Serving delicious food in a casual, convivial atmosphere. This is the mission of the restaurant – and I’ll say it achieves it. Between Stamford Street and Southbank, Sticky Mango takes over from RSJ, an old London favourite famous for its wine list. The restaurant attracts diners from Waterloo as well as audiences from Southbank, pre and post theatre. Sticky Mango is inviting – warmly lit and extravagantly decorated – and is a good alternative to the National’s ‘House’ in a zone otherwise dominated by chains. Peter Lloyd, previously a head chef at RSJ, has picked up the baton and has transformed it into an upmarket South East Asian restaurant. I went to try his latest menu – fresh off the back of a culinary pilgrimage in Bali – ‘A Taste of Indonesia’.
The incredible textures of each course in the tasting menu has made a lasting impression from my dining experience at Sticky Mango. So often the flavours and presentation dominate but here so much more dimension to the food is added by Lloyd in his recreating of Indonesian classics; The crispy onions added to silky smooth soup, the grain and the bite to the sambal to add to the paper-light crackers that are embedded with with crunchy peanuts. The peanut, kaffir lime and chilli crackers start the 11-course meal, served with sambal and lime chutney. The presentation is superb. The crackers are slightly chewy (a new texture), are flecked with red and green, and have ‘legs’ from the batter, making the crackers look like delicate, deep fried jellyfish. Even knowing there were 10 more courses to follow, I couldn’t resist asking for a few more.
So sweetcorn is big in Indonesia, and you can’t do the cuisine service without it… Next up, prawn, sweetcorn and young coconut soup – a recipe taken from his trip to Manado. The corn brought an earthy texture to the soup, crispy shallots added bite, and a perfectly cooked prawn was to be found under the surface. Steamed octopus asinan was served with dehydrated pineapple and sweet and sour ‘asinan’ salad. This was the most beautiful looking of all the dishes, purpley octopus tentacles fascinating in themselves, here shown off with a splash of bright orange sauce, cucumber and radish.
You can’t do Indonesian without sate. “It’s the land of a thousand soto and satay,” Lloyd notes, coming out to tell us a little of his cultural-culinary tour. Sticky Mango’s style is to sit the skewers on top of shredded cucumber, adding a touch of fresh to the heavy, sticky and delicious peanut sauce. The cherry on top: crispy chicken skin. Now that’s how to kill at making a favourite Asian dish. It gets even better, though, as the next dish arrives. BBQ sea bass wrapped in a banana leaf and topped with pickled veg. The smell as you open the parcel is insanely good, zesty and fresh, with the flesh of the fish beautifully soft – there’s that texture again… Crunchy pickled carrots and cucumber are a perfect addition – this was the highlight of my Taste of Indonesia.
But we’re not yet even mid-way through the menu. Balinese suckling pig is the centre point. Another beautifully presented course with green beans and a mild yellow sauce I’d still love to know what is… A suckling pig is 2-6 weeks old – all it’s had to eat/drink is milk, making the meat incredibly tender. And so it was, very soft in flavour and not the intense pork dish I was expecting. The short rib Rendang was, on the contrary, explosively flavourful. The beef was falling off the bone into the rich yellow coconut stew with apple, jicama plant and toasted coconut on top. This should have been the savoury finale plate – it packs quite the punch both in weight and taste. But a last dish of nasi goreng came out. Delicious in itself – a fried rice dish with prawn and squid topped with a spring onion omelette – it felt a little out of place. I’ll take a nasi goreng any night of the week for a filling, comforting dinner but following such a stylish and climactic menu it was a strange addition to me. It’s an Indonesian classic – maybe an impossible one to leave it out if creating a full taste round up of Indonesia. That said, it’s the best nasi goreng (and perhaps even rice dish) I’ve tasted.
Asian desserts aren’t renowned but at Sticky Mango Lloyd has got creative. While a highlight was the simple fish steamed in a leaf, the pudding plate was innovative and massively impressive. All on one plate was peanut nougat sate, smoked chocolate ganache, charcoal ice cream and sesame ‘sponge’. Nothing goes together and each bite is a revelation. The sesame sponge is mind blowing – it looks like a piece of black coral or . . . sponge. It’s air light (literally) with a huge flavour. Last up is the mango with black sticky rice, traditionally a breakfast dish. Chef’s had fun here. As it’s served, vanilla sauce is poured over a candy floss cage, which disappears revealing the pudding beneath of fresh mango and sorbet on top of sweetened rice.
I have no idea where this last ‘taste’ came from. Perhaps an extra treat from the A La Carte menu, but what found its way to our table turns out to be another favourite. An asian fruit salad of soft coconut flesh, mango, pawpaw and jackfruit with a bowl of sparkling (fermented?) frozen coconut water. On top of the melting coconut juice were ‘jewels’, water chestnuts dipped in syrup (that forms a jelly) – crunchy on the inside with a soft, shiny outside. My notes say ‘f*ck me. Seriously good – fresh, cold, ice, sweet (not fake), fresh fruity chunks, smooth milky ice-cold juice’: A crude, real-time reaction to this last mystery course.
The 11-course ‘Taste of Indonesia’ tasting menu costs £45 and it’s certainly a lot of bang for your buck. A two-course pre-theatre menu is available for £19 (or three for £23.50). For such a (recent) popular holiday destination, Balinese cuisine is pretty unrepresented in London. Especially for food so damn good. In central London, Nusi Dua and Bali Bali are options, but these are rather more traditional. Sticky Mango’s food is modern, its interior is cool, and it certainly somewhere I’ll be going back to!
33 Coin Street