The competitors are flexing their fingers, cracking their knuckles and double checking all of their ingredients are in reach. It’s now the final round of the summer roll-making competition and any air of whimsical light-heartedness has gone from the room, replaced instead by an absolute silence, one giant inhale. If you don’t soak your rice paper long enough it will crack when you try and bend it. If you soak it too long it will stick to the plate and become unusable. Underfill the roll and it will look meagre and deflated, overfill the roll and it won’t hold together, won’t be uniform in girth.
It’s a Thursday night and it’s the relaunch night for Ekachai’s Wandsworth branch. The pan-asian restaurant that specialises in Malaysian, Thai and Hong Kong cuisine was founded in 1999 by two friends from Hong Kong, unable to find their favourite Asian street food dishes in London. The Wandsworth restaurant, situated in the food court of the Southside Shopping Centre, is not a new site for Ekachai but following the refurbishment and rebranding of their Liverpool Street space the South London limb is also being pruned. Bamboo panels adorn the walls and a multitude of wooden cage lamp shades hang from the high ceilings. Rustic wooden chairs, mismatching tables and reclaimed furniture add to the street food theme and the mandatory enamelled industrial lamps are hanging lower over the bar.
The restaurant’s team presented a number of sample dishes from street-food style containers, each dish presented alongside an impressively sparse array of raw ingredients. Some of the dishes on offer were both unimaginative and fairly poorly put together, the green thai curry was far too mild and not dissimilar to a pre-packaged supermarket offering. Having said that, the seafood curry Laksa was exceptional — a bowl of perfectly rich and irresistibly savoury soup teeming with squid, prawns, mussels and noodles.
Also noteworthy are the gyoza; Ekachai’s are the only steamed gyoza we’ve ever had where no part of us wished they were fried. A special mention should also be made for their beer selection, if you aren’t particularly enamoured with Asian beers there is often no alternative when dining in a pan-asian restaurant, Ekachai have made a smart move featuring beers from Wandsworth’s own Belleville Brewery as well as Bermondsey’s Fourpure Brewing Company.