As Confucius said, it is a joy to have friends visit from afar. But it can be a stressful thing too, especially if they come at this time of year. As they’re based in London, there’s no question of taking them to some hipster hole; anyway I don’t inflict hipster holes on my friends.
Fortunately, we still have Little India, crowded and noisy and wonderful, and bearing Komala Vilas just a short distance from the chaos of the main road. The place has given no attention to its decor beyond the bare minimum, to provide its customers with somewhere to sit. Instead its most potent advertisement is the scent that wafts from the kitchen and out the entrance.
One of my companions on the visit to Roots Kitchen Bar is very quick to nail the vibe of the place. ‘It’s very Shoreditch,’ he says. And he’s right, in several ways. The interior is ‘well-worn’ concrete, baring the brickwork beneath in places. The bar is concrete with Peranakan tiles. Even the location fits, reasonably; we are on the east stretch of Dickson Road, on the fringe of the tumult and noise and scents of a thriving Indian area.
And no doubt the vibe is completely intended by Roots, if their website is any indication. They salute the hungry, which is fair enough for a restaurateur. But they also salute ‘the verge hipsters’, which goes right over my unbearded head. (Is verge an adjective now? What does it mean?) Also, I heartily dislike Shoreditch and the aesthetic. I can only imagine the look on the face of the worker who laid all the concrete on two days ago, and is now being told to chip part of that concrete off the bricks. Let’s hope he wasn’t asked to do it in an ‘ironic, vintage way’.
But surely, you may ask, I already figured that much just by looking at the website. They’ve got photos of the interior and everything. Why go at all, then? At which I point to the pals, a lovely couple who are taking the place far more in its intended spirit, sipping Chardonnay while poring over the menu. They’re liking it. Dear Babette, after all, is for the benefit of readers like them (and you), not for me to be curmudgeonly and correct about everything. So it is incumbent on me to at least try it, and if need be to stand corrected.
Just as an oceanic island drives upwelling, bringing a wealth of resources to shallower water to nurture a diversity of coral reefs teeming with life, so an educational institution can often enhance an area’s culinary diversity by concentrating demand of a very specific sort. The presence of swarms of hungry young people, craving new stuff and often with appetites bigger than wallets, exerts powerful forces on surrounding shops to adapt to their presence. So it’s perhaps no surprise that Selegie Road, within striking distance of a university and two art schools, should become quite the food spot.
No, it’s true that Nasi Lemak Kukus didn’t start off here; the operation was first based at the northern end of Upper Thomson Road. Nonetheless, I’m sure they’ve considered the local demographic before deciding to set up here. For what these mak ciks have got is a good fit with what the students want – plenty of variety, reasonable prices, a savvy touch with the decor. Also free flow stuff. And – oh, do we really need to mention this – good tasting food.