In the mood for some Malaysian street food? Kopitiam in Summertown will certainly brighten up your taste buds. This small venue on South Parade opened in September 2022 and really showcases the diversity and spice of Malaysian cafes. It’s a simple, no-frills eatery, with a friendly atmosphere and delightful fare at reasonable prices. I was invited for a lunch tasting recently, and what a meal I had!
The Malay word ‘kopitiam’ translates as coffee shop, so I started with a glass of Kopi C: coffee with milk. If you feel more adventurous, go for the combination of tea-with-coffee, aka Cham, that is very tasty indeed. These drinks are helpfully displayed on one of the posters around the walls, which also feature bright food pictures in case Malaysian cuisine is unfamiliar to you. There is an extensive menu to choose from, with lots of seafood and chicken and a slightly more limited choice if you’re vegetarian. I put myself entirely in the hands of the chef, Mr Leong, with the request that I get to try some signature Malaysian dishes. He took me at my word, as you’ll read, and our table sampled a hefty proportion of the menu with great gusto.
The first order to arrive was a turmeric-yellow chicken satay fresh off the grill, which was juicy and sweet rather than spicy. This was quickly followed by a big bowl of the classic dish Ipoh Curry Mee (£11.90), which featured noodles in a rich coconut-based curry broth. Topped with shrimp, hard-boiled eggs, small fish balls and tofu puffs, it was hearty, savoury and full of comfort.
We had several other delicious seafood dishes. Chilli salt and pepper squid (£8.90) was perfectly prepared: lightly battered and meltingly tender. Prawns bathed in Asam sauce (£16.50) were hot and sour, with the onions and green beans adding a nice bit of texture. So far so good, but the crispy cereal king prawns (£13.90) were an especially delightful surprise. The use of a favourite Malaysian cereal (Nestle Nestum) for the batter adds a creamy sweetness as well as a strong crunch. The corporate tagline for the cereal is that it’s ‘aromalicious’ and this describes the dish quite aptly too.
Even more flavours arrived on the table with each of our chicken dishes. Marmite chicken (£10.90), anyone? Apparently, it’s a popular sauce at cafes in Malaysia. I’m not usually a marmite fan, but I’ll make an exception for these little chicken bites enrobed in an umami-rich sauce and toned down with a bite of plain rice. The Lo Mai Gai (£5.50) is described rather unhelpfully to non-Malaysians as ‘steamed glutinous rice with chicken’ on the dim sum menu. But what you get is a disc of richly flavoured sticky rice topped with Chinese sausage and dark shitake mushrooms as well; each mouthful gave me a cosy, warming sensation. If you want something more delicate, I’d recommend the Hainan chicken rice (£11.90): a seemingly simple comfort food where the chef got the balance just right. A forkful of the tender poached meat scooped up with some of the fragrant rice, a touch of ginger or hot chili sauce to taste, and I didn’t even need any of the poaching liquid served on the side.
We had to have just a couple more Malaysian classics to get a proper overview. One was the hawker-favourite Char Kway Teow (£12.90): wide, flat rice noodles stir-fried in a seasoned wok with prawn, Chinese sausage, and fish cake. The result is a steaming plate of almost-smoky, chewy noodles – street food tastes at their best. And last, but not least, we had Nasi Lemak (£12.90), considered by some to be Malaysia’s national dish. Kopitiam did it proud. The platter featured a fragrant chicken curry served with a scoop of rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves. These were already good by themselves, but I especially liked the extra garnishes on the side: chilli sauce, egg, cucumber, and – most importantly – peanuts and dried anchovies. The unique combination of flavours and textures really stood out and reminded me how much I like Malaysian cuisine.
Overall, I’m very pleased to have the lively, friendly Kopitiam arrive in Summertown. San, who hails from Ipoh in northwest Malaysia, is usually there to greet customers with a smile, and she is happy to explain the menu for those who want guidance. I’ve eaten several other meals there, in addition to the lunch I’ve described, and the quality has always been excellent. Whether you pop in for a casual get-together with friends, or just order delivery (they can do deliveries within 5 miles of the restaurant), let us know what you think.
Unit 19, Suffolk House, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7HN