Signpost depicting shops in Charlotte Street in Portsmouth

Ammolite Cafe, Portsmouth (UK)

Cuisine: Malaysian

We stumbled across what appeared to be a pop up shop called Ammolite Cafe, tucked away off a road at the top of Portsmouth’s Commercial Road. Ammolite is a semi precious gem stone mined in the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada. Much to my surprise, rather than a gem stone and coffee shop, Ammolite Cafe turned out to be a Malaysian café. The menu was split into noodle dishes, rice dishes, side orders and dim sum. There was also a selection of East Asian drinks and an impressive cake counter of East Asian inspired cakes. To top it off, they sold New Forest ice cream.

The menu included a small selection of Malaysian street food such as Penang chicken curry, laksa and mah chee, a sweet snack made with glutinous rice, ground nuts and sugar that is popular across East Asia. However, true to the multicultural cuisine of Malaysia (generally a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian tastes), there are also Chinese influenced dishes on the menu, including ban mein soup noodles and an Indian inspired roti canai flatbread.  On top of this, they can also serve you a hot dog and chicken nuggets –  just to cover all grounds 🙂 The prices are very reasonable – at the time of writing, the noodle and rice main meals cost £6.80 and the side orders range from £3 – £6.

The vegetarian savoury options are limited to spring rolls and plain egg rolls: Ammolite Cafe is not great for vegetarians. Apart from nasi lemak and the side orders of boiled and fried rice, there are no meat free rice options (nasi lemak is topped  with dried fish and served with sambal so you could ask for a fish free version).

We have visited several times and tend to go for noodles. The noodles are more seafood based than most East Asian eateries that I have been to – this is a huge bonus for a vegequarian 🙂 I’ve been to some Vietnamese restaurants that do not have any non meat options. As their famous dish pho is famed for the beef broth, I’m guessing that there is a limited demand for having a non meat broth too. Anyway, I digress. Going by taste, I’m guessing that the noodle soup bases at Ammolite Cafe are fish and dried shrimp based. We have tried Penang hokkien mee and laksa.

Hokkien mee is a popular dish in Malaysia and Singapore and has different variations. Ammolite  Cafe serve the version from Penang, a prawn based soup noodle. A large bowl of clear soup noodles came out, containing king prawns (these were frozen rather than fresh and were a little mushy but we’re not paying huge sums of money for the food), slices of Chinese fish cake, hard boiled egg, water spinach and topped with dry fried shallots. The broth was spicy and sweet with the flavour of dried shrimp (I’m guessing – I have eaten soup noodles flavoured with dried shrimp before).

There are two types of laksa on the menu: curry and Assam. I have eaten both. Curry laksa has a coconut milk and curry soup base. The versions I have eaten include a traditional mix of king prawns, beansprouts, Chinese fish cake, tofu and hard boiled egg. Other versions will also include chicken and the authentic Penang dish will be topped with blood cake (cubes of pig’s blood). Ammolite Cafe’s laksa includes chicken, Chinese fish cake, tofu puffs, hard boiled egg and spinach and is topped with fried shallots. The chicken is not stated on the menu (just fish cake and tofu) but I spotted the chicken in the photo. No problem – just ask for no chicken 🙂 The curry laksa was a triumph – the broth was a lovely shade of pumpkin orange and was creamy from the coconut milk, spicy, wonderfully aromatic and deep with flavour. I nearly drank all the broth and it was a big bowl!

Picture of two Malaysian noodle dishes on a table

Top: Penang hokkien mee; Bottom: curry laksa @ Ammolite Cafe

Assam laksa has a fish and tamarind based soup. In my humble opinion and my memory of eating this dish during a visit to Malaysia a few years back, Ammolite Cafe’s version was pretty authentic. The fish broth was made with mackerel and tasted almost meaty – it was sour with tamarind, spicy and thick (much thicker in consistency than the broth in curry laksa and hokkien mee). The dish was topped with mint leaves and a generous dollop of dark prawn paste. I enjoyed this dish and the bold flavours very much.

Picture of a bowl of Assam laksa and jar of prawn paste on a table

Assam laksa @ Ammolite Cafe

We’ve also tried nasi lemak, Malaysia’s national dish of coconut rice cooked with pandan leaf. The rice was very subtly flavoured with coconut and was topped with dried anchovies. The dish was served with boiled egg, cucumber, peanuts and sambal (chilli sauce). This dish is more than a sum of its parts – the combination of all of these flavours was delicious.

Rice, cucumber egg and chilli paste on a white plate

Nasi lemak @ Ammolite Cafe (peanuts are behind the mound of rice)

To drink, Ammolite Cafe serves a selection of East Asian beverages including yuan yang (tea mixed with coffee, popular in Hong Kong and Malaysia) and teh tarik (tea with condensed milk, popular in Malaysia and Singapore). I find these drinks an acquired taste so I usually have green or jasmine tea. Milo, a malt chocolate drink originally from Australia is also on the menu. We had iced Milo – this version is popular in Malaysia and, true to multicultural Malaysian style, was served in a John Smith’s pint glass! There are also standard soft drinks and coffee available – they have proper coffee machine for cappuccino.

A glass of iced Milo chocolate malt drink served in a John Smiths pint glass

Iced Milo @ Ammolite Cafe

If you fancy something sweet, there is always the New Forest ice cream. Or you could try the popular Hong Kong drink of iced red bean or the mysterious sounding ABC (ais kacang, a Malaysian dessert of shaved ice, red beans and various sweet toppings).

Finally, the cake counter (when available) deserves a mention – we have seen pandan roll, various chiffon cakes and mango mousse cakes on offer. The cakes are beautifully presented and I believe they do a celebration cake ordering service. We did try a slice of pandan chiffon cake – this was light and airy and perfect with a cup of tea.

Picture of three types of Malaysian cake

Cake counter @ Ammolite Cafe

Ammolite Cafe is, understandably, very popular with Malaysian and Chinese students. The food is authentic, well priced and the feeling is reminiscent of being in a cafe in East Asia – I felt almost transported back to Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur. This is definitely a place to try out if you are a fan of Malaysian or indeed East Asian street food.

Ammolite Cafe
21-23 Charlotte Street
Commercial Road
Hampshire. PO1 4AH
United Kingdom
Opening hours: Monday – Saturday 11.30 – 17.00
Sunday 11.30 – 1600
Typical cost per person (main meal and drink): Up to £10

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