Slinky, contemporary decor, with dark wood and oversized lampshades, gives Isarn a polished, expensive image, but the menu is surprisingly wallet-friendly. Set lunches, which come in a bento box, are good value, and include a selection of spring rolls or fish cakes, curry, rice and fruit. Don’t expect authentic Thai fieriness or superb cooking, but do sample some of the more unusual dishes, along with stalwarts like curries and pad thai – all stylishly presented.
Among the starters, betel leaf wraps with crispy duck and pomelo are a must-try, as are the traditional Thai desserts, which rarely appear on restaurant menus. Delicate coconut-cream pudding with taro and lotus seed comes wrapped in a hand-shaped pandan leaf case. Less sweet western choices include an enjoyable dense lemon cheesecake topped with strawberry ice-cream.
Isarn’s narrow dining room is often packed with twenty- and thirtysomethings, probably due to its prime location on Upper Street and the reasonable prices. This remains a cut above several local establishments. In summer, try to get a table in the small rear courtyard.
Krish Juengsoongneun hails from Isarn, the north-east region of Thailand. His career has spanned more than 20 years. A protégé, along with David Thompson, of the revered chef, Srisamon Kongpon. Sriamon was originally trained in the royal kitchen of the Grand Palace Bangkok. She is well known for her teaching as well as for all the cookery books she has produced. Her style tends to follow the traditional route.
Juengsoongneun's career evolved through tenures at the finest hotels in Bangkok, including The Royal Sheraton where he was sous chef. A move to London installed him at Busaba, at its launch in 1999. He maintains the position of head chef at the Wardour Street restaurant. In 2005 Krish, with his wife Tina Yau, opened their own restaurant, Isarn, on Upper Street in Islington.
The name, an affectionate reference to his birthplace, is a Sanskrit word. Isarn is renowned, in culinary terms, for its powerful and fragrant flavours. Signature dishes at Isarn include the exquisite green papaya salad served with gai yang (grilled chicken)
This, and other beautiful dishes, have developed a fanatical following for this quietly delightful London secret.