Nusa Kitchen is a rare breed of culinary delight; founded by a mother and son partnership (Patou and Mark) in 2004, Patou and Mark sought to bring a taste of South East Asia to ravenous ‘city workers in London’. What started as a ‘mere soup kitchen’, inspired by Patou’s lunch time school treats at the tuck shop, transformed into a popular chain franchise, which includes treats like laska’s, coconut rice and noodle broths, all made fresh on a daily basis. While there is a variety of meat options available at Nusa Kitchen like Thai Style Crushed Chilli Chicken, unsurprisingly Nusa Kitchen is also popular with vegans and vegetarians who are able to try Singaporean/Malaysian vegetarian options like Veggie Nasi Lemak, among other choices.
As well as creating ‘fresh food’ that seeks to authenticate South East Asian cuisine in the UK, menus also vary each week, meaning that Nusa is consistently trying out new recipes, to offer their customers a variety of choice. Produce is also often seasonal; during Halloween Nusa offered ‘festive soups’ like Pumpkin Pepper Pot, whereas during our stay, we had winter festive choices like sweet potato, wild rice and chilli flakes alongside root vegetables, inspired by the need to stay warm during the colder months. To our surprise we were told that Nusa Kitchen creates 8 fresh soups a week, four of which are often vegan and vegetarian, although unfortunately when we came, Nusa had sold out of two of its fresh soups which included vegetable jambalaya, which I would have liked to have tried , being a hallmark of Creole cuisine. Nevertheless, we were still treated to a fine spread at Nusa Kitchen and our culinary delights included the heartwarming sweet potato and wild rice soup, berry lassi and fresh homemade bread, which were all ingredients that were guaranteed to ward away the winter blues.
The Interior, Location & Nearby Rivals
Accompanied by Mal (Into The City) who is also a vegetarian, we were craving an escape from the biting cold and what better place than a ‘designated soup kitchen turned franchise’ to feel warm once more? With 6 shops and counting, we were invited to the Moorgate branch, which while small had a quaint, intimate charm that would appeal to the masses. The interior was simple, with tiling that was reminiscent of a Moroccan Bazaar, while the location was sandwiched between Bank and Moorgate, making it an optimal location to feed the office drones that wander the city. Drawing notable comparisons with ‘POD’, which also sells rice boxes, soups and fresh salads, as someone who has tried both stores, there is no question of a doubt that Nusa Kitchen is the better of the two. For a start menus are updated weekly, while vegetarian options at Nusa Kitchen is more creative than POD’s offerings, which often include the same ‘wholesome healthy salads’, which while good for you lack all originality. In comparison Nusa’s menu choices demonstrate their creativity, ensuring that all their menu options are not only ‘good for you’ but also have plenty of flavour, spice and use fresh, often rare and unusual ingredients.
Because two of the four vegetarian ‘soup options’ had sold out, we were given samples of the root vegetable vs the sweet potato and rice soup, to determine which soup we would order. The root vegetable soup had base notes of butter and turmeric, with a creamy, rich consistency, while the sweet potato and wild rice soup was the more solid soup of the two. Both of us decided that the sweet potato and wild rice soup, which had fresh chilli flakes and notes of green and red pepper had the slight edge over the root vegetable soup. While I chose to add ‘extra chilli flakes’ to add more texture and spice to the soup, Mal decided to opt for some fresh coriander, to give undertones of lemon and lime, with a hint of aniseed to the sweet potato soup. While we were both given ‘small soup pots’ we found that the small was actually quite filling and we would most likely have struggled to finish the ‘large soup size’.
The chunks of sweet potato was substantial, coated in a thick but not cloying sauce that drew parallels to sauces used in Indian curries like ‘Aloo Jeera’ or ‘Paneer Makhani’. But what was so interesting about the soup was how it used ‘wild rice’ instead of the more common noodle broths, which was surprisingly satisfying. The wild rice was not al dente, yet not mushy either and created a contrast to the chunky scoops of sweet potato, while the chilli flakes added much needed spice to the soup dish. To compliment our soup pots, we were presented with two samples of fresh bread; the first was a gluten free bread which was coarse but mopped up the soup with gusto, while the second bread was a softer, more spongier bread, which I preferred out of the two.
