[This venue is now closed]
One could easily miss Naga and that would be a shame. It’s tucked down a side road off Kensington High Street and its entrance doesn’t give much of a clue to the style of restaurant within; but it’s a bijou revelation.
The bar is at the front and at street level but the business-end of this restaurant is at the back and up …and down. This is a contemporary and airy split-level conservatory with an ambiance that changes as the sun (yes, I had to look that word up) sets. There are some tables on the top deck and the floor of that provides the ceiling for one side of the restaurant below. It’s intimate and cosy under there, with a striking red wall decorated with calligraphy. A red parasol is the only other design nod in an Easterly direction. Yes, Naga is a pan-Asian restaurant but it introduces its diners to that continent via its outstanding cuisine rather than flights of dragons. The ladies waiting on table are traditionally dressed in cheongsams and that is much more attractive than the ubiquitous black and white.
The character here is provided just as much by co-owner Tri Van Dang as by the menu. He is fun, animated, friendly and dedicated. He isn’t a chef but is passionate about the food served here. He will assure that your evening is deliciously entertaining, and it’s obviously appreciated as I noted several diners who were evidently regulars, and that fact is an accolade for a relatively new restaurant. Naga was doing very well on a freezing winter (spring is missing this year) evening.
Owners Eddy Lim, celebrated restaurateur with thirty years experience and Tri along with chef Syarief (awarded Best Pan Asian Chef 2011) have impeccable credentials for running a pan-Asian restaurant. Tri is from Vietnam and Fachri Syarief is from Indonesia. I think the secret to their success is not only the skill of preparation but also the choice of dishes. Yes, Asian (with a few fusion notes), but they offer harmonious culinary insights into recipes using similar spice palettes. One can order an array of starters, salads, meats and fish, and nothing will overpower. All dishes are cooked to order so they are fresh and vibrant.
Silken Tofu with Ginger Dressing was light, indeed silken and beautifully presented. A mild-tasting starter that will be sought by both vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Crisp Chilli Salt Squid and Garlic French Beans are grazing dishes to enjoy with a glass of fizz while considering the rest of the menu. Once again the presentation was first-class.
Duck and Watermelon Salad was outstanding and a must-try: plenty of meaty shreds on a herby salad; the fruit was cooling and sweet.
Slow Cooked Pork Belly with Crackling and Asian Mash is a tempting dish, and your reward for ordering it will likely be delicious addiction. It’s everything one would want from a traditional pork roast – moist, flavourful meat and that band of crunchy crackling.
Black cod is always good but I could never understand the extreme popularity – pleasant but not exciting. However, Naga Black Cod is the best I have tried and now I can see the attraction. This dish was, well, attractive and had lots of flavour. It flaked into glistening saffron-coloured drifts that were aromatic and tender.
Asia isn’t famed for its desserts but if you have room then I would suggest you try anything flavoured with pandan here. We tasted the crème brulée topped with an emerald layer of distinctly-flavoured pandan. For those who have visited Singapore or Malaysia it will instantly revive memories. Linger over this with a cup of jasmine tea and be transported far from High Street Ken.
I had not been keen on pan-Asian restaurants in the past but Naga has a carefully chosen menu. The dishes all work, in combination and alone. Strong Indian curries would not be appropriate here but Naga’s subtle palette with sparks of chilli and garlic create a delightful melange.
Tue – Sat: 12noon to 2.30pm for lunch
Mon – Sat: 6.30pm to 12.30am for dinner
(Last orders 11pm)
Sun: 12.30pm to 3pm for lunch, 6pm to 10pm for dinner
(Last orders 9:30pm)
Mon – Sat: open until 12.30am
2 Abingdon Road
London W8 6AF
[This venue is now closed]
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018