Not venturing to Zone 3? Fair enough – The Portrait Restaurant is excellent and centrally located.

Or, if you only want the faves, hit up our list of the best restaurants in London

What's the deal?

What's the deal?
Chef Abby poses in front of Mambow

London is an exciting era of “cool women flying the flag for their ancestral cuisine”. We have Rahel Stephanie of Indonesian supper club Spoons; Marie Mitchell of Caribbean cookbook Kin and various pop-up dinners; and Abby Lee of Mambow, once a pop-up in Spitalfields and now a permanent restaurant in Clapton, and one of East London’s most difficult reservations to boot. Abby serves Malaysian food with a modern, personal touch, inspired by her childhood spent in the Southeast Asian country. Diners will recognise the Chinese flavour profiles mined from Lee’s Peranakan heritage – particularly the stinging, Szechuan-style heat, which many have made a big stink over (in reality, it’s manageable). 

The space is small – just 40-cover inside, and 20 in their bijou back garden. As such, it’s always busy, diners seated cheek-by-jowl along a row of two-seaternsteel top tables. The space feels like a cool person’s Apartment Therapy house tour – sparse but with bright, leftfield colour accents, like the square-tiled bar or the Crayon-hued plates, seemingly precision-engineered for Instagram. This being Clapton, the wine list is made up exclusively of natural bottles – or as Mambow puts it, “juicy wines”. There are only three cocktails on offer, each one having a bit of fun with Malaysian touchstones – like the “100+ sour”, spiked with an isotonic drink that’s the crowd-favourite in the region.

The menu is a culmination of Abby’s years inventing and reinventing Mambow. As a result, it’s glorious: an ecstatic, freewheeling shrine to the food of her home country, flavours carefully hewn and kick-you-in-the-teeth vibrant. The menu changes based on what’s in season and, just as crucially, Abby’s whims. But sambal – Malaysia’s favourite tongue-sizzler – figures heavily, neutered by a cooling side of coconut cream, should you need it. The small-format snacks are pleasingly messy and interactive – stir-fried clams, spiked with white pepper, are scooped up with curry leaves; chicken thigh and heart skewers gloop with treacle-coloured tamarind. Larger plates include brightly-coloured curries, wok-licked meats and gently-simmering specialties, including the much drooled-over slow-cooked lamb ribs smothered in tamarind and coriander seed sauce. There’s no doubt Abby will join the pantheon of London’s most-revered chefs, and that Mambow’s tables will be coveted for years to come. 

What should I eat?

What should I eat?
Don't miss the Kam Heong Mussels

Stacked high in a warm, turmeric-coloured bath, the Kam Heong Mussels epitomise Abby’s cooking style in their beautiful chaos. They are wok-fried in a coconut-y curry leaf and soybean-paste sauce, then plated and covered in a thick snow of bird’s-eye chilli and prawn floss. 

The bowl is the ideal format for Abby’s warming, down-to-earth dishes. And the Gulai Lemak Pucuk Ubi Kayu comes in a lovely piece of round, speckled stoneware whose warm earthy colour is striking against the creamsicle hue of the curry. Traditionally, the star ingredient here is tapioca leaf (or cassava), but Abby’s version swaps out the bitter green for pea eggplant and rainbow chard from local grower Shrub. Bobbing peas, crunchy strips of tempeh, and a blanket of peanuts complete the dish.

A good fried chicken dish is always an easy win. And Abby’s Malaysian-spiced number – called Ayam Goreng Berempah, served with turmeric-cucumber pickle and homemade kewpie mayo dolloped with blood-red sambal tumis – makes light work of the format. Warming and a little sweet, reminiscent of Japanese karaage chicken, order it if you can – it comes on and off the menu.

 

Why should I go?

Why should I go?

To snag one of the hottest tables in town. 

££££
78 Lower Clapton Rd, Lower Clapton, London E5 0RN
mambow.co.uk