A single tweet by Rachel of The Pleasure Monger triggered some great excitement – belacan crab and black Hokkien mee (noodles) for dinner! Words to set anyone familiar with Malaysian or Singaporean food, well… set their hearts a-flutter. Oh, where was this to be found please? Luckily for us, she took pity on the crabless and gathered a group to Gourmet Garden in Hendon one night to sample their goodies; the lucky people were me, Mr Noodles, Eunice, Wen and Babs, Rahul, and a few of Rachel and Eunice’s friends rounded our number to a nice 10. We were excited and we arrived hungry, especially after the long ride up north on the tube. We settled into a large round table in the middle of the empty restaurant (well, it was a Wednesday night) and did I mention we were excited?

Rachel had already preordered a few things (the crab and the Hokkien mee) and we perused the rest of the menu (full of Chinese, Malaysian and Singaporean dishes) and picked out a few things (ok, all from South East Asia) that caught our fancy. Those “few” things turned out to be quite a lot more than we thought…

The main star of the meal came out first. Rachel had ordered three Fried Crabs with sambal belachan. Wow. That dish below was just one and a half crabs and was replenished when we demolished it. The crab was sweet and meaty and the pungent, salty, freaking delicious chilli and fermented shrimp paste sauce was utterly addictive. We licked the sauce off the shells and then spooned it onto white rice and dabbed it up with steamed buns.

Fried Crab with Sambal Belachan

A few other dishes came out while we were sucking on the crab shells (I did wish that these had come after just so we could have paid proper attention to the gorgeous crab). A Teochew Ngoh Hiang (Minced Pork & Prawns Wrapped in Beancurd Skin) (two orders pictured here) was quite tasty and was served with chilli sauce only (I missed the gloopy brown sauce that usually comes with it). Not a bad version.

Teochew Ngoh Hiang

Their Poh Pia (Crepe Roll with Vegetable & Egg with Sweet Chilli Sauce) (again, two orders here) was also alright but again I missed the crab and Chinese sausage that my mother added when she made it at home for us!

Poh Pia

I quite enjoyed the Tauhu Goreng (Crispy fried Tofu/Beancurd with Beansprout & Cucumber) which came in a prawn paste dressing (the same as you’d use in rojak). A spicy peanut dressing (like satay sauce) was also available.

Tauhu Goreng

At this point, our table was cleared and we had a bit of a breather before the main courses arrived. The main courses did take a while but the previously empty restaurant had filled to bursting while we were on our starters.

Rojak (Fruit & Vegetable Salad with Shrimp Sauce & Chopped Peanut) was nice but the dressing was a bit thin – I like my shrimp paste sauce dark and thick.

Rojak

The Steamed St. Peter in spicy bean sauce (Wikipedia told us that a St. Peter is a type of tilapia) was a monster. But oh goodness, what a delicious monster. I’ve never come across the spicy bean sauce before (made from preserved soy beans) but it went so well with the white fish.

Steamed St. Peter in Spicy Bean Sauce

The Fried Baby Squid with house spicy chilli sauce was alright…tender but the sauce was too strong and salty.

Fried Baby Squid with House Spicy Chilli Sauce

The Malaysian Spicy Buttered King Prawns were also alright…and yes, quite buttery and flavoured with all those curry leaves.

Malaysian Spicy Buttered King Prawns

The Fried Kangkong with belachan was very good; I can never turn down a good plateful of this. I love kangkong (water convolvulus) fried with chili and fermented shrimp paste.

Fried Kangkong with Belachan

This platter of goodness was what I had really been looking forward to – Hokkien Fried Noodle (Braised Broad Noodle in Dark Soya Sauce with Seafood & Chicken) (three orders on that one platter). This is in the Kuala Lumpur (KL) style – asking for Hokkien mee in Singapore will result in something different altogether. (Just to confuse things even more, there’s another Hokkien mee that’s a soupy prawn noodle dish.) Anyway, wow. This was pretty brilliant – the sweet and salty dark sauce coating every thick noodle and you see that scattering of golden brown cubes on top? Fried pork lard, just as there should be.

Hokkien Fried Noodle

A bowl of Singapore Laksa (Rice Vermicelli in Spicy Coconut Soup with Prawns & Chicken) was also ordered for sampling purposes. It was very tasty and while the noodles weren’t the thicker vermicelli you find in Singapore, I still enjoyed it as I actually prefer this thinner version (what we call beehoon). Beehoon does tend to suck up soup quite rapidly though and this bowl was full of noodles and stuff and just didn’t have enough soup…making for quite a dry laksa if left too long. Best to slurp it up quickly.

Singapore Laksa

By now, my stomach was about to explode. Somehow, I activated my dessert stomach and put away a whole order of Tofu Fa, a soft set tofu served with sweet syrup. It’s homemade and was warm and delicious. This was the most popular dessert on the table but a sago gula melaka (tapioca pearls with Malaysian brown sugar) also looked very good.

Tofu Fa

The damage? Only £26 per person including drinks (quite a few homemade soy bean milks and beers – we cleaned them out of both the soy milk and Tiger beer) and service. It might be a little out of the way but it’s a great little place and while all the food was good, there were some dishes that really shone. Thanks again for organising the dinner and introducing us to the restaurant, Rachel!

Gourmet Garden
59 Watford Way
Hendon Central
London NW4 3AX

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