Sunday, 17 June 2012

HK Diner - Bristol

I've been getting itchy feet again. The missus and I spent most of this morning talking about getting away again and almost craving to be in Malaysia. During our travels of 2010-2011 we ended up spending a lot of time in Malaysia as we used Air Asia for getting around which has Kuala Lumpur as its hub.

I was initially quite worried about eating in Malaysia and South East Asia generally. I've got a really bad nut allergy and have been hospitalised with a severe reaction before. I've had to jam an inch long needle into my thigh after unexpectedly eating nuts at a wedding in Castle Combe which is a few miles away from ambulances based in either Chippenham or Bath. Having a similar experience abroad would not be pleasant.

I found the first couple of days in KL quite stressful and became convinced that I was going to eat nuts, if for no other reason than most of the food would be cooked in nut oil. Eating in normal restaurants felt impossible. However, we got very lucky with the staff at our hostel who spoke excellent English and understood the whole nut allergy thing. They explained that most places now use palm oil for cooking, as a result of Malaysia being the prime producer of palm oil. They also wrote me a note to give to waiters to explain my allergy. This opened up a whole new world.

After getting a bit more relaxed I dove right in, eating from hawker stalls and nasi kandar places with confidence and great satisfaction. The food in Malaysia is fantastic. There's searing hot curries from the Tamil Indians, rich and varied regional cuisine from the Chinese population and the deeply satisfying dishes of Malaysian cuisine including Nyonya dishes from around Melaka. I was in heaven. If it didn't have nuts in it, I ate it. There were times in some kampung buffet restaurants where we had no idea what we were eating, revelling in strong new tastes, eye-watering sambal, rice cooked with coconut and pandang leaves and jungle greens.

It was a struggle to come home when we did and we have both yearned to return ever since.

And so it was that today we spent most of the morning today getting very excited at the thought of heading back to Malaysia, if only for a couple of weeks, in the new year.Which, naturally, led to a huge craving for the sharp, sour, sweet and hot taste tastes of Asian food.

We decided to walk into town as today the Portway was closed for Bristol's Biggest Bike Ride. It seemed like a non-event but it did mean we could walk in to town with loads of traffic noise.

We couldn't decide where to go and eat and ran through the options as we strolled along. We considered the Vietnamese place on Gloucester Road but didn't think it would be open. We thought about eating at a Thai place but that wasn't really what we were after. And then we remembered the place on Park Street that does Malaysian food - which turned out to be the HK Diner.

My missus loves Nasi Lemak so her mind was made up pretty much before we even sat down. I took a bit longer to decide. Until I get familiar with a place I need to be careful because of my nut allergy and so didn't feel I could be as adventurous as I would like. What did immediately spring out at me as Achar Awak - pickled spicy vegetables which are a Nyonya cuisine staple. To go with that I went plain and simple - rice with 3 meats.

Although my first serving of Achar had been sprinkled with peanuts it was swiftly changed to one without. And it was delicious. The missus was transported by her generous portion of Nasi Lemak, with authentic tasting coconut rice.

My meat with rice was very good. The duck was the most tender duck I've ever had and melted in the mouth. To say I was pleased by getting a whole duck breast would be an understatement, and it went really well with the spicy, sour pineapple from the Achar. The BBQ pork was moist and tender and delicious, and the crispy belly pork was really rather good as well. The portion was quite literally more than enough.

The sounds, smells, tastes and sights took us right away from Bristol, back to Malaysia. 20 quid on lunch seemed well spent for such a journey.

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