An oncologist by day, British-Malaysian chef Yolanda Augustin started Wild Serai (serai means lemongrass in Malay) to pay homage to the memory of foraging for wild lemongrass and other herbs that grew in abundance close to her grandmother's house in Malaysia. When she later moved to the UK for university and work, homesickness for her family's cuisine kicked in. Soon she -- like many of us food-mad adult transplants -- spent visits back to Asia harrassing relatives for recipes, and hoarding and transporting comical amounts of hard-to-find-in-the-UK ingredients, in order to host epic dinner parties for friends here.
Finally, Yolanda decided to test the waters with a paying crowd, guest cheffing for the main dishes at a recent Plusixfive supper. She sure as heck pulled out all the stops, serving up a tricky-to-execute seafood feast! Here's a few peeks at what we got up to that night.
To open, Plusixfive chef Goz's formidable pork belly satay.
Yolanda's sweet and fiery sambal prawns with a scatter of stinky petai beans. The potency of flavour and fragrance of belacan, the fermented prawn paste that goes into a sambal, is greatly affected by terroir, much like wine and cheese. Much of the commercially available stuff in the UK, for example, is from Indonesia. My Mum swears by belacan from Penang, Malaysia. The belacan in this dish apparently came from Bintulu in Sarawak, its specialness handily researched by Cinnamon and Truffle.
Next up, scallops baked with butter, garlic, chilli and curry leaves. So pretty a hotshot chef we happily count as a repeat guest at Plusixfive added it to his "ideas" collection.
Mussels steamed in yellow bean sauce, Chinese wine, garlic, onions and chilli, if I remember right. A welcome respite from the heat of the other dishes.
Sauteed kang kong (water spinach) with sambal and lemongrass.
And now the headline act for the evening: Malaysian chilli crab. Sweet, spicy, brothy, fragrant with lemongrass...
... best paired with fried mantou buns to mop up all the gravy.
There is no polite way to eat this, and we were so pleased by and proud of the uninhibited enthusiasm of our guests!
Dessert: Goz grinds up ice for chendol...
... and whips up not one but TWO types of Nyonya kueh: Cassava cake, and gao-chang-gou, the rainbow-hued 9-layer cake.
You'll have to come to your own conclusions about Wild Serai's cooking. Suffice it to say, Yolanda was encouraged enough by the evening's feedback to go ahead and launch Wild Serai properly, and set a date for a solo Pop Up Mamak lunch! Yolanda's Malaysian-Basque boyfriend Sharif will be heading up the front of house team. Details below:
Wild Serai Debut: A Pop Up Mamak
Saturday, 17 Dec
£30 suggested minimum donation, BYOB
Details about the menu here
(Full address will be sent to guests, but closest stations are Brixton and Stockwell tube, and Loughborough Junction Rail)
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