Posts Tagged ‘Thai in London’

todmun pla (fish cakes) at Esarn Kheaw Thai restaurant (£4.95)

Because of Rosa Thai’s proximity to my office, I eat lunch there almost once a week.  I invariably order the green curry with pork, which I love for its tender slices of pork, the generous handful of crunchy bamboo slivers, and its balance of sweet, salty and spicy flavors.  Much as I love my lunches there, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not exactly testing out the menu at Rosa’s when I go.

So when my friend told me he’d enjoyed dinner at Esarn Kheaw and forwarded me this ecstatic January 2009 review in the Guardian, it was a no-brainer to get myself over to Shepherd’s Bush earlier this week.  By coincidence, last night, when I picked up this week’s issue of TimeOut, I saw Easarn Kheaw listed as one of London’s best Thai restaurants and described as “the place to try some of the real tastes of Thailand.”

Which makes me wonder:  have either the writer of that Guardian review or TimeOut been back to Esarn Kheaw recently?

papaya salad (£4.95)

Let’s start with the starters:  the papaya salad, described in the Guardian review as ‘crunchy, lime-suffused,” was in fact a bit limp.  Its most redeeming feature was as a condiment to our fish cakes, whose texture was alright (i.e., not hopelessly rubbery), but which tasted bland.  Where was the taste of curry, coriander and fish?  Good thing there was a dipping sauce.

Thai sausages (£4.95)

Based on the Guardian review’s description of the Thai sausages as “gratifyingly garlicky,” I expected powerful flavors out of these little guys.  But instead they tasted like bits of lightly salted meat stuffed into a casing (aka your typical English supermarket sausage).  That chili on the plate was just for show.

lap mu (minced pork and chilli)

We fared even worse with our mains:  lap mu (minced pork and chili) tasted almost entirely of lime juice.  And where was the pork?  When our server asked us if we liked it, we replied that it tasted overwhelmingly sour, which prompted him to launch into a lecture on the four flavours of Thai food, as if the dish were supposed to be that sour.  But as I recall from my cooking classes in Chiang Mai many moons ago, those four flavours are supposed to be *balanced*.

pla lad prik (crispy pomfret with Thai basil leaf and chili sauce) £10.95

I’m a fan of both crispy pomfret and alliteration, so when the Guardian reviewer called Esarn Kheaw’s version a “piscine paradise [and] a strong contender for a Desert Island Dish,” there was no stopping me from ordering it.  That was a mistake.  If there was fish meat somewhere underneath that mildly spicy-and-sweet goo, I wouldn’t know it, and if I were trapped on a Desert Island with this dish, there’s no doubt I would starve to death.

the "Tiger Cry" (aka slices of cheap, underseasoned beef)

We tried out the “Tiger Cry” because our friend’s Thai friend had recommended it.  In our case, this dish was a case of marketing gone awry.  With a sexy name like “Tiger Cry,” you’d expect something more than slices of overcooked and underseasoned beef.  To be fair on the point about underseasoning:  you’re supposed to dredge your beef slice through a bowl of soy sauce and chilis, but you’d get the same effect for less trouble by just shaking some salt on.

To be clear, the food wasn’t inedible.  It just fell far short of the hype.  I should leave my writeup at that, but a brief note on the service:

I asked for tap water.  Our server registered our order and returned with bottled water.  I repeated that I’d asked for tap water.  Our server put the bottle down on our table and insisted we’d like the bottled water better and mumbled something that sounded like he would charge us for tap water anyway, so why not go with the bottled water.  Because the three of us were busy chatting, we left the bottled water on the table unopened, and about five minutes later, our server came back and made a point of opening our bottled water.  I hate places where the choices are bottled water or no water at all.

The food was cheap, but too skimpy and generally underseasoned for it to count as good value.  And if this is one of the best Thai restaurants in London, then London is woefully lacking in Thai restaurants.    Our tab for three beers each, three starters, four mains and bottled water came to £31 a person.

Esarn Kheaw, 314 Uxbridge Road, W12 7LJ; 0208 743 8930; closest tube station:  Shepherd’s Bush Market
Esarn Kheaw on Urbanspoon

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pretty rice crockery at Busaba Eathai

pretty rice crockery at Busaba Eathai

The day after eating at Sake No Hana, Jon and I went to see the Babylon exhibit at the British Museum (which, by the way, wasn’t thought-provoking or even entertaining. It’s like someone googled “Babylon” and threw the results together in a cramped exhibition space).

Needing lunch, we continued our Alan Yau kick and walked over to Busaba Eathai, his Thai canteen.

