There’s a certain “we’re not in Kansas anymore” quality to heading out of the city centre, where most of Little Oliver’s reviews are found, towards May’s Thai Malaysian Cafe in student-heavy Hyde Park.
When we arrive, tempted by the promise of authentic Thai and Malaysian food and rock-bottom prices, that feeling persists.
At one point all the tables are taken up by students except us. Most have brought their own drinks, taking advantage of the ‘bring your own bottle’ policy on alcohol, while one group is engaged in a classic young person’s conversation, where all parties involved look at their mobile phones and no-one talks to each other.
Some elements of the place are a bit rough and ready, and it’s unlikely to win any awards for presentation. There are a few photos of the food on the walls, a map of South East Asia and a black chalkboard, with little else in the way of decoration. Quite rightly, more attention has been paid to the food, which is served quickly and with no frills.
Our starter, four steaming gyoza pork dumplings, are a triumph, superior to those you’d get in city centre chain restaurants.
They’re bigger, with tastier dumpling skin encasing the minced pork inside and an obviously home-made spicy sauce, rather than just some soy or teriyaki poured into a bowl. We’re off to a good start.
I then go off-piste, away from the traditional Thai favourites, opting for the Nasi Lemak, the national dish of Malaysia.
The description, that it is served with “served with chicken, coconut rice and dry anchovy”, doesn’t quite prepare the diner for the dish itself, which is a large crispy fried chicken leg, a dollop of hot sauce, and a scattering of whole peanuts and tiny anchovies, served with heads on, served alongside the rice and two halves of a boiled egg.
It’s a challenge knowing how to approach it, and I opt to alternate bites from the chicken leg with spoonfuls of the combined rice, peanuts, sauce and anchovies.
The former is moist on the inside and not too greasy, while the latter is hugely tasty, provided the sauce is consumed in judicious quantities.
To drink, I opt for a Thai iced tea, where milk, sugar and a local brew are poured over ice. It’s so strongly-flavoured that it’s not refreshing as such, and wouldn’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly memorable.
My partner’s Pad Thai is groaning with noodles, beansprouts, juicy chicken and crushed peanuts. It’s full of flavour and far from stodgy, if not spine-tinglingly exciting.
Two mains, a starter and two drinks come in at a few pence over £20. It’s a boon for the local student population, but also worth a visit for anyone else.