Explore regional specialities as well as a roll-call of classics at our pick of Thai restaurants. Do you agree with the choices? Use the comments box below or tweet your suggestions.
Venue says: Come and see our exciting new menu and try our deep fried soft shell crab and curry powder on top. It's so yummy!
Located in a shabby boozer round the back of the Edgware Road, the Heron is certainly a rough diamond. Yet look beyond its busy carpets and dark, slightly dingy interior and you’ll discover some of the most authentic Thai food to be found in London. Blaring Thai pop signals the way to the diminutive basement dining room, populated almost exclusively by Thais. The kitchen specialises in north-eastern cooking, offering an impressive range of spicy salads, sour curries, stir-fries and much more besides – this is not the place to come for a standard Thai green curry. From the ample list, the sour sausages (sai krok esarn), served in bite-sized bobbles, produced plenty of garlicky tang. A hot and sour salad of stir-fried minced pork and crisp-fried rice ball pieces had the perfect balance of sweet, salty and sour notes, plus enough dried chillies to numb our lips – ask for it mild if you can’t handle the burn. Cobra beer (the Chang and Singha were both off on our visit) helped to cool the heat. Expect things to get lively after 9pm as the dining room doubles as a karaoke lounge. Service couldn’t be friendlier.Read more
Venue says: Buy two Chang beers and get one free at Champor-Champor in London Bridge.
Champor-Champor has been on Time Out’s radar long before this stretch of the South Bank became trendy. With the Shard springing up nearby, it’s no longer off the beaten path, yet still feels like a hidden find. In Malay, ‘champor-champor’ means ‘mix and match’, and it’s a fitting name for both the interior and the menu. The walls are painted in vibrant shades and hung with colourful masks, and there’s carved teak galore, plus winking candles and acres of Thai silk. The place exudes a yogic calm. The cooking is described as ‘Thai-Malay’, but influences reach beyond this south-east Asian peninsula, unashamedly fusing East and West with the likes of gruyère cheese and lime with river prawns, served with wasabi-spiked potato salad. What could end up being a backpackerish mash-up is sophisticated and creative. Fish dishes are well rendered, as in a main course of Malaysian-style red snapper; the fillets halved and served atop twin pools of kicking-hot sambal sauce. Vegetarians needn’t go hungry; a vegan starter of green papaya som tam with tofu, cashew nuts and star fruit was suitably spicy (though not great value at £6.95). Desserts – steamed taro and black rice pudding, say, or chocolate-chilli cheesecake – are more than an afterthought.Read more
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.Read more
The popular Thai Thai offers the usual selection of Thai dishes – Pad Thai, Somtam Salad, a wide range of curries and the like – in a nicely decorated space that's laidback and roomy. There's a good range of mocktails using freshly blended juices like pomegranate and tamarind, alongside a range of teas with lovely names – we like the sound of the Flying Snow Welcomes Spring.Read more
There’s no shortage of well-priced eateries in Brixton Village Market, but KaoSarn is one of the biggest crowd-pullers. The place is regularly packed inside and out with a mix of stalwart Brixtonites of all ages, and young hipsters soaking up the Market’s vibe – and it deserves to be busy. The food is not only cheap, but bursting with authentic Thai flavours. As at many of the surrounding dining venues, the decor is basic, with mismatched furniture and much of the seating ‘outside’, spanning both sides of a corner site at the edge of the market. The menu too is pared down, with a handful of classic curries, noodle dishes and stir-fries – all well prepared. An impressive salad of plump king prawns slicked in dark red roasted chilli sauce and lime juice (pla koong) was packed with fiery heat and citrus tang. Another of sautéed ground pork with roasted rice (laab) had been liberally laced with fresh mint and coriander; though milder than you’d find in northern Thailand, the dish still packed plenty of aromatic flavour. Soft drinks include fragrant own-made lemongrass or ginger tea, and there’s also the option to BYO. Service can be a little matter of fact, but staff are unfailingly friendly.Read more