And you know, it’s all about the details. Busaba Eathai could’ve been an anonymous, assembly-line Wagamama-type deal, but instead, the small things like pretty ceramic crockery for plain rice made me smile.

interior of Busaba Eathai

Busaba Eathai interior

Sure, it’s communal seating, but the dark wood and the sleek lanterns made my lunch seem more festive than a quick meal in a cafeteria.

chicken green curry at Busaba Eathai

green chicken curry at Busaba Eathai

And the green chicken curry was packed with tender chicken (not over-cooked like it is at, say, Wagamama), Thai aubergine and crunchy bamboo. The curry sauce was even spicy? Excellent. I could’ve drunk down the curry sauce alone. Actually, I think I did.

ginger-honey tea at Busaba Eathai

ginger-honey tea at Busaba Eathai

Feeling a bit under the weather, I ordered some ginger tea. When I was a kid, I used to cry when my mom made me drink the stuff. Now I crave it when I’m sick. (Moms everywhere are smiling smugly as I write this paragraph).

Anyway, Busaba’s ginger tea was sweet with honey. The buttery, crumbly shortbread-pistachio cookies kept things indulgent, rather than medicinal.

Overall, I had a pleasant, cheap and tasty meal (the vast majority of main courses cost less than £8).

Busaba Eathai is now my go-to place for lunch when I visit the British Museum.

Busaba Eathai, 22 Store Street, WC1E 7DF, 0207 299 7900; closest tube station: Goodge Street. [Two other locations; one in Soho on Wardour Street, and the other near Selfdriges on Bird Street.]
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Rosa's Thai restaurant, Spitalfields

Rosa's Thai restaurant, Spitalfields

While the City is dead on the weekends, the masses of workers who linger in the area for Friday drinks can make places around Liverpool Street pretty festive. Jon and I, being lightweights and slightly anti-social, always break off from drinks at some point to find food, and so we were thrilled yesterday to find good, cheap Thai food at Rosa’s, near Spitalfields Market.

Of course, we didn’t stumble upon Rosa’s randomly. Guy Diamond over at TimeOut was enthusiastic about it a few weeks ago, and I liked this description: “Although the dishes are (mostly) the familiar roll call, there is a freshness and honesty about the cooking.” That sentence sums up our experience, too. Lamb satay was tender and the peanut sauce wasn’t the muddy glop you normally get at cheap (and even expensive) Thai places. Rather, it was sweet, tangy and slightly spicy. Actually, now that I think about it, all the dishes we tried had the heat and balance of four flavors (sour, sweet, creamy, salty) prized in Thai cooking.

Softshell crab starter was juicy and fresh; my pork green curry was filled with bamboo shoots and the most tender pork imaginable (no boiled meat-in-curry here); and Jon’s pad see eu was hot out of the wok and not greasy.

Our only disappointments were (1) the downstairs seating (You want to be upstairs where it’s warm and cozy, though some of the tables are communal. The basement feels like – um – a basement); and (2) the overcooked and overpriced side dish of vegetables. For £6 a careless side dish, you should probably just get another main course that happens to have vegetables in it.

Because the prices are low (most mains are £7-9) and the decor is inviting, Rosa’s is already drawing big groups out to celebrate, so I could see that getting annoying if all you want is a quick, quiet dinner. But overall, it’s nice to know Rosa’s is in the area next time I’m craving good-quality, inexpensive Thai food.

Our tab for two starters, two mains, a side dish and two beers was £46 with service.

Rosa’s, 12 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR, 0207 247 1093; closest tube station: Liverpool Street
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South Bank map

This entire week, I’ve been thinking of the British phrase: “roll on, Friday.” I’m pretty sure it’s the equivalent of “come on, Friday, dammit.”

After leaving work today, I took the tube to London Bridge and joined the crowds walking along the South Bank. Globe TheatreI relaxed as I walked past the tourists clustered around Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and on towards the even bigger crowds of tourists at the Tate Modern Museum, where I met Jon by the Millennium Bridge.

The Tate Modern used to be a power station, and regardless of which entrance you use to walk in, you’ll hit an enormous central space called the Turbine Hall (where I guess there used to be turbines!).

Slides at the Tate Modern, LondonStarting this week, in the Turbine Hall, you can see and experience an installation of giant slides by Carsten Holler. I mean, there are actually huge curly slides that people can speed down (see photo at left).

The longest slide is five stories tall, and because the slides are made of transparent plastic, you get to watch all these people winding through and shooting out at the bottom floor. It’s entertaining. I’m not sure what the “message” is (and I assume all art has a message to convey), but the idea is appealing. The BBC article I just linked in this paragraph mentions that the artist created one of these slides for Miuccia Prada (so she could slide down from her office to the car park?), which just made me laugh. I wonder if Miuccia Prada in her sleek black Prada outfits really goes popping down a slide to get to her car!

Preparing to go down the slide is a time-consuming process that involves putting on elbow pads and slipping into a cloth sack-type thing to reduce friction. Because of these lengthy, risk-reducing preliminaries, the museum distributes free tickets for a specific time to go down a specific slide, rather than creating endless lines of cranky people, I guess.

Jon and I tried to get tickets to go down one of the five slides in the Turbine Hall, but the only tickets left when we were there at 6 p.m. were for a 9 p.m. slot to go on the dinky 3-story slide. We passed, but we’ll have to try going back when it’s not as hot a ticket in town.

