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.