Few things these days can force me to stray south of the river (for those who don’t understand the minutiae of geographical prejudice in the capital, this means crossing the Thames and venturing into the likes of Battersea or Wandsworth). For it was in Wandsworth, the more alert of you may recall, that I had a restaurant called Harvey’s. I got two Michelin stars for the place. People came for the food and also, I’m told because they had an expectation that I might emerge from my kitchen and demonstrate what you could call a controlled explosion. And it’s true that I did remonstrate with and sling the occasional customer out – always for good reason, of course.
but all in all, I feel that I’ve done Wandsworth, so if I do stray back to those far-off, southern pastures it is really for one reason only: to visit Nancy Lam’s wonderful Indonesian and Far Eastern restaurant, Enak Enak.
It’s one of those places that you visit so you can eat an individual’s food and be looked after by them. Now, you might think that’s stating the obvious, but too many restaurants these days attempt to cook food they think they should serve in an atmosphere they only imagine to be right.
Nancy herself is a great cook but her restaurant is a family affair – Ben, her Ghanaian-born husband, cooks too and her children serve. I love family-run places. Before you ask, however, I have never considered opening a place run by my own family. Everyone is too emotional. If we opened on a Monday, by the weekend we wouldn’t have any customers left.
There is an honesty, meanwhile, about Enak Enak and I love how Nancy, middle right, shouts – in a nice way – at her customers. She opened it 21 years ago and today she’s like the eccentric restauranteur Peter Langan – she has his warmth and that same ability to make people feel special.
And the food matches her knowledge and skills. How many times has a chef shared his or her impressive-sounding philosophy with you, only to deliver food that is a huge disappointment?
On my most recent trip to Nancy’s, I took my wife, Mati, and we ordered lots of dishes that we shared. I love the concept of sharing, mainly because I love nicking tasty food off other people’s plates, and this legitimises it.
First out was some perfectly marinated chicken satay, middle left, cooked on charcoal – the way that they prepare street food in Indonesia. It came with peanut sauce, which they declare on the menu is ‘made from scratch’. The chicken was wonderfully juicy, thanks to its marinade, and they’re right to be proud of that nutty sauce. We had a couple of seafood dishes: ‘sexy salmon’ cooked in lemongrass and coconut sauce (a saucy little number indeed), and some deep-fried squid with spring onions and chilli, top right, which was properly fresh and tender. We also had pad Thai – rice noodles with prawns, chicken bean sprouts, peanuts and God knows what else. It worked like a dream.
Pudding could have been pancakes stuffed wit coconut, bottom middle, but I chose nothing. I simply wanted to remember the time, one summer, that Nancy asked me to lunch at her house. She served us homemade peach ice cream, from her own fruit. If she put that on the menu, she’d get a Michelin star. But I wouldn’t want that because too many people would end up crossing the north/south divide.
Mr Ishii says…
“You know I like this restaurant”, says MPW’s special assistant. “I get a good family feeling here. But I try to find the right word to describe the food. I search my brain and now I have it. This word is tasty. Because the food is tasty. Very tasty. I like my food to be tasty and this place serves tasty food.”
By Marco Pierre White