★★★☆☆ / Burmese and Cambodian

Mandalay review – Burmese food on Edgware Road

The only way is Mandalay?

Going out for a curry in London usually involves traipsing down to an Indian or Thai restaurant, but a more curious option is Mandalay which is almost certainly the capital’s only Burmese restaurant. Mandalay is one of Templeton Peck’s regular haunts and the prospect of Burmese food was enough to tempt myself, Templeton, Happy Buddha, Socialist Worker and Veal Smasher out to the arse end of Edgware Road.

Mandalay has been around for years and it certainly feels like it. The cramped square dining room is festooned with Burmese chintz and it has room for only two dozen covers or so. One particularly odd throwback is the outdoor privy. The staff are friendly, even if their English is a little stilted.

We all started off sharing several plates of fritters – deep fried wodges of dough stuffed with various fillings. Thankfully free of excess oil, they were nonetheless quite hearty and the version filled with fresh shrimp was my favourite thanks to its mild saltiness.

burmese fritters at mandalay

Frittering my life away.

Veal Smasher was adamant about ordering some chicken and vegetable samosas which turned out to be tiny little things. Although zesty and slightly spicy and not at all greasy, the bitty, heavily minced fillings weren’t very satisfying.

burmese samosas at mandalay

Itsy bitsy teeny weeny

I also ordered a bowl of bottle gourd soup which was highly reminiscent of a bottle gourd dish I had eaten at Soahc in Shanghai. The soft, fibrous vegetable was tender and fruity, while the soup itself was peppery and dotted with vermicelli and very salty shrimp. It could’ve done with less pepper, but overall it’s a surprisingly tasty soup.

bottle gourd soup at mandalay

Don’t bottle it.

That’s more than can be said about the coconut vegetable noodles which comes in a tomatoish soup that tastes like a thickened version of Thai tom yum gung soup. Combined with the copious amounts of root vegetables, this makes it a surprisingly stodgy dish. I wasn’t fond of the actual noodles either which were either excessively soft wheat noodles or crispy, brittle vermicelli. Thanks, but no thanks.

coconut vegetable noodles at mandalay

Was almost tempted to send it back.

Thankfully the curries weren’t as disappointing, if only because they’re rather simple, bold dishes. The oddly-named ‘pickle-style lamb’ has a tartness to it that compliments the mild spicy heat quite nicely.

pickle style lamb curry at mandalay

This curry reminds me of another curry dish that I can’t quite remember the name of…

My gaggle of curry devotees clearly had a thing for lamb as Socialist Worker chose a minty lamb curry, which is a rather obvious combination of flavours, while Templeton Peck’s plain lamb curry was fruity and tomatish. All the lamb curries were blessed with tender, stewed chunks of meat.

lamb curry at mandalay

Demolished.

Veal Smasher bucked the trend with his pick of chicken with tamarind which had a very bold citrusy, orange-like flavour to it. Happy Buddha’s own choice of a prawn curry tasted very similar. He also wisely ordered some dried shrimp garnish. The small, chewy and very salty bits of shrimp added a much needed layer of taste and texture to all the curries.

prawn curry with shrimp garnish at mandalay

Double prawns.

chicken and tamarind curry at mandalay

Plucked from obscurity.

shrimp garnish at mandalay

Sorry for some of the iffy photos folks.

Veal Smasher has a massive addiction to naan bread and was adamant about ordering almost more naan than we could eat. The naan were very good though – thin and soft, but not too oily, with a milky, buttery taste. A perfect mop for soaking up excess curry sauce.

burmese naan bread at mandalay

No loafing around here.

Thankfully Happy Buddha was on hand to provide some refreshing vegetables by ordering the raw papaya and cucumber salad. The refreshing, tart mixture of relatively firm fruit and vegetables was very similar to Thai son tam salads and although it didn’t have quite the same depth of flavour as the best Thai salads, it was still a welcome antidote to the relative heaviness of the curries.

papaya and cucumber salad at mandalay

A sign that the Happy Buddha is nearby – a dish is partially demolished within seconds of it reaching the table.

Despite all the samosas and fritters, Veal Smasher hadn’t had his fill of deep fried food and ordered some banana fritters for dessert. Although the large dollop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey accompanying the fritters was unremarkable, the batter surrounding the bananas was surprisingly light and oil-free.

banana fritters with ice cream at mandalay

Got some healthy fruit? Deep fry it!

Happy Buddha didn’t order a dessert per se, but he did have have a falooda, a drink composed of rose syrup, vermicelli, milk, jelly and tapioca. Although it was very sweet with a heavy taste of pistachio, Happy Buddha has had better faloodas elsewhere so he wasn’t especially impressed.

falooda at mandalay

Green and pink like a watermelon.

Since neither Socialist Worker or Templeton Peck were in the mood for dessert, I did the only decent thing and had two desserts myself. The coconut agar, or jelly, was firm and dense but didn’t really taste of coconut and wasn’t as creamy as I was expecting either. It tasted of very little, despite its unusual green colour.

coconut agar at mandalay

A jelly by any other name?

Oddly, the tapioca tasted more of coconut than the coconut agar did. It also tasted heavily of pistachio which complimented the coconut flavour very nicely. Although a bit on the small side, it’s a much more interesting dessert than either the agar or the banana fritters.

tapioca at mandalay

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble…

The Verdict

The food at Mandalay is, on the whole, simple and satisfying but it’s not really different enough from Indian or Thai food to make it worth the trek to Edgware Road. If you’re going to be in the area though, then it’s worth a visit.

Name: Mandalay

Address: 444 Edgware Road, London W2 1EG

Phone: 020 7258 3696

Webhttp://www.mandalayway.com/

Opening Hours: seven days a week noon-14.30 and 18.00-22.30

Reservations: essential.

Total cost for one person inc soft drinks: £25 approx.

Rating★★★☆☆

Mandalay on Urbanspoon

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3 thoughts on “Mandalay review – Burmese food on Edgware Road

  1. You didn’t really order anything particularly Burmese, unfortunately – which may explain why nothing stood out. Your choices are akin to visiting a Sichuanese restaurant and ordering familiar Cantonese items on the menu – better luck next time.

    • If that is the case, and I’m uncertain as to whether it really is, then I’d argue Mandalay needs to rethink its menu by slimming it down and reorganising it rather than bulking it up with filler dishes.

      As an aside, your specific analogy would potentially be apt if it wasn’t flawed. I haven’t seen a Sichuanese restaurant in London recently that has Cantonese filler dishes on its menu. If one did, that would be a good argument against even trying it as there are plenty of alternative Sichuanese restaurants. That isn’t the case with Burmese food as far I am aware – Mandalay is apparently one of a kind.

      • An alternative analogy would be that it would have been like going to Wulumuchi (when it was still open) and ordering the filler dishes and missing the Xinjiang ones.

        The samosas and naan are all clearly Indian, and as far as sampling a new cuisine goes you would have been better off trying a few mainstays like the pickled tea salad, mohinga or coconut noodles with chicken. I certainly missed the point with Vietnamese food the first few times before I actually knew what to order. Your other reviews are usually detailed and well-researched, which is why I’m puzzled as to why such generic items turned up in this review.

        The consensus amongst most Burmese in London is that Mandalay is just OK – but hopefully in the near future something a little more adventurous will show up.

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