Fans return time and again for yummy Indonesian and Oriental home cooking in a party atmosphere at larger-than-life TV chef Nancy Lam’s long-established Battersea headquarters.
Once, it was a charming, slightly down-at-heel front room, so tiny that just getting a reservation felt like a real achievement. At a table where take-away customers sat to await their orders, wax crayons were provided to pass the time. Then, several years ago, the space was hugely extended and completely refurbished. The decoration of the resulting, long, narrow room, wisely broken up by a bar towards the back, is a little bland despite the fun, multi-coloured tablecloths, and diners might feel a bit lonely on a quiet weeknight. Still, at least the dramatic expansion makes booking much easier.
Provided you hit a night with a reasonable number of diners, a good time is guaranteed. The vibe is relaxed and fun: it feels like the evening could turn into a full blown party at any moment, especially when Nancy forsakes her kitchen to make her rounds. Displaying the extrovert, eccentric, high decibel persona familiar to fans of her Channel Five television series, Nancy works the room, jocularly insulting diners and always getting away with it. Perhaps the atmosphere also benefits from the fact that Enak Enak (Indonesian for yummy yummy, incidentally) is very much a family affair: Nancy’s placid, ever-smiling, husband, Ben, the quintessential yin to her yang, also cooks, whilst their two charming and beautiful daughters lead the front-of-house brigade.
This is honest, healthy, homely Indonesian and Far Eastern cooking of the highest order. Of the starters, skewers of marinated chicken are tender and tasty, and their accompanying satay sauce has not been over-processed, so it still contains little gritty bits of nut, making it impossibly moreish. A portion of vegetables in batter is generous and varied, including sweet potato, courgette, broccoli, cauliflower and aubergine, the batter impeccably light. Barbecue prawns are skewered and cooked over charcoal then simply seasoned with lemon juice. This is the simplest, plainest dish imaginable, yet the flavour is sublime.
Onto the mains. If sweet and sour chicken conjures up thoughts of heavy, greasy battered balls of meat with a gloppy, artificial-tasting, day-glo sauce, think again. Nancy’s version features the same feather-light, grease-free batter which graces the vegetable starter, and just enough piquant sauce has been drizzled over. A stir fry of juicy prawns and crisp vegetables shows that dishes can simultaneously feel indulgent and healthy. A side dish of perfectly cooked bok choi doused in a little soy sauce and a bowl of correctly sticky, fragrant rice complete a sparkling feast of a main course.
Puddings aren’t really the thing here, although you can order kush dada, which is pancake stuffed with coconut and brown sugar, or banana fritters. Both are fine, and come with homemade sorbet. Have the sorbet - which might be raspberry - on its own: it’s outstanding. Expect to pay £30-£40 for plenty to eat plus half a bottle of wine from the lower end of the list per person. This is not particularly a bargain but, bearing in mind the quality of the fare, it’s certainly good value.
Wine is never going to be the main reason for visiting a restaurant like this, but the list is perfectly serviceable with bottles starting at around the £16 mark. Beers, which many still feel work better with spicy eastern foods, are from a reasonable £3. A large bottle of mineral water will cost you the same, whilst a free jug of London’s finest tap elicits no pained expressions or raised eyebrows.
The Last Word
Visit Enak Enak once and you’ll enjoy polished, deceptively simple Oriental home cooking in relaxed, fun surroundings. Return a second time and you’ll be greeted like a long lost family member. Perhaps it’s this warmth of welcome even more than the delicious heat of some of the fierier dishes that keeps Nancy’s loyal clientele coming back to Lavender Hill.