I’m often asked which are the best or most “authentic” Thai restaurants in London and it’s a question that I have problems answering. On the surface, it should be an easy question for me to answer. I’m a Thai cook who has sampled her way through more or less every Thai dish in existence. I think that may be more hindrance than help; I tend to be supercritical. More than that though, it is because I’m Thai and my tastes are Thai that I have problems recommending Thai restaurants. For many years, the type of Thai food served in the UK has become largely homogenised. We give you what we think you want to eat. “Farang can’t eat spicy” has been the mantra of Thai restaurateurs since the year dot. ("Farang” is how we refer to non-Asians.) And to say that farang can’t eat spicy may well be a generalisation, and it’s certainly something that has changed in recent years, but it seems ingrained in many Thai restaurant owners. Something that is largely borne out by my own experiences as well; I sell a lot more of the milder Bangkok style green curry paste than I do of the spicier Southern green curry paste. As one woman wrote about the Southern paste, “this made my husband cry”, he kept eating it though I’m glad to say:-)
Of course, Thai food is not simply about levels of spiciness but recently there has been a move to more “authentic” Thai restaurants opening up. In this instance, the word authentic mainly seems to describe restaurants serving food characteristic of northeast Thailand, a region known as Issan. I grew up in Issan, and many of my favourite dishes originate from there. Therefore, this is certainly a style of cooking that I should be able to pronounce judgement on and yet I’m hesitant. I have friends that I know would most definitely not appreciate a night out in one of these places. My daughter has friends who think they are a riot! I think this largely accounts for the mixed reviews that these restaurants get. It’s an age thing. Often communal tables, loud music, and even louder conversation. Compare that to the more traditional Thai dining experience and you can see that these restaurants differ in far more than just the food that they serve. If you can take the noise and the bustle then certainly, any of the restaurants listed below are worth your time. As for the food being more authentic, it’s really more a case of you being able to order food that you wouldn’t come across in your average Thai restaurant. That is a further problem for me in reviewing any of these restaurants, sure, I love the food, it tickles my Issan Thai taste buds, and I haven’t had to cook it myself:-). But I'm a Thai girl from deepest Issan and there are dishes on these menus I would devour and you would refuse to eat, see the problem ? Issan food is also thought of as peasant food, in the best sense of the word of course. Have to say you need to be a fairly well heeled peasant to afford the prices in these establishments. How good are they? Well I would have problems going along with the reviews that state that they are as good as any in Thailand. To believe that is the case indicates some very limited eating experiences in Thailand. Beyond that, I think the wisest thing for me to do is just to point in their direction, to me these are “Marmite” restaurants that you will either love or hate. Don’t shoot the messenger! At least not before she has come back from her jaunt to try Thai food in Edinburgh :-)
Norfolk Crescent, London W2 2DN
7 Denmark St WC2H 8LZ
Arch 374 Helmsley Place,
Hackney, London E8 3SB
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