Thai specialist David Thompson (he of Michelin starred Nahm fame), is an odd one if you're in search of a new, or specifically Thai, experience. They cover a broad gamut of South East Asian dishes, many offered as shared or small plates, alongside a handful of international offerings such as burgers and European salads (it's styled as an all day Bangkok cafe, this appears to be a 'thing that those establishments offer, much like the culturally curious Indian railway cafes that inspired Dishoom).

So bring it on... 

Walking in to a bright airy space of light pines, gorgeous orange pictoral tiling and cool pistachio green banquettes, one of the first things you notice is that Naamyaa smells of food. In a good way. Food that makes me hungry. Food I want to eat. 

Pulling up a pew at the large bar overlooking the open kitchen (that'd explain the smell then) I skimmed through the menu before succumbing to menu Tourettes and ordering the smell that had turned me on as I walked in. I get the purpose of open kitchens in showier restaurants, where there's genuinely a sense of wonder about what the white clad magicians are doing with their exotic ingredients, less so when you're simply watching a bored guy repeatedly prep clingfilm clad tray after clingfilm clad tray of veggies.

Despite that smell, it didn't start well. Vegetable stuffed spring rolls or Po Pia Jay were as under-filled and generic as those you'd get from a local Chinese supermarket, Thai spiced chicken wings were a generous portion and easily suitable for sharing, but slightly greasy, under-flavoured and just too scrawny. I wasn't wishing I'd nipped into Jamie's next door, but I was starting to bemoan the fact I hadn't gone a little further down the road to Exmouth Market for my scran.

Thankfully, it was saved by the laksa, a deeply intense and flavoursome bowl of hearty spice. £8.50 is a pretty reasonable price for a dish of this quality, one so overfilled with yielding strings of braised chicken, silken noodles, crunchy beansprout and fried garlic that I struggled to finish it. I know that laksa isn't specifically a Thai soup, though versions are served throughout the region and this one is a triumph.

Expectations finally met if not exceeded, I'll certainly pop back in to sample a couple of the other rice and noodle mains if I'm in the area. On the second half of this showing, I won't have a problem recommending Naamyaa, though you might want to wait until one pops up closer to you. It won't be long.

Naamyaa Cafe on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Your experience chimes with mine - the laksa was good and surprisingly fiery. The rest was mediocre especially compared to the care which has gone into the surroundings. I hope it wont end up like a Conran restaurant - strong on look/feel & style but let down by the substance/ food. I wont be rushing back unless reviews change drastically. I was hoping that this would become a staple on evenings to Sadlers Wells but on first showing, the Banana Tree outfit immediately opposite is comparable.