★★★☆☆ / Malaysian/Singaporean

Wau review – Malaysian food heats up Newbury

Bringing the spice of life to West Berkshire

The West Berkshire town of Newbury is notable for a few things. It was the site of two battles in the English Civil War, its neighbours once included a RAF base picketed by anti-nuclear protestors and it’s the headquarters for the UK branch of telecommunications behemoth Vodafone. Despite its surprisingly eventful past, and perhaps because of its current general prosperity, the choice of restaurants in this market town is largely uninspired.

Of the independents, one of the few to catch my eye was Wau. This is not just the only Malaysian restaurant in town, but in all of Berkshire as far as I can tell. Although there are a handful of Cantonese space-fillers on the menu, Wau otherwise sticks to actual Malaysian dishes rather than chickening out and taking the spineless ‘pan-Asian’ route.

Starters and side dishes at Wau

Wau’s take on satay lamb did not impress on our first meeting, with the sweet but otherwise underwhelming skewered meat leaning heavily on the satay sauce which was itself a timidly generic affair. Although the satay sauce was no better on a subsequent meal, the lamb had progressed nicely – dense and lightly chewy with a nutty, almost jerk-like flavour. Wau’s kitchen is clearly capable of refinement and improvement.

illustrative photo of the satay lamb at Wau

Lamb of odg.

illustrative photo of the lamb satay at Wau Newbury

Blam of god.

Skewered chicken satay tasted similar to the lamb, but had a far less pleasurable mouthfeel. The overly tender texture of this chicken meant it ultimately played second fiddle to the lamb version.

illustrative photo of the satay chicken at Wau

This review’s procrastination was brought to you, in part, by a short holiday in Brittany.

If Wau’s siu mai and har gau hadn’t recently seen the inside of a freezer before making their way to my table, then I’d be very surprised indeed. The skins of both dumpling types were too claggy, while the har gau skins were also lacking in translucency. To my surprise, the tame fillings didn’t have the common tricks of either MSG or pork fat to bulk out their meagre flavour profiles.

illustrative photo of the har gau at Wau

Why are these even on the menu?

illustrative photo of the siu mai at Wau

To bulk it out, presumably.

Roast pork belly had the benefit for a modestly crunchy bark, but the swine flesh itself was not only bland but also a tad too greasy. This is a poor version of a Cantonese classic.

illustrative photo of the roast pork belly at Wau

Poor pork krop.

Chicken wings were doubly dull. The endemic beigeness of the chicken was a poor start. The accompanying belacan paste-based sauce worsened matters as it lacked the nostril-opening punch and pungency that I’d expect from that shrimp-based paste.

illustrative photo of the chicken wings at Wau

Grounded flight.

Although the accompanying curry sauce was nothing to write home about, it’s still worth ordering the roti canai. The roti was, on multiple occasions, thin, soft and winsomely moreish. Although not as feathery soft and tissue thin as the superlative roti at London’s Roti King, Wau’s roti is still a great example of what weirdo carb dodgers are missing out on.

illustrative photo of the roti canai at Wau

You may be able to enjoy roti canai even after having a root canal.

illustrative photo of the roti at Wau Newbury

Roti quotidien.

While gently moreish with a milky centre, the best part of the satay fish balls had to be their mouthfeel from the chewy exterior to the tender interior. The same ol’ satay sauce clung to the curves of these balls reasonably well, but this starter would’ve worked just as well without it in my estimation.

illustrative photo of the satay fish balls at Wau

To the uninitiated, these aren’t fish testicles (do fish even have testicles?) but balls of pounded, reconstituted surimi – one of the most under appreciated foodstuffs of our time, if you ask me.

Bok choi was not only a tad too oily, but overcooked and served in an unimpressively watery sauce that was so faint it was hard to tell if it was meant to be soy or oyster sauce.

illustrative photo of the bok choi at Wau

Bok’d in.

Main courses at Wau

The chunks of mooing ungulate in the beef rendang were tender, but only modestly moreish with a shallow spicing that tasted mostly – as far as I could tell – of star anise and curry leaf. It was by no means bad, and while good enough as an introduction to the joys of rendang, but it will still leave rendang aficionados wanting.

illustrative photo of the beef rendang at Wau

Rendang it.

Laksa arrived in a cauldron’s worth of soup. The tamarind-based broth was reasonably tangy, umami and warming. Although the prawns had little to say for themselves, the hearty and supple ramen-style wheat noodles picked up the slack.

illustrative photo of the laksa at Wau

Laksa lake.

Light yet sinewy and pearlescent chunks of skate arrived in a curry sauce surprisingly reminscient of a curry house bhuna. Dotted with tomatoes and onions, it had a mild heat to it as well as a passing sourness and a touch of sweetness too. I could’ve done without the chunks of pineapple though, which felt like garish intruders. The pleasing fish deserved a more well-rounded curry sauce.

illustrative photo of the skate curry at Wau

Skating on thin ice.

