We were lucky enough to bag a spot at Tolli at an early 630pm on Saturday evening, when the cafe’s usual pastries, sarnies and pastas make way for a simple but exciting menu of Malaysian classics. For two weeks only.
Three days in to this short run, it seems like the entire neighbourhood wants to come and sample the spicy soup concocted with dried shrimp, coconut milk, chicken and prawn stock to a special recipe by chef Lim. The tables filled out with reservations in minutes, with many more people being turned away.
Meanwhile, we began with selection of the small plates, including satay chicken so tender on the skewer it felt closer to eating fish. This was a big hit with my two young kids, who declared it ‘delectable’ – between bites – and swiftly ordered a second portion.
Then came the house signature Sarawak Laksa (main pic), served with some punchy chilli on the side and those lovely little limes that lend Malaysian cuisine a particular citric sharpness. The thinner consistency of the soup, plus a surprisingly clove-heavy flavour pitched it intriguingly against the more traditional coconut richness of the chicken curry laksa.
Both were fairly delicious, combining characterful touches (mixing in both egg and rice noodles, for example) while also faithfully representing the authentic touches of these regional varieties.
But, despite the name of the venture on the chalk board, our most popular dish of the night proved to be the Hainan chicken rice. This minimalist Asian streetfood classic is still strangely hard to come across in London, outside of the obvious Chinatown joints, so it’s great to see it appear on the main drag in Kentish Town.
This version paired more of that milky-soft chicken with a mound of stock-infused rice and then set it off by way of a gloriously fresh red chilli. A simple yet rewarding explosion of textures and tastes.
Hopefully this local culinary experiment will outstay its two-week run. Go support.