Water fights and covering yourself with chalk are just two of the traditional ways to celebrate Thai new year this weekend – or Songkran, to give it its proper name. Another is to tuck in to an authentic Thai meal. A small but growing number of London chefs have rescued Thai food’s reputation from pub grub and ready meals in recent years. Check out our favourites below.
The Begging Bowl, Peckham
Why we love it: This hip Thai canteen majors in a constantly changing line-up of fantastic Thai tapas featuring exhilarating flavour combos shot through with full-throttle herbs and spices. Top shouts include the piquant sausages, umami-rich pork belly and the show-stopping whole sea bass, washed down with a spice-friendly wine list.
Where: 168 Bellenden Road, SE15 4BW
Why we love it: You’ll find Farang on the former site of neighbourhood Italian San Daniele, which for years was run by chef Sebby Holmes’s stepfather. The look has barely changed inside or out, but Holmes’s menu couldn’t be any different, from a broodingly meaty curry of coconut-braised, butter-like beef cheeks, to a slap-you-round-the-face jungle curry of roasted lamb shoulder.
Where: 72 Highbury Park, N5 2XE
Greyhound Café, Fitzrovia
Why we love it: Greyhound Café is the European debut of a group that stretches to 17 cafés across Asia. Its London outpost may look dark and minimalist but, once seated, you’ll find a riot of fun. Much of the food is messy and designed to be eaten with your hands; don’t miss the mound of crunchy, juicy pork knuckle which arrives alongside fiery dipping sauces and a box of sticky rice.
Where: 37 Berners Street, W1T 3NB
Why we love it: Authentic, fast and tasty, Kaosarn deals in refreshingly small bills and punchy food without frills or frippery. The menu covers all the essentials, but also ventures beyond the satays and green curries to offer everything from gai tod (deep-fried garlic and pepper chicken) to larb (a salad of spicy minced pork with ground roasted rice, chilli and lime). Don’t forget to bring you own wine – there’s no corkage for BYO.
Where: Brixton Village Market, Coldharbour Lane, SW9 7EL
Why we love it: Like its namesake, Kiln is cramped, full of fire and spins out baked clay pots filled with outstandingly appetising noodle dishes from the northern Thai borderlands. A metal counter runs parallel to an open kitchen where chefs rustle up Thai-style barbecues, meat skewers and smoked sausages, plus stir-fried greens and brown jasmine rice to counteract the intense, salty flavours.
Where: 58 Brewer Street, W1F 9TL
Som Saa, Spitalfields
Why we love it: Chef Andy Oliver’s calling card is authentic northern Thai cooking and he produces flavours unfamiliar to most Londoners. Think: an oily-rich lon gapi relish of shrimp paste with wild ginger and coconut cream, or a tamarind dipping sauce for a plump grilled chicken leg, worlds away from the usual sweet gloop. A buzzy bar takes the edge off having to wait for a table.
Where: 43a Commercial Street, E1 6BD
Smoking Goat, Shoreditch
Why we love it: This much larger follow-up to the original Smoking Goat in Soho sticks to the successful formula of affordable Thai barbecue and seafood. The 100-cover space boasts an open kitchen and a bar, while diners can either sit at the counter, or on large canteen-style tables. To drink, there’s a daily-changing list of wines by-the-glass and a selection of pale ales.
Where: 64 Shoreditch High Street, E1 6JJ
Just remember: a Thai restaurant isn’t just for Thai new year. Make it your mission to visit all of the places on our list of London’s best Thai restaurants over the next 12 months...