New venture from Elizabeth Haigh serving Singaporean food in Borough Market
Mei Mei (meaning Little Sister) is the new venture from Elizabeth Haigh who previously gave Hackney’s Pidgin a Michelin star when she headed the kitchen there. Ever since that meal, I have been waiting to see what this chef would do next and the answer is going back to her Singaporean roots in opening this eatery in Borough Market. I have been here a few times now and I think I have had pretty much the entire food menu and it has revealed a great option to go to. My particular favourite is the kaya toast which uses caramelised coconut jam with butter, served with optional slow-cooked poached eggs on the side with light soya and white pepper and a teh tarik (condensed milk tea). For £5.50 you get the whole ‘set’ as a superb breakfast or brunch option but is served all day (usually running out in the afternoon owing to popularity). More details are at the ‘read full review’ button as usual, but I would happily come back here time and time again for the quality of the dishes for the price point.
Firstly, Mei Mei is Elizabeth Haigh’s nod to her younger siblings to explain the name further. The market stand has high-rise stools for the majority and one side area taking four comfortably to sit down at a table. No ringing ahead to book, this is turn up and order only, just as per hawker dining in Singapore. Once your buzzer goes, you can either take chosen dishes away or sit at an available stool and have overlooking the kitchen.
For the kaya toast, the bread comes from the superb Bread Ahead supplier, responsible for some of the finest doughnuts in the land and equally wonderful bread. The texture of this toast is spot on and whilst most kaya I have had is more pure-pandan greener and not caramelised, this much more sweetened version is probably designed more for Western palates. The kaya is prepared by cooking coconut cream to 83 degrees Celcius, with sugar, pandan and caramel added. Butter slices are also added to give extra temptation to the toast. The toast is £3.50 on its own or an insanely good value £5.50 if you get the set which means for the additional £2 you gain two slow-cooked eggs to dip the kaya toast in and a teh tarik, the latter being £3.50 on its own.
At the heart of Singaporean cuisine is the all-important chilli sauce and sambal (a chilli paste, usually with dried crustacean). The chilli sauce here, made fresh consists of garlic, chilli, ginger, chicken fat & stock, lime and salt and is probably the best chilli sauce I can recollect. I am actually not one for too much heat, but this chilli has a vibrant rather than aggressive freshness and is terrific. The Nasi Lemak dish has this on the side served to coconut rice, fried egg, cucumber, peanuts anchovies and fried chicken which is a traditional dish eaten all day round in Singapore. Quality sambal.
The deep-fried and battered chicken has a flavoursome batter and a very tender feel to the meat and this can also be bought on its own in a much larger portion size with rice, cucumber and chilli garlic sauce. The mixed satay I had was with agreeable meat (supplied by Ginger Pig in the market) and crunchy satay sauce. The Singaporean curry is served with very tender chicken, a creamy curry sauce and rice. A friendly note here – if you are wishing to take this away I would recommend asking for the rice to be placed in a separate container as the rice will have soaked all of the rich sauce up by the time you are home if you don’t ask this.
However, one of the jewels of the menu is the Hainanese chicken which is simply poached and hung chicken and is as tender and fragrant as they come. You may be familiar with skinless chicken breast pieces you can get ready to eat in the supermarket? This is not that. These are fresh, succulent and served warm (they keep longer through the day hung at a lower temperature as opposing to drying out faster under lamps) and the simple combination of this with the pickled vegetables, rice and chilli garlic sauce is a straight forward winner. Perhaps the key dish you should have if you can only have one.
The carrot cake was nicely done and just to be clear, these are not orange carrots, they are sweeter, white carrots, or white radishes that are almost sponge-like when cooked in their cake form and are a traditional Singaporean sweet dish. It is served with fried egg, preserved white radish and coriander and is a good example of having dishes made from scratch in front of you for an authentic experience. On a miscellaneous note, it has been a pleasure to visit each time and the team are friendly to chat with. It is also very good to see Elizabeth Haigh leading from the front in the kitchen on each of our visits.
I gather Ms Haigh has designs on a London-based formal design concept of her own at some stage when ready, but settling this first Mei Mei and finishing a cookbook is taking care of her calendar availability pretty well in the meantime. I will just have to be patient. In the meantime, I don’t think you should be patient at getting to try here and although it means wrapping up warm for eating here in the cold outside, I would say this is the perfect time when the crowds are low as I am happy to bet my pension that the queues here in the summer will mean a far longer wait to getting any of the dishes, let alone a stool.
Food Grade: 68%
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