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Pan-Asian food: it’s enough to make you shudder. This cuisine has been done so badly by London eateries in recent years that you’d be forgiven for overlooking this tiny spot tucked away in Camden. However, open your mind and give it a chance and you’ll find one little secret that you will want to keep to yourself.
You either love or hate the crazed streets of Camden, with their mix of students, goths and hippies, so if you’re not usually one to head along for some of the best pubs in London, you’ll be forgiven for not even considering Bintang, located as it is a short stroll from Camden Tube. Blink and you’ll miss it, Bintang sits along a quiet part of Kentish Town Road and is a tiny little place with two rows of simple tables sat along each wall and a low-ceilinged area downstairs. It’s cosy and warming with a rich colour scheme of reds and browns, and Asian artwork strewn across the walls.
Bintang is a family-run restaurant with history – and it shows. The service is incredibly friendly and the staff are passionate about the food, with an in-depth knowledge of the menu and the ability to recommend excellent dishes you may have otherwise overlooked. There’s a real sense of laid-back fun here, as groups, parties and couples get caught up in the exciting-sounding dishes that won’t break the bank to enjoy.
Cheap pan-Asian food: it’s enough to make most London foodies run for the hills. However, at Bintang they show what pan-Asian cuisine should really be about – showcasing the best bits of a range of different cuisines from across a vibrant part of the world. And the prices are incredibly reasonable given the quality of the ingredients used and the skill of the kitchen – starters hover at the £4 mark and mains cost from £8-£14.50.
To start, wasabi prawn tempura (£6.50) is worth ordering. The prawns are huge, sweet and succulent and the wasabi mayonnaise with which they’re served has a slight heat and a pleasant wasabiflavour, but which surprisingly manages to remain creamy and rich. Also excellent are Korean chicken wings (£4.50), which are served with a hot sauce that makes the mouth tingle. The chicken is so tender that it very, very nearly melts in the mouth, falling effortlessly away from the bone – you will get sticky and covered in sauce and you just won’t care. Calamari (£4.50) is notoriously difficult to cook and for this price is usually chewy and bland. Not so at Bintang: soft, tender and perfectly seasoned, it just goes to show that quality doesn’t have to come with a big price tag.
For main courses, the chicken gilli gilli (£8) is rich and packed with flavour. The garlic-based sauce with peppers has an unusual taste that is creamy but with a strong hit of garlic – it’s delicious and wonderfully strange. Pineapple chunks cut through the richness well with a hit of tangy sweetness that gives you respite from all that richness. Also excellent is the ikan Bintang (£14.50) which is at the higher end of the price scale, but for that you get a whole sea bass wok-fried in lemongrass and tamarind sauce. The sauce is delicious and perfectly balanced with a great mix of spices but it’s the fish that really stands out, flaking away from the bone with the touch of a chopstick. Delicious. If you’re lucky enough to spot it on the menu you should also sample an unusual dish that is the pan-Asian answer to the burger. Slivers of beef in a spiced sauce come served on a large dim-sum style bun with a side of chips and wasabi mayo. For those that usually avoid the ‘burger’ option this will change your mind.
If you have the room for desserts then you should go for it – they’re under a fiver. Deep fried sesame seed ice cream with honey is a real highlight, offering an unusual and delightfully sickly-sweet end to your meal. However, all of the desserts hit the high notes, mixing classic Asian flavours with our Western love of all things sweet.
Bintang offers a BYO policy with no alcohol on site. Corkage is £2.50 for wine and 80p for a can, which is perfectly reasonable. Alternatively you can opt for one of a handful of soft drinks such as mango juice or the usual collection of colas and fizzy pop.
The Last Word
Bintang is one of these tucked away places you want to keep to yourself – as soon as you visit you will want to come back. Highly recommended.