One of the less well-travelled Asian cuisines, food from Malaysia has yet to make its mark on the world in the way Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Korean and even Vietnamese fare has. Jom Makan, literally meaning "Let's go eat", is a Malaysian government owned mini-chain seeking to redress that balance and bring Malaysian food to the masses in the English capital. With the two branches so far both in prime locations - one along Pall Mall and the other at Westfield, and a reasonable price point, all the ingredients were in place. What about the food?
Satay Ayam, was dry, tiny, miserable pieces of chicken that had clearly been re-heated (cooked to order, as it said in the menu, it certainly was not), with barely any of the lovely charcoal flavour you should get from these skewers. Ayam Bakar was supposed to be chargrilled marinated chicken wings but was instead deep fried, lacking moisture, and with nary a flavour of anything, be it chilli, garlic, salt or a charred taste, all of which are supposed to be present.
Nasi Lemak had overcooked and under-fragrant coconut rice that had no bounce, a chicken rendang that was short on flavour with a sauce that was too wet, and meat that was too dry, and a sambal with prawns that would never be in danger of being thought of as fresh.
Mee Goreng: Fried egg noodles lightly chilli spiced with prawns, chicken, beansprouts & spring onion was absolutely tasteless, and Teh Tarik: Traditional Malaysian dark tea with sweetened milk lacked the requisite sweetness.
Jom Makan is clearly modelled after the extremely popular and successful Wagamama chain. That is hardly the standard one should be aspiring to if you ask me, but in at least one respect, it succeeds in its aim - Jom Makan serves as poor a representation of Malaysian food as Wagamama does Japanese. But there is one crucial difference - while the likes of Wagamama, and other chains such as Pho and Ping Pong serve their imitation food (inexplicably) to consistently full houses, Jom Makan is doing so to half empty venues if this visit was anything to go by; on this weekday evening Wagamama, and the Thai chain Busaba Eathai just a few doors down were both packed, with people queuing for tables, whereas Jom Makan was, let's just say, considerably less well patronised.
It is commendable that the Malaysian government is leading from the front in trying to showcase its nation’s cuisine to the world - it is, after all, one of the country’s finest exports, and greatest tourist attractions. But it is a crying shame that, despite considerable expenditure, this is the best they could come up with.
In a nutshell...
Perhaps in an attempt to adapt Malaysian food for Western tastes, Jom Makan has gone overboard, watering down and sanitising its dishes to such an extent that they are barely recognisable. Or perhaps this is just a remarkably poor execution of a laudable initiative. Either way, Malaysian food deserves so much better. For the record there are a few Malaysian restaurants in London that do in fact do her cuisine justice - my personal recommendations are Satay House in Paddington, and Sedap on Old Street. And if you've never tried Malaysian food before, please don't go to Jom Makan - it might put you off forever, and that would be a real pity as Malaysian cuisine has much to offer the world.
Jom Makan (Westfield London)
Westfield London Shopping Centre, Ariel Way, Shepherd’s Bush, London, W12 7GB
Average Price: £10-20