meaning wooohoooo! or yum! (Imp translation!), and this Singaporean restaurant certainly deserves the name. About 2 years old, Shiok is still one of London's best kept secrets with a host of loyal regulars, its reputation spreading mainly by word of mouth.
Maybe it's not as popular as you'd expect because it's not best located for passing trade. It's in a relatively quiet area about 5 to 10 minutes' walk from the nearest Tube station (Russell Square or Holborn). Open 7 days a week, it's actually quieter at weekends than weekdays, when people from local businesses sensibly nip in for a nice dinner after work, lucky them.
I like my food, especially spicy Far Eastern cuisine, and I've learned to be a halfway decent cook. So my main test when trying a restaurant, particularly Asian, is this: could I cook that dish better? If the answer's uniformly "Yes, by miles", I'm not likely to return.
Quality: So, could I cook better than Shiok's chefs? I do cook one dish better than Shiok, but to be fair I use very fresh organic chicken for it. However, the rest of their dishes that I've tried, I couldn't outdo. In other words, it's worth it - very tasty indeed, and nicely presented.
It's pretty authentic stuff too: Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian (Singaporean food, for those not familiar with it, comprises a mix of influences - mainly Chinese, with a dash of Indian and Malay). Kenny the owner, himself from Singapore, is clearly a genuine food enthusiast who tries to use decent ingredients. Tip: always ask for the dish of the day, and also ask for recommendations to find out what's freshest that day - which could include items not on the menu. Yum, I say again.
Menu & variety: They keep the menu short, preferring to serve a few dishes they are confident they do really well, rather than offering a long list of mediocre dishes. But if you'd like something that's not on the menu, just ask if they can do it - they're very obliging, which is a real rarity in London. For more unusual or difficult dishes they may need a few days' notice, and it's probably not worth it if it's for fewer than 4 people, but again they're unusually accommodating. They're willing to tweak things too - e.g. if you want dish X from their menu, but with fish instead of chicken, they seem happy to do the substitution. I didn't get charged any extra too, the one time I've asked so far.
They also pride themselves on not using any monosodium glutamate, unlike a lot of other restaurants, which is probably a good thing given the health concerns about MSG (and maybe better for your drinks budget too - MSG can make you thirsty!).
Service: The service is excellent. Customers, even newcomers, are treated as valued regulars. It feels more like a hospitable small town eatery than an anonymous London restaurant.
Prices: value for money is also excellent. Shiok charges about the same as other London restaurants which care much less about the quality of their food and service. I'd rather walk a bit further to Shiok and get helpful advice, tasty dishes and friendly service for the same price.
I've not been back to the Acorn House Restaurant (see review) despite its purported eco-friendliness, but I've certainly been back to Shiok and I intend to go there again, lots. MSG-free food that's fairly local and pretty fresh, that's environmentally friendly enough for me!
Cons?: One downside of Shiok - the seating. Some tables have backless cushioned benches on a raised area backing immediately onto a drop, so anyone sitting there might justifiably feel rather precarious, and if in merry alcoholic haze you fall over backwards, you'll go down several feet, not just a couple. They're planning to put up a partition or similar, but for health & safety reasons I really think they should do it ASAP before someone gets hurt and they get sued! Tip: go early to get a table well away from the danger zone, or book in advance and ask for a table away elsewhere.
Verdict: If you like Oriental or Far Eastern / Asian food and you haven't tried Shiok yet, do - I think you'll find it worth the visit.
75 Southampton Row, London WC1B 4ET
020 7436 9706
Nearest Tubes: Holborn (Piccadilly or Central lines) or Russell Square (Piccadilly line) - Holborn's probably a tad closer.
(No website I could find, so no online menu to check out)