Food and Drink - Restaurant Review - Lemongrass in Royal College Street

Published: 7 April, 2011
by MATTHEW LEWIN

Why don’t you review Lemongrass?” a reader wrote. I must have, surely, I thought to myself, but when I checked I was amazed to discover that the last time I visited the restaurant was too many years ago.

And that’s an injustice, because Lemongrass is one of the best restaurants on the patch, and an almost compulsory destination for anyone who appreciates uniquely clever food – at more than reasonable prices.

It’s a small restaurant, entirely without pretensions, with a single Cambodian chef working his heart out in a tiny kitchen too small to produce a dinner for four let alone a whole bunch of tables. 

But he makes miracles happen in there, and everything comes to the table hot off the wok, stunningly fresh, and wonderfully unusual and appetising. 

If you are unsure about this sort of cuisine, go for one of the set feasts (for two) that will take you through much that is of interest on the menu. Prices are very reasonable.

I started, for example, with a bowl of Cambodian prawn soup –– a multi-layered soup with remarkable depth of flavour, featuring tomato, chunks of pineapple and wonderfully fresh prawns that coruscated in the mouth.

My chief culinary adviser liked the sound of garlic lemon mushrooms, and they were indeed superb –– the mushrooms having been lightly fried with an incredible garlic lemon sauce and then sprinkled with coarse ground pepper. Mouth-watering stuff.

Other enticing starters included satay, crispy fried leek cake, scallop toasties and miniature parcels of curry and potato.

For our main courses we decided to investigate the Cambodian steak dishes, and we ordered two variations –– the lok luk steak, the house speciality, a classic Khmer dish, which comprised cubes of sirloin delicately cooked in the wok with onion and crushed pepper.

The other was chilli lemon steak, in which cubes of sirloin are cooked with fresh chilli, garlic, onion, coriander and a twist of lemon juice. Both featured commendably tender sirloin, perfectly wok-fried medium rare, and both were sublime. The lemon steak was particularly interesting with its blend of chilli, lemon and coriander.

Other main courses included lemongrass chicken, ginger chicken, and prawns intriguingly simmered in a whisky oyster sauce.

Instead of rice we decided to have some extra vegetable dishes. One was a large bowl of just-cooked asparagus, cut up with garlic lemon sauce and black pepper, and the other was a truly thrilling fresh mango salad –– sliced mango with coriander, onion and a fresh lemon dressing.

Everything came to the table absolutely fresh off the knife, wok or directly out of the pot. Everything was hot, crisp, tasty, interesting, unusual and intriguing. We didn’t have dessert, but our excellent meal came to under £20 a head, which gives this place a remarkably high quality to price ratio.

SUMMARY: Consistently outstanding Cambodian food. Open evenings only Monday to Saturday. Expect to pay around £17 a head for food.

Rating: 3 1/2 Out Of 5 Stars

LEMONGRASS
243 Royal College Street, NW1 9LT
020 7284 1116