The Rice & Salad Boxes
Next we were presented with Veggie Nasi Lemak, which came with rice and Asian Slaw, while the salad box we were given was the roasted vegetable salad, that came with French Dressing and feta cheese. Out of the two I undoubtedly preferred the Veggie Nasi Lemak, which featured a spiced egg omelette, coconut milk infused basmati rice and Asian Slaw, while the roasted vegetable salad had squash, beetroot ( which I am not a fan of), feta and fresh salad leaves. The vegetable salad was fresh and vibrant, with plenty of colour to inject into a dreary winters day and while it did have flavour, as someone who is a fan of riced based, protein salads like egg, the Veggie Nasi Lemak, was the winning rice and salad box for me.
While Nasi Lemak is usually a meat based dish using meats like ‘Chili Chicken’, Nusa’s version is thankfully vegetarian-although they do offer a meat alternative- using long green beans, spicy sambal sauce infused with chillis and peanuts, coconut infused creamy rice and of course the omelette itself which had cheese, chili’s and peppers, complimented beautifully by the sambal sauce. Although Nasi Lemak is typically cited as a ‘Malaysian dish’ it also has roots in Thai and Indo-Chinese culture too, who all use various components of the Malaysian dish to make it their own. Widely considered to be a ‘Malaysian national dish’, our vegetarian version would be served by Hawkers in parts of Malaysia, with ‘mock vegetarian anchovies’ as a substitute for the dried anchovies that is normally used .
While Nusa Kitchen might be more infamous for their ‘soups’ and rice boxes, it also has a great range of quick and easy to eat dessert pots, like Indian Rice Pudding with pistachio and seasonal compote, Mysore Mango Lassi and Balinese Black Rice Pudding with coconut milk and fresh mango. We were given the Balinese Black Rice Pudding, which was creamy, indulgent and full of surprising texture. The coconut milk cream exterior was laced with fresh mango and coconut shavings, while the second layer making up of the bottom base of the dessert, was made up of black rice pudding and was quite delicious. Thicker than it looks, it is quite rich, although the fresh mango adds some juiciness to the creamy dessert.
Like any coffee shop/cafe/restaurant Nusa Kitchen offers the traditional drink menu of coffee, herbal teas and lattes, although there are a few notable exceptions like berry and mango lassi’s, but to my disappointment there did not appear to be fresh juices available on the menu. Nevertheless, after being recommended the Berry Lassi- a creamy, sweet yogurt drink popular in Indian cuisine- I was instantly sold. Having already tried sweet, mango, salt and pistachio variations of the lassi, I was pleased to find that the berry lassi was exquisite. Creamy and laced with blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, the drink was thick but not too solid, which meant that it was still refreshing and packed full of flavour. To finish Mal had a coffee, while I had a lemongrass and ginger tea with a dash of honey, which the CEO told me would be good for my flu and help build up my immune system because it was full of anti-oxidants.
Overall we were pleased with the variety of choice and loved that the staff were so friendly and eager to help. Our CEO guide went through all the dishes explaining what ingredients were used and was keen to understand our preferences and whether we had any known allergies. The food was well presented and upmost care was taken to ensure that our food was fresh and even tailored dishes to our preferences, which is something that I found to be very appealing about Nusa Kitchen. For me the notable standouts were the sweet potato soup, with the Veggie Nasi Lemak in close second, while I felt like there needed to be improvements in the drink selection to be up to par with the excellent selection of cultural foods. For example with Nusa’s mantra being a ‘taste of South East Asia’ it would have been exciting to see drinks like Chanh Muoi (Vietnamese salty lemonade), Cendol ( a South East Asian ‘Dessert Drink’ made with jelly, coconut milk, ice and sugar) and Bandung (with milk and rose syrup) on the menu. Nevertheless the food was superb and the drinks that we did have was delicious.
Another note for improvement would have been ensuring that they kept supplies of the two sold out soup options, so that we were able to taste the whole vegetarian soup menu, but this is only a minor issue and overall we thoroughly enjoyed our time at Nusa Kitchen and look forward to attending again. Next time I would love to try the breakfast menu, which includes Pan-Asian options like Kim Chi Omlette Toastie, Indian breakfasts like Bombay scrambled eggs and sweet options like Krabi Coconut Porridge, with Honey, Raisins, Seeds Or Seasonal Fruit Compote.
What Are Your Thoughts On South East Asian Cusine? Are You A Fan?
Please note me and a guest were offered a complimentary tasting session at Nusa Kitchen but all thoughts are my own.