One of the great things about living in London is the incredible variety of restaurants. We do like to try out new places and recently had our first visit to a local restaurant which is unique in London and possibly the whole of the UK.
Lemongrass is billed as London’s only Cambodian Restaurant. I became aware of its existence through a positive review in a local newspaper and mentioned it to our Chinese-Cambodian-Aussie friend Bunny. We had been trying to make a date for a while but on a wet and gloomy Monday evening five of us rendezvoused in Lemongrass, which is situated in a backstreet the other side of the canal from the vibrant centre of Camden Town with its numerous eating places.
I must admit that before eating at Lemongrass I had very little idea what to expect. According to Bunny, Cambodian cuisine is quite similar to Vietnamese, though having only been once to a Vietnamese restaurant this wasn’t a great help.
I was surprised on arriving at the restaurant to find that we were not the only ones there, it being a Monday evening. In addition to us there were parties at two other tables. It was just as well that there weren’t more because the service was rather slow – and this is the only negative thing I would say about Lemongrass.
Nearly all the dishes on the menu were described with English names, rather than Khmer, which made it a little easier to know what we were ordering. We were a little surprised that there were no noodle dishes on the menu, so we ordered a variety of dishes with rice, including Lok Luk Steak, Ginger Chicken, Spring Chilli Chicken and Fresh Mango Salad. As is traditional in Cambodia, we also ordered a soup – Cambodian Prawn Soup. Apparently this would normally be consumed with the other dishes, but it arrived first, as a starter. Having said this, it was delicious, with a very tasty broth and very juicy king prawns.
In fact I enjoyed all the dishes we ordered, particularly the Lok Luk Steak and Spring Chilli Chicken. Use of spices such as coriander and lemongrass gave the fresh, tangy flavour that one associates with Southeast Asian cooking, but without going overboard with the chilli. In other words, tastier than Chinese food, but not as hot as Thai. Most of the dishes on the menu are chicken, beef or prawn.
By the time we finished we were the only diners left in the restaurant. We had an interesting conversation with Thomas, the owner and chef. Thomas is an accountant by profession who wanted to open a restaurant but found that he could not find the right chef. As he was interested in cooking, he ended up doing it himself. He explained that his style was based on Cambodian and Indochinese cooking from before the war (not sure whether he meant the civil war of the early 1970s or the Second World War) which was somewhat different from the type of cooking often found in Cambodia today (and whose strong flavours, he suggested, would not appeal to the western palate.) This helps to explain why some reviewers who have visited Cambodia have suggested that the food is not particularly authentic.
With main dishes between £6 and £8 Lemongrass is very affordable (though on this occasion Bunny paid – thanks Bunny!) It makes a great alternative to the Japanese and Thai restaurants that we usually visit in Camden Town and we will definitely be back before long.