The supple, narrow and moderately thick rice noodles of the char kway teow were a tad too greasy. The prawns were merely so-so and there wasn’t enough of the sweet, umami air-dried Chinese-style sausage. At least the bean sprout filler had been kept to a sensible amount.

illustrative photo of the char kway teow at Wau

If you think this photo is a bit too purple, you should’ve seen it before I applied colour correction using Photoshop.

Penang-style Hokkien mee paired thin and supple rice vermicelli with hearty, eggy, wheat-based noodles in a soup that was one-dimensionsally hot and sour but still with enough moreishness to be worth slurping. The prawns were once again shrug-inducing, but the pork ribs were not only unexpected but unexpectedly pleasing too. The tender, sinewy meat was adept at soaking up the warmth of the soup – the succulent combination of the two was truly greater than the sum of its parts. Sweet, crunchy shallots felt out of place, while the rich hard-boiled egg and crisp, musky, earthy greens were better accompaniments to the winsome noodles and rib meat-soup double punch. A tad unbalanced in places, but this dish was ultimately a winner.

illustrative photo of the hokkien mee at Wau

It’s not for you, it’s for mee.

Desserts and drinks at Wau

Although the fried dough sticks were a tad too oily and didn’t get the balance between crispiness and chewy softness quite right, they were still enjoyable enough as a dessert – which was just as well given the bargain basement quality of the ice cream.

illustrative photo of the fried dough sticks with ice cream at Wau

These dough sticks won’t cost you much dough.

Iced kacang was sadly unavailable across my many visits. I had to be content with the malty refreshment of ice cold Milo or with the sweetened soya bean milk.

illustrative photo of the iced milo at Wau

I forgot to take a pic of the soya bean milk, but you can probably figure out what that looks like.

The Verdict

Wau’s cooking can be wobbly and uneven, which is all the more disappointing given that there are some distinctly pleasurable dishes on offer here. With some further refinement, this restaurant could be an unequivocal success based on merit alone and not just because it’s the only Malaysian restaurant in Berkshire. Having said that, anyone bringing decent beef rendang, hokkien mee and roti canai to a West Berkshire market town is a hardy soul worthy of praise. Let’s hope Wau is just at the beginning of its story and not the end.

What to order: Beef rendang; roti canai; laksa; fish balls; hokkien mee; probably the satay lamb

What to skip: Probably the fried dough sticks; dumplings; roast pork 

 

Name: Wau

Address: 49 Cheap Street, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 5BX

Phone: 01635 528 877

Web: http://www.waumalaysian.co.uk/

Opening Hours: Monday-Saturday, noon-14.30 and 18.00 – 22.30 (last orders 30 minutes before closing). Closed Sunday. 

Reservations: probably a good idea on and around weekends.

Average cost for one person including soft drinks: £20-25 approx. 

Rating★★★☆☆

6 thoughts on “Wau review – Malaysian food heats up Newbury

  1. I so love your reviews, and keep a record of those places with four stars or more.

    Where in London would you please suggest for a tasty Malaysian feast ?

    Roti King is one of my favourites.

    • I’m pleased to hear you enjoy my reviews! It’s worth noting that you can easily find reviews by star rating on my website. If you’re on a desktop/laptop, check out the categories sidebar on the right-hand side of the home page. On a smartphone, quickly scroll all the way down to the bottom of the home page to see the categories bar. You can then easily click on ★★★★★, ★★★★☆ etc to see restaurants that have been awarded those ratings.

      I’m currently working on a review of an interesting Malaysian restaurant in London. It’ll be ready in the next few weeks…

      • Thank you for ‘heads up’ on your site .. I spend a lot of time in SW France, the land of duck, duck & more duck. It is always pleasure to have short breaks back in London to savour and enjoy the wide variety available, especially spicy cuisine & good italian food.

      • There’s certainly no shortage of variety in London. Having said that, after having returned from another holiday in Brittany, I do miss the high quality meat and produce in the French supermarkets and butchers that I went to.

      • There is a French supermarket called Grand Frais, which is simply amazing for fruit and vegetables, and puts U.K. supermarkets to shame.

        Whilst French butchers are great with cold cuts, pates & most meat, I find the beef very disappointing. When in London,I always shop in Marylebone or Islington to acquire beef for my freezer in France,

      • While in Brittany, I tend to visit branches of U and occasionally a Carrefour or two. I’m always taken with the fragrant melons in summer, the locally raised chickens, the live crabs and the wide selection of offal, terrines and rillettes. And the 28-day dry-aged beef has always been something to behold.

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