Members Lounge at Tate Modern museum, LondonWe dropped by the 6th floor “members lounge,” which isn’t fancy, but it serves good wines by the glass, snacks, and most importantly, has a pretty outdoor terrace overlooking the Thames and giving you views of St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge.

After unwinding at the Tate Modern, we walked west along the South Bank because the weather was so mild and the Thames bank is beautiful when lit up at night. I felt so glad to live here. We crossed to the north bank of the Thames by walking across the ultra-snazzy, sleek Hungerford footbridge and then tubed over to Notting Hill Gate to feed the need for Thai food.

The Churchill Arms Pub is a five-minute walk from Notting Hill tube station, on Kensington Church Street. When you first walk in, it looks like yet another run-down, run-of-the-mill pub. You smell beer everywhere, and you see faded red carpeting and dark, heavy wood furniture and paneling. But what’s great about the Churchill Arms is that in the back, there’s a really delicious and cheap Thai restaurant. Walking into the Thai restaurant part of the pub feels like walking into an enchanted garden. There’s a riot of flowering plants hanging from the ceiling, a stone tiled floor, and the sound of water running from an indoor fountain. The restaurant is always crowded, but the wait is short, probably because the menu offers only twenty standard Thai dishes (and no appetizers). I got a prawn pad thai for £6. That’s about 2/3 the price of my lunch every day at Canary Wharf.

You might think the Thai-restaurant-in-a-pub concept is really unusual, but surprise, surprise, there are a lot of “Thai pubs” in London. I’m not sure how this phenomenon came about. Probably a Thai family took over a pub and when that place took off, other Thai families followed the pattern? Anyway, of the Thai pubs we’ve been to, the Churchill Arms is my favorite for the charm of its dining area, the freshness of the dishes, and the extremely low cost. My one complaint is that when the restaurant serves you something “spicy,” it never actually is.

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Isarn Restaurant interior, Islington

This past weekend, I met a few of Cathy and Bobby’s banker-couple friends for brunch on Saturday. We went to a very attractive and fun French-y place called Aubaine on Brompton Road. I see its appeal, but the food was pricey for what it was, though not bad. I guess you’re paying mostly for the ability to hoard your table for hours on end (as we did for almost three hours). Side dishes were the strong point — buttery, crunchy haricots verts and a creamy potatoes dauphinois were good.

Saturday night, I met my friend Sinead for dinner in my neighborhood. We dropped by Isarn on Upper Street, which I hadn’t been to in a while – not because I didn’t like the food, but more because the last time I went, I thought it, too, was kind of overpriced. And because the restuarant is owned by Alan Yau’s sister, I keep thinking it’s just a vanity project that became reality only because the brother is a big restauranteur in London.Green chicken curry, Isarn restaurantStill, it’s a pretty restaurant (see photo of the interior at top) and it’s nearby.

This time around, I enjoyed my meal there. We ordered some mixed appetizer deal for £12, and the chicken satay was juicy and flavorful, which is always a good sign considering chicken satay is normally a throwaway item on the menu.

My green curry was the right mix of spicy, creamy and sweet (the last time I had it, it was not so well balanced) and our bottle of rose went well with our meal. So yes, I’d go back – dinner for two was £70.   [Note: I have been back several times since this post and I do still enjoy eating there. The service is friendly and efficient, which is another plus I’ve come to appreciate over time.]

We dropped by Keston Lodge and the Islington Tap and then called it a night. What’s slightly entertaining (or sad, depending on how you look at it) is that the next day, Sunday, I met other friends for Sunday roast at the Keston Lodge and then of course we spent the rest of the afternoon lounging at the Islington Tap, chatting and occasionally watching the footie on the flat screens. Very relaxing.  

A “proper Sunday roast,” by the way, means you get a huge hunk of meat, some form of potato, Yorkshire pudding and maybe some braised vegetable – all covered in a brown sauce/gravy. And the one at Keston Lodge was very good. I ordered lamb, which was tender and of course flavorful when smothered in the gravy. And the potatoes were crispy and hot. The Yorkshire pudding (which is sort of like a popover or brioche – very eggy and airy in the middle) was kind of deflated by the time my dish arrived, but it was fine once you covered it in (of course) gravy!

The big downside is that it took the Keston Lodge servers about an hour and a half to serve us. Ahhh, Sunday in London.Islington Tap

And I’ve come to really like the Islington Tap. It’s just so comfy and warm (and just down the block). I used to be annoyed that it feels as if no coffee places in London are open past 6 p.m., but it turns out that if you just want to hang out with friends or read a book or newspaper, you go to your local pub. And that’s what the Tap is perfect for. I like knowing I have a “local” where the bartender and manager recognize me and say hi. [You can hear the Cheers theme song now, I know.]

The place is nothing special, but I like claiming it as mine and always finding a seat there.

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