This chain of budget Thai eateries is experiencing a growth spurt. After years of just three branches, several more are cropping up around London. The Panton Street outlet is ideal for Leicester Square, and spacious enough to accommodate the inevitable tourist rush. Staff continue to seat patrons tightly around the large communal tables, despite plenty of empty seats nearby. Otherwise, service was generally upbeat and efficient. The menu – both food and drink – has also been growing, but is still compact and offers a decent variety of salads, soups, stir-fries, curries and noodle dishes. We enjoyed the new refreshing ‘muddled’ drinks of coconut water (mixed with either raspberry or lychee juice), and iced earl grey and raspberry tea. Stir-fried pepper ostrich sounded interesting, but wasn’t: the meat coated in a heavy cornfloury sauce that obliterated any natural flavours of the bird. Chinese broccoli with shiitake mushrooms came in quite a mean portion, with only a few slivers of flavoursome fungi. We would also avoid the new ‘Thai roti’, which was dry and grainy. But the old favourites are still worth returning for, such as a soothing, galangal-rich tom kha noodle soup with chargrilled chicken and slippery glass noodles, or aromatic pandan chicken.Read more
When this trendy Peckham eaterie opened in 2012, there was a flurry of excitement over its unusual menu. Instead of the more familiar Thai fare, chef Jane Alty offers Thai street food. Alty previously worked with David Thompson on his classic cookbook on that theme, which no doubt served as inspiration for her eclectic repertoire. Colour-coded by price, and designed for sharing tapas-style, the dishes include only a few of the usual suspects (Thai fish cakes, for example). The rest of the menu is built around less familiar options and ingredients, such as a rich but mellow curry featuring firm-fleshed yam bean root. Seasonal western ingredients are also given some Thai treatment, to produce dishes like trout in sour orange curry, or fennel and chicory with a relish of minced pork, prawn, coconut and yellow bean. Stir-fried pork belly with long beans was rich with warming red curry paste and lime-leaf slivers. The dining room has a contemporary feel, with big windows and colourful, painted reclaimed wood lining one wall. There’s outside seating too. Staff are young and enthusiastic, regularly checking in to see if we needed anything. There’s a well-chosen wine list and some decent cocktails.Read more
Busaba (it's the name of a Thai flower) Eathai (that part is self-explanatory) is a casual Thai eatery with ten branches across London, each favouring a diverse but simple menu and attracting a generally young clientele. Thai noodles, stir-frys, curries and salads are complemented by Asian-inspired juices and smoothies, and seating is at large, wooden communal tables. This branch in the heart of Covent Garden is, like its siblings, open from 12noon, and takeaway is available.Read more
For more than two decades, Esarn Kheaw has been serving up north-eastern (Esarn) Thai cooking to an appreciative crowd of locals, including plenty of expats. The rather dark dining room, complete with a mural of rice farmers and pictures of the Thai royal family, may be starting to show its age, but the cooking is as good as ever. Chargrilled beef served in tender strips with onion, coriander and plenty of lime offers a gentle introduction to the food of the region, while the finely minced catfish, anchovy and green chilli dip (num prik pla sod) with raw vegetables is redolent of fermented fish and displays uncompromising chilli heat: a dish best left to seasoned Thai food fans. A vegetarian version of coconut milk-free jungle curry – packed with fresh green peppercorns, bamboo shoots and pea and apple aubergines – was also characteristically blistering in heat. Boiled and deep-fried ‘son-in-law eggs’, served in tangy tamarind sauce and scattered with nutty fried garlic, made a delicious, mouth-cooling addition to a spicy meal. Regular crowd pleasers such as pad thai or Thai green curry are also offered, and the drinks list contains the usual range of Thai beers, teas and a handful of wines. Some diners have found the service a little brusque, but we’ve always found it amiable.Read more
Conceived by restaurateur Alan Yau more than a decade ago, this original branch of Busaba Eathai attracted queues round the block when it opened in Soho. These days, Yau has only a minority share, and Busaba has become a ten-strong chain – but it’s still not your average Thai joint. The dark, handsome interior combines teak wood, incense and dimly lit lanterns. With spacious shared tables, no reservations and brisk service, the restaurant remains a great spot for a casual meal with friends. Renowned Thai chef David Thompson’s influence is now far less pronounced than in the early days when he was menu consultant, though there are still a few dishes that aren’t often seen in London, such as the sen chan pad thai (a pimped pad thai with crab originating from the Chanthaburi province of eastern Thailand). The unusual addition of green mango gave this dish a nice crunch, while the mild chilli kick married well with the sweet and sour tang. A more mainstream tom yam talay was a disappointment, however; what should have been an aromatic, spicy seafood soup was overpowered by fish sauce with only a hint of lemongrass coming through. Busaba may not be as polished or as innovative as when it opened, but you’ll still find a measure of inexpensive charm here.Read more