Back in the dark old days where people used to boil their meat and vegetables (WTF nan?), there was a big divide between casual dining and “eating out”. Either you spent a week’s paycheque on the kind of very serious, very quiet restaurant where you couldn’t pronounce any of the starters, or you ate a disappointing slop of fish and chips at your local pub. But now things are different. The gap in London has closed to the point where you can go out casually, not spend all your money, and still eat something delicious (revolutionary, huh?). So in that relaxed vein I headed to pan-Asian joint Ekachai King's Cross to see if some chilled out Hong Kongese/Thai/Malaysian food could keep my taste buds interested.
Venue and Atmosphere
The King's Cross venue is compact but still a bit charming. The interiors are made almost entirely of wood, from the long tables with benches, to the higher seats caught in the corner beside a colourful mural, to the panelling across the walls. Giving the place that extra-authentic street food market feel, everything has a shabby edge, so expect purposefully rusted metals and worn tables. Their semi-open kitchen sits at the back, adding an extra element of atmosphere to the place.
Being about ten minutes from Kings Cross station, there’s quite an eclectic mix of people there, from families to groups of younger people attracted to the reasonable prices. We sat ourselves besides the floor-to-ceiling windows so that, as my best friend ranted about her now-ex-boyfriend, I could watch the world go by and thank the gods I am single.
Food and Drink
As said rant continued, we both turned to booze before we tucked into any calming food, opting for a reasonably priced Tierra Antica Merlot (£19.95). The drink list isn’t extensive (there’s more teas than individual wines, though), but this isn’t what you’re here for, and no bottle is more expensive than £24.
Being sat right near the kitchen and smelling that delightful mix of spices, it wasn’t long before our bellies demanded we order with threats of too-loud grumbling. To start we shared soft shelled crab (£6.95) with Sambal chilli sauce and, because every review on their Facebook page insisted I must, the Thai BBQ spare ribs (£5.50). The crab’s batter was light and the meat itself crispy, but the Sambal chilli sauce was the winner. We used the last of our Thai prawn crackers (£2.50) to dab it up the minute the crab was gone.
Ribs are one of my top five meats and my weird go-to when hungover, so I think I know a thing or two about them. These didn’t disappoint. Cooked well and a fair amount of meat on the bones made it a nice enough dish; they didn’t have to spoil us so with the sauce. I couldn’t get enough of that sauce – literally, there needed to be more on there – and certainly elevated it to my favourite dish of the night.
But the value for money aspect really comes into play with the main courses. I opted for Cantonese-style roasted duck and BBQ pork with Pak Choi (£9.75), and steamed rice, because I love both of those meats individually, so why not slam them together? My friend, on the other hand, opted for the Beef Rendang (£8.25), a curry made from slowly simmered beef with roasted coconut, galangal, chilli and lemongrass.
Well, the portion was absolutely huge, especially for the price: not just stuffed with rice but with plenty of meat (and veg I guess, if you’re into that). The only problem was that the duck and the pork tasted slightly over-cooked and this was highlighted by not having enough sauce. Maybe this is just my personal taste, maybe it’s because the sauces are so good I want more. Either way, in typical East Asian fashion we left filled with enough food to last us through winter. And you know what - it was worth it.
Ekachai is casual dining done well. The venue is relaxed but not boring. The food is plentiful and affordable but tasty. And the experience genuinely left me wanting more. The next time one of my mates goes through a break-up, we’ll probably take comfort in this Asian street food.