Stepping into Bonda Café felt like my companion and I had stumbled out of Lancaster Gate and straight into a Malaysian backstreet. Inside, I found the typical mix of Malays in headscarves and Chinese Malaysians with silky-smooth black hair. The smell of coconut rice and the sound of an ice lemon tea being stirred thoughtfully with a straw during mid-sentence all combined to make us feel that we had arrived in Kuala Lumpur.
The décor and other extraneous visual trimmings have taken a back seat to allow the food to take its rightful position on centre stage, with the warm and attentive staff making for excellent supporting roles. There are no smoke and mirrors – only delicious dinners.
I had looked at the menu three times before it hit me – Bonda Café does not serve alcohol. A victim of the British doctrine ‘if I’m not drinking I’m not enjoying myself’, I was oddly disappointed. Though Bonda Café doesn’t serve alcohol, you are welcome to bring your own if you choose. There are lots of exotic Malaysian drinks and fresh juices as well as teas and mineral waters, all for roughly £2 or less.
My non-alcoholic sadness dissipated when my starter arrived. It was Malaysian Famous Oxtail Soup (or Sup Ekor) and was as authentic as it gets; an island of hefty meat-on-the-bone surrounded by a moat of watery yet flavourful soup which had successfully excavated the most precious elements from the meaty centerpiece. My companion’s Sup Tom Yum was equally delicious, a sweet and sour soup which is, according to the Bonda Café, one of their most popular dishes.
Our mains were equally as delicious as their soupy opening acts. We enjoyed the Ayam Masak Lemak Cili Api, or chicken cooked in spicy yellow coconut sauce. Unlike the truly authentic soups, this seemed like something you could create at home, but was undeniably tasty if not a touch too spicy. By comparison, the Asan Redas (mackerel/catfish cooked in hot and sour gravy) was the most elaborate dish we ate – very salty and incredibly rich.
There’s no over-the-top menu items here but you will find satisfying, authentic and inexpensive Malaysian food. It is admirable that they have managed to keep the food just as authentic as the ambiance.
190 Sussex Gardens
Tel: 020 7402 5111