Picking restaurants to review might sound like an enviable task, but it can be a headache. Mostly you’re thinking of the fabric of London – what gap is this new restaurant filling, or what makes this beloved place so indispensable? And so it’s nice when an opening fits both, and fills a gap created by its own absence.

Mambow as a permanent restaurant is new, but it already feels like an essential fixture in the capital’s dining scene. Originating in Spitalfields in February 2020, the first incarnation was thwarted (like so many) by the pandemic. After that came a slot in Market Peckham, which was dearly loved, and now it has found a deserved forever home in Clapton. 

What sets it apart

If ever a restaurant was a labour of love, it’s Mambow. The menu is born out of the classical training Lee received through stints at restaurants like the Michelin-starred Pashà Ristorante in Puglia, and a passion for the Malaysian-inspired cuisine of her childhood, rekindled through a lockdown stint back home. 

If the Peckham pop-up was a bit of a cult-favourite, since opening in Clapton the hype-about-town has reached something of a clamour. When I asked my friend if she would like to join, the message had barely left my phone when it buzzed with excitable agreement – apparently, she had been watching a video interview with Lee earlier in the day. 

Our experience

The space is small – just a few tables and a counter – which makes it feel buzzy and intimate. Dry(ish) January was severely tested – and quickly broken – by a 100+ Sour plucked off the intriguing cocktail list. From the hub of activity of the open-plan kitchen spilling out into the restaurant to the vibrancy of the food, there’s a jolt of energy suffusing through the atmosphere.

What we ordered

Another benefit of the new permanent home is that the menu has expanded past the relatively smaller offering of the Peckham pop-up. This is a blessing and a curse however, because it leaves you mourning the items you just couldn’t order without feeling greedy (looking at you, red curry and kaffir lime prawn toast).

The menu is built around my favourite type of eating; a revolving door of dishes shared and oscillating around the table – or counter in this instance. We start with a mix of ham keong mussels in a deliciously aromatic soy-bean and prawn broth and umai, a Sarawak-style ceviche with green mango. There’s spice. There’s sweet. There’s sour. It’s about as satisfying and vibrant as an opening salvo can be, topped off with the salty crunch of Achar Amak – nyonya pickles and crushed peanuts.

The hits don’t stop there – next comes a tangy, glossy pineapple curry, a testament to the fun Lee is having with her menu. There are some wild swings, flavour pairings that aren’t strictly traditional, but work beautifully. Then follows a wonderfully executed Rempah fish plate – grilled sardines stuffed to the brim with spicy sambal. Caught up in the flavour, I start freestyling; I’m spreading the sambal over the pineapple, I’m crumbling grilled banana blossom over a forkful of spicy sardines. I might have lost the run of myself, but I’m having too much fun.

As ever, I go into a meal with no intention of having dessert and, as ever, my arm is twisted into having one (it’s gently suggested by the lovely staff, and encouraged by my friend). A double act of cassava cake with jasmine rice ice cream and pandan crepres with kopi ice cream were quickly polished off.

Verdict

My housemate once stopped dating a prospective romantic interest owing to the fact that she lived in Hackney, and he lived in Brixton – as such he didn’t want to enter into a, quote, “long-distance relationship”. In his defence, it’s one hell of a commute. But with Mambow we have a new permanent restaurant that delivers an evening of tasting you won’t find anywhere else – and with an ever-changing menu, I’ve already made plans for a second date. Geographic inconvenience doesn’t matter when it comes to me and Mambow, and that’s how you know its true love.

where: 78 Lower Clapton Rd, Lower Clapton, London E5 0RN

website: mambow.co.uk

Check out more of our reviews


Want to receive more great articles like this every day? Join our daily email now