Bonda Café is the epitome of a hidden restaurant. Just off Sussex Gardens, a menu on the wall is the only indication at street level that there is a restaurant on the premises. The entrance - dingy stairs leading to a sparse, basement room hardly screams "welcome, great food here" either. But don't be put off - Bonda is quite the gem. This is a Malaysian restaurant, run by Malaysians, for a clientele, I suspect, 99% made up of Malaysians, which means it’s the real deal.
For starters, Roti Canai was crisp yet reasonably fluffy – a much above average rendition by London standards, while Sate Ayam used meat that was just a tad too lean for my liking, but delivered on flavour and authenticity.
Amongst the mains, Ayam Masak Merah was pretty good - deep-fried chicken, in a tasty, tomato-based sauce - not quite the same level as the rendition at Satay House but miles better than Tukdin's. Beef Rendang, meanwhile, was absolutely superb – tender, melt-in-the-mouth beef, in a dry, lemongrass and coconut sauce – it was done just right, making it undoubtedly the best version I have come across in town.
Nasi Lemak had rice that was a little bit dry, and hence not quite as bouncy as could be, but exhibited a decent coconut flavour; and was accompanied with a lovely sweet and not-too-spicy sambal.
For dessert, Malaysian Kuih was too dense, in stark contrast to the Durian Cheesecake that was delightfully light and fluffy, with a very evident durian taste. Service was relaxed, pleasant and homey.
In a nutshell...
On the whole, perhaps just a half-notch below nearby Satay House, but still a very faithful representation of Malaysian cuisine; and given its comparatively budget prices (to go with more modest surroundings), not to mention a beef rendang that was simply the best, Bonda Café deservedly makes it onto the (very) shortlist of Malaysian restaurants in the capital worth a return visit.
190 Sussex Gardens, London, W2 1TU
Average Price: £10