Warm your cockles with blue cheese and dumplings
Most suburban and semi-suburban high streets have to make do with a string of chain restaurants, but the denizens of Woolwich doesn’t have to put up with such dreary, unimaginative, repetitive and frankly tedious slop. The streets branching off from the town centre host a string of interesting restaurants – Blue Nile, Viet Baguette and Kailash Momo. Eritrean, Vietnamese and Tibetan food all within two minutes of each other – it’s one of the many reasons I love London.
For reasons known only to smart-arse demographic analysts, there’s a curious cluster of Tibetan and Nepalese restaurants in south east London. Kailash Momo sits a few doors down from Blue Nile in Woolwich. While both are family-run affairs with low prices and eclectic cuisines that deserve wider recognition and appreciation, Kailash Momo has more rickety décor and service that’s less friendly, if more efficient.
First things first
The name highlights the main attraction at this restaurant – platters of momos, or dumplings, served either steamed or fried. The Euro Hedgie and I dived into a trough of steamed vegetable momos. The thick doughy skins had a filling of mildly tangy onions along with carrots and peas. These fairly ho-hum dumplings were livened up by a tame spicy sauce that, oddly, was served chilled.
The fried pork momos were even less distinctive than the steamed vegetable versions. Crunchy, stodgy skins contained a bitty, uninspired pork filling dotted with what looked and tasted like spring onions.
Described as a sandwich by our waiter, the chicken shabalay was more like a Cornish pasty. I’ve recently started to develop a fondness for pasties, but this humdrum shabalay reminded me why I used to dislike them wherever they were from. Crunchy, stodgy pastry filled with bitty pieces of chicken that were, at best, mildly tangy. In the end, the shabalay was neither interesting nor satisfying.
The Tibetan bread turned out to be a thick roti-style bread. Soft and slightly chewy, it was a pleasing carb delivery method with or without a curry to dip it into.
Going back for seconds
The Euro Hedgie and I returned to try the chilli momos. The thick skins and anonymous meat weren’t very impressive, but the lightly piquant, slightly numbing heat was more pleasing.
Tibetan is one of the few East Asian cuisines that I know of where dairy plays a prominent role. Pairing pork and blue cheese shouldn’t work, but it does. The pork chura combined chunks of stewed pork in a spicy soup pepped up further by chunks of astringent blue cheese. The bold flavours were surprisingly complimentary.
Dumplings are also available in soup at Kailash Momo, but the mok thuk wasn’t a good standard bearer for this style. Thin skinned steamed dumplings filled with anonymous meat were easily outclassed by the thin soup, even though the soup was only somewhat moreish.
Freedom isn’t three
The Tigmo steamed bread was basically a giant bao, but with a dense bready core instead of any extra filling. It had an attractive swirled appearance too. Although you’re probably meant to dip this into curry, topping it with offal proved to be surprisingly effective.
Coarse and rough chopped bits of offal had a mild tingly heat to compliment their pleasing texture.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the pork thukpa noodle soup, but I was still caught off guard by the bright and sharp Thai-esque soup flavoured with what tasted like lemongrass. The crisp vegetables and thick, wheaty chop suey-style noodles weren’t worth finishing, while the strips of earthy pork were somewhat more pleasing. A very peculiar and not entirely successful dish.
The pickled potato also proved to be a good bread topping. Served chilled, the sharp, refreshingly zingy chunks proved to be surprisingly addictive.
Back and fourth
The pickled potato turned up again, this time as an accompaniment to the sel roti. This curious ring-shaped fried bread was well on its way to becoming a churros – the crisp exterior and light, fluffy interior were highly reminiscent of the classic Spanish and Mexican snack. It differed in that it was apparently made from rice flour rather than choux and was largely savoury rather than sweet. I say largely as the sel roti did have an occasional hint of coconut-esque sweetness which may have been my imagination. Although a tad too oily and bitty on the inside for my liking, this roti was still enjoyable – especially when taken with the sharp, lightly piquant potato and the spicier, refreshing and umami chilled tomato sauce.
Once you scrape away the fried onions and peppers, the slices of chicken sausage were unsurprisingly not that different from their kosher counterparts. Soft, smooth and light, the meaty, modestly salty slices were good enough, even if they weren’t spicy in the slightest.
I opted to have the lamb curry with fried bread rather than rice. Although the curry sauce was thin, it packed in enough flavour thanks to what I’m pretty sure was star anise, bay leaf and cardamom. This moreish sauce went well with the earthy, very tender chunks of lamb. The best chunks were those served on the bone – not only was there a bit of connective tissue, there was the additional joy of sucking out the seductive little wink of bone marrow. Although heavy, the bread wasn’t too oily and retained a reasonably high degree of fluffiness and absorbency for sauce mopping duties.
The cool, lumpy yoghurt is available either plain or sweetened. Although the plain variant was boringly neutral at best (the best Greek yoghurt makers won’t be losing any sleep), it’s a good balm in the unlikely event you find anything a little too spicy for your palate. It’s best not to to bother with the chilled supermarket fruit though.
Taking the Fifth
Channa chat combined puffed rice and bombay mix in a surprisingly complimentary if jaw-straining combination. Think of it as extra crunchy rice krispies served with fresh, zingy herbs and tomato.
The Amazon’s bhatmas set was similarly taxing on the jaw, but ultimately less pleasing. The teeth-grindingly crunchy yet also nutty soya beans were served with umami tomatoes and a bright, sharp, citrusy, almost lemongrass-like, spice dressing. We ultimately skirted the soya beans in favour of the dressed tomatoes.
Both the Amazon and I ended up plumping for lamb dishes in the end, but they were quite different from each other. Although lamb thentuk used cheap bits of lamb offal, these coarse and chewy chunks were nonetheless enjoyable and helped liven up the generically moreish soup. The real star here was the noodles which resembled won ton skins in their thickness and torn square shape.
The Amazon’s lamb stew neatly paired sinewy, earthy chunks of meat with a sharp, bright and umami soup. Oddly, the kitchen felt that the tender potato chunks and surprisingly supple and pleasing vermicelli didn’t provide enough roughage, but I’m hardly complaining if that means a helping of soft and chewy tigmo bread.
We shared a dessert of gulab jamun. Although bready, the dough balls were also light and airy. Served warm, they were lightly sweetened with honey. Although not overpoweringly rich, the refreshing yoghurt was nonetheless welcome – especially with its lumpy texture and milkiness. It was much improved compared to last time.
The food at Kailash Momo was very much a mixed bag. Some dishes were far better then they have any right to be, from the lamb curry to the pork chura and pickled potatoes. The headlining momos were disappointing though and, at the risk of inviting patriotic ire, were little different from a Chinese dumpling. Still, you can eat very cheaply at Kailash Momo and the food, even when it’s a dud, was almost always warming and very filling. Kailash Momo struggles to soar, but most high streets would rightly kill for a restaurant that’s this distinctive yet so cheap. Given the mind numbing alternatives, I can’t help but like this Tibetan restaurant – warts and all.
What to order: Pork chura; Offal; Pickled potato; Lamb curry; Lamb thentuk; Lamb stew; Yoghurt desserts
What to skip: Thukpa noodle soups
Name: Kailash Momo
Address: 79 Woolwich New Road, London SE18 6ED
Phone: 0203 489 8901, 0746 897 5848
Opening Hours: seven days a week 11.00-23.00.
Reservations: yeah if you want
Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £15 approx. (£25 if you push the boat out)