Types of venues , Restaurants and cafés ,
© Ming Tang-Evans
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Fri Jan 20 2012
The karaoke bar’s busy, the music’s turned up loud. Three TV screens are showing painfully kitsch pop videos, the lyrics running in Thai script.Our fellow diners are all Thai. One of them, elected chanteuse by her pals, leaps up to do her turn. But her audience falls about laughing – she’s more off-key than a joke about the Thai royal family. Yet she carries on, unperturbed, for this is the Thai version of karaoke; sanuk (having fun) is far more important than hitting the right notes, and no offence is intended, or felt.
On our visit the singing kicked off around 9pm, which gives those of us less familiar with Thai pop a window of opportunity beforehand to savour the food. The Heron’s an ordinary estate pub in most other ways – stab-vest exterior, boot-sale decor inside – except for the extraordinary Thai restaurant in the basement karaoke room.
You will not find the usual Thai Top 30 dishes here, because the cooking is exactly the sort of thing you find as street food or in ramshackle café-bars in small-town Thailand. Neither the one-plate dishes of the beach resorts or backpacker haunts, nor the sophisticated menus of metropolitan Bangkok, but the sort of food that Thai people from the provinces enjoy.
The menu’s lengthy – more than 100 dishes – and has some useful translations in English, if you consider ‘chicken paws’, ‘deep friend sea bass’ or ‘stream bread’ to be useful translations.
An entire page is devoted to various som tams (spicy papaya salads), nam toks (salads containing sliced meats) and larbs (spicy minced meat and rice salads). We tried a benchmark dish, a basic som tam but with added salted crabs, the tiny black shells of these rice-paddy inhabitants uncooked but fermented in salt water. The resulting flavours were pure Thailand: hot and sweet, but also salty and zingy with fresh lime juice and the sharp-tasting green papaya.
Better still though was the larb pla, a dish from the Isan region of Thailand that borders Laos. Catfish had been shredded and deep-fried, tossed with chilli, lime dressing and other spices, and topped with roasted peanuts; the result was an explosion of sour, hot and then salty.
Having been warned that the dishes were authentically fiery, we ordered our dishes ‘mild’. The result was high-street-Thai strength, suitable for most Western palates; next time, we’ll try a few dishes ‘medium’. Our waiter did express concern that we’d like the dishes, but we had no complaints about any flavours, not even the oddly sour flavours of the north-eastern sausages – fresh and perfectly cooked, nicely porky.
Sour orange curry (gaeng som goong kai cha om) is a street food dish often sold in markets, the tartness of this thin curry imparted by shrimp paste, tamarind water and fish sauce. The Heron version contained chunks of Chinese leaf and squares of omelette containing the fern-like bitter leaf with no English name, called cha-om in Thai.
There is much, much more to explore on this menu, including grilled meats (yang) and deep-fried dishes (tod), blanched dishes (louk) and snacks such as fried pork rinds. But what about desserts? There’s always banana fritter with ice cream, which we took as our cue to leave before the karaoke was cranked up further. We very much look forward to going back – but to try more dishes, not to hear the Eminem covers.
The Heron London
- Cross Street:
1 Norfolk Crescent (Sussex Gardens end)
020 7706 9567
- Opening hours:
Meals served 1-11pm daily
Tube: Edgware Road or Marble Arch tube or Paddington tube/rail
Main courses £7.50-£18. Meal for two with drinks and service around £50
- 020 7706 9567
- The Heron
Eating and drinking facilities