The best Thai restaurants in London.

June 19, 2023 1 Comment

Brisket & Bone Marrow dish in review of Smoking Goat restaurant

Update. December 2023. I'm no longer recommending any Thai restaurants in the UK. I just don't get around to any of them often enough to see how good, or bad, they are. I do know that I have customers who have been far from happy on recent visits. I'm also no longer publishing comments that recommend Thai restaurants as that was being spammed.

Brisket & Bone Marrow Massaman @ Smoking Goat
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 super critical. 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. However, they are certainly as good as any you will get in the UK. 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 :-)

The Heron
Norfolk Crescent, London W2 2DN

https://www.theheronpaddington.com/

Smoking Goat
7 Denmark St WC2H 8LZ
UPDATE: May 2018. Due to Crossrail works this branch has now closed but the fun continues at  Smoking Goat 64 Shoreditch High Street, , England E1 6JJ.

http://smokinggoatsoho.com/

Som Saa
43a Commercial St
London E16BD

 https://www.somsaa.com/

 




1 Response

Peter Doubleday
Peter Doubleday

January 07, 2022

I realise this is neither Issan nor London, but can I recommend the Chaophraya chain? If anything the inspiration seems to be from Khiri Mat (southern end of Sukhothai), but the chain does offer a “different” menu. (Ignore TripAdvisor. Every commenter seems to have gone for Pad Thai, for no good reason.)

Visited the Birmingham version a few years back, with my ex-boss (English) and his Thai wife, who I believe is also from Issan. We ordered everything on a combination of her recommendations and her conversations with the cooks, so I’d imagine we got as close to “authentic” northern provincial Thai food as you can get in this country.

I hugely enjoyed it.

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