London’s best Thai restaurants
The cooking at this no-nonsense Hammersmith establishment is largely from the Isan region of north-eastern Thailand – including multiple versions of green papaya salad, accompanied by anything from salted duck egg to sausage. Also expect various southern dishes such as sour prawn curry or turmeric-marinated sea bass prepared by ‘Auntie Bee’ from Hat Yai, a city near the border with Malaysia. Staff treat locals with congeniality – whatever their age.
Tapas-style sharing is the name of the game at this Peckham favourite, and much of the menu is built around less familiar street-food options, such as a curry featuring firm-fleshed yam bean root. Seasonal western ingredients are also given the Thai treatment – perhaps stir-fried hispi cabbage or palourde clams in an aromatic broth of ginger, celery, samphire and pickled plum. The dining room’s contemporary feel is matched by enthusiastic young staff.
In Malay, ‘champor-champor’ means ‘mix and match’ – a fitting name for both the interior and the menu at this long-running restaurant. The interior exudes a yogic calm and the cooking is ‘Thai-Malay’, although you’ll also find some east/west fusion in the shape of, say, pan-fried red snapper with Malaysian sambal sauce and squid-ink linguine. Veggies get a decent deal, and desserts such as steamed taro and black rice pudding are also more than an afterthought.
For more than 25 years, Esarn Kheaw has been serving north-eastern Thai food to an appreciative crowd of locals. The dark dining room may be starting to show its age, but the cooking is as good as ever – witness marinated chargrilled beef with a minced catfish, anchovy and green chilli dip or a blisteringly hot vegetarian jungle curry. Also don’t miss the boiled and deep-fried ‘son-in-law eggs’ – a delicious mouth-cooling foil to the spicy food.
Talk about fusion: Farang must be the only restaurant in London that mixes tongue-blasting Thai cuisine with an Italian-style dining room. It matters not. Set up as a residency while the lease on the family’s local trattoria was being renewed, Farang has wowed north Londoners with its keen prices and ingenuity – some dishes are still cooked in the old pizza oven. But with chef Seb Holmes (ex-Begging Bowl and Smoking Goat) at the helm, authenticity is guaranteed.
Housed in the basement of a shabby boozer around the back of the Edgware Road, the Heron is a rough diamond, but beyond its slightly dingy interior, you’ll discover some of the most authentic Thai food in London. The kitchen specialises in north-eastern cooking, with an impressive range of spicy salads, sour curries and stir-fries. Expect things to get lively after 9pm, when the dining room doubles as a karaoke lounge. Service couldn’t be friendlier.
The decor may be slinky and contemporary, but Isarn’s menu can be surprisingly wallet-friendly – bento box lunches including spring rolls or fishcakes, curry, rice and fruit are particularly good value. Don’t expect authentic Thai fire or top-of-the-range cooking but do sample some of the restaurant’s more unusual dishes, alongside its stylishly presented curries and pad thai. Isarn is still a cut above the local norm, and the narrow dining room is often packed.
KaoSarn has always been one of the crowd-pullers in Brixton Village Market and quite rightly so; the food is not only cheap, but is also bursting with authentic Thai flavours. The menu is pared down to a handful of classic curries, noodle dishes and stir-fries, although everything is up to standard. Soft drinks include fragrant homemade lemongrass or ginger tea, and you can also BYO. Service can be a little matter of fact, but staff are unfailingly friendly.
For intense, edgy and exciting Thai food, head to the ground floor of chef Ben Chapman’s Soho barnstormer, where a stainless-steel counter (for walk-ins only) gives terrific views of the theatrical open kitchen. Stripped-back dishes – mostly cooked on the chargrill or over coals in the ceramic charcoal burner – are inspired by rural Thailand, but much of the produce comes from the UK. To drink, you can choose from spice-friendly wines, cool cocktails and eastern-flavoured iced teas.
As a modern Thai restaurant, Kin + Deum (literally ‘eat + drink’) is the full shebang: a laidback, minimalist space serving up big helpings of thrilling, Bangkok-inspired food with the help of some genuinely lovely staff. Our top picks? The crunchy, chewy ‘red rice curry salad’, the soft aubergine with a tangy tamarind dip, the pitch-perfect som tam and the eye-wateringly fiery pad spaghetti prawn kee mao (spiked with ferocious bird’s eye chillies).
Squirrelled away in the Lancaster London hotel, Nipa Thai is plush and polished – note the waitresses in traditional attire and immaculately laid white-clothed tables. Grab a window spot for views of Hyde Park across the road. The menu offers classic Thai cooking (including a few less-familiar dishes), everything is attractively presented, and chilli is used in moderation, so as not to offend the well-turned-out international patrons. For smart dining at relatively affordable prices, opt for the set menu.
It may be part of an international chain, but Patara still feels distinctive: the low-lit wood-panelled dining room exudes an air of confident sophistication, staff are polite, and the cooking is a refined take on generic Thai cuisine overlaid with westernised ideas – think osso bucco braised in massaman curry sauce with lotus seeds. With a zesty cocktail list added to the mix, Patara is great for a night on the town. There are branches across the capital.
A veteran of the Leytonstone scene (and still something of a local secret), this tiny family-run Thai café scores in every department. The BYO policy is definitely key to its boozy appeal, but the food is also a blast – staunchly traditional, potently spiced and delivered without ceremony from the open kitchen. Prices are fair, service is matter of fact and the place is rampantly popular – despite the hassle of booking a table over the phone.
The brazen Shoreditch reincarnation of Soho’s teeny-weeny Smoking Goat promises smack-in-the-face Thai BBQ in a jam-packed industrial-meets-rustic setting – all smoke, loud music and high-strength alcohol. The food is laced with volcanically hot ‘mouse-dropping’ chillies, and the flavours will hit you for six (try the lardo-fried rice or the signature fish-sauce chicken wings) – although your wallet won’t be seriously dented, even if you go heavy on the booze. This is really ‘drinking food’ at its best.
With full-frontal, never-dumbed-down flavours from Thailand’s north-eastern provinces, the cooking at Som Saa is guaranteed to blow you away. Unforgettable dishes include deep-fried sea bass with regional herbs and a dry jungle curry made with guinea fowl – but don’t miss the silky palm-sugar ice cream (think burnt toffee and salt), matched with grilled turmeric-tinged banana. Bookings are limited to groups, but a reservation will guarantee you some of the better seats in the house.
A spicy favourite in Parsons Green, Sukho exudes Thai elegance and charm. The dining room is tailor-made for a romantic meal, while the menu offers some good-looking dishes for sharing and ogling – we’re thinking of the sea bass marinated in red curry paste, which arrives attractively presented on a banana leaf. To drink, there’s plenty for wine lovers, plus Thai beer and a sweet, herbal chrysanthemum infusion. Related to Suksan in Chelsea.
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