Som Saa

Restaurants, Thai Spitalfields
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 4 out of 5 stars
(18user reviews)
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A permanent E1 home for a former Thai residency.

I remember the day Som Saa launched their crowd-funding campaign: Twitter nearly melted. This Thai food ‘residency’, previously housed at an east London coffee roastery (and a Peckham pop-up before that), was in the market for a large, permanent site. They’d hoped to raise £550,000, but had to close the books when they hit £700,000. Time taken to smash through their target? Less than three days.

Why all the fuss? Because the cooking at Som Saa will blow you away: literally and metaphorically. This is not somewhere you come for a cheeky green curry and a plate of pad thai. It’s food from Thailand’s north-eastern provinces, where nothing gets dumbed down and your tastebuds will be held up at gunpoint. Perhaps the closest comparison is at The Heron, a dingy karaoke-on-the-telly kind of a Paddington pub basement. Som Saa’s chefs aren’t natives – Mark Dobbie is an Aussie; 2009 ‘MasterChef’ finalist Andy Oliver is a Brit – they met training under visionary Thai cook David Thompson, another Aussie, at Nahm – but both share a passion for food that intrigues and excites.

Take the deep-fried seabass with Isaan (north-eastern) herbs. Don’t let the fact that it’s served whole put you off. The sides come loose easily, leaving a cartoon fish skeleton that you can discard or take home to sew into an annoying housemate’s curtains. What remains is delicate flesh, crunchy roasted-rice-battered skin; herbs (mint, coriander, Thai basil); mandolin-thin shallots and a puddle of sweet-sour-salt-fire sauce. The effect is thrilling: like setting off fireworks (the ooh-aahh ones, not those rubbish roman candle jobbies) of taste and texture in your mouth.

Equally unforgettable was a Burmese-style pork curry: an intense, comforting dish punctuated by melt-in-the-mouth, fatty meat and roasted peanuts. Or the silky palm sugar ice cream (think burnt toffee and salt), matched with grilled unripe banana: genius. More daring was a dish of jackfruit (which if you’ve ever had it roadside in Thailand, can be offensively stinky), its pieces steeped in coconut cream to create a soothing bowl of mildly scented milky flesh with chewy strips of baked-in-banana leaf sticky rice.

I didn’t love it all. The Isaan-style som tam not only had a pungent fermented fish sauce (in itself an acquired taste) but a violent, almost masochistic level of chilli (and I’m half Sri-Lankan: I can take the heat). Also, if you’re in a two, you can’t book, so despite turning up at 6.30pm on a Tuesday, we had an hour-and-a-half wait, for places at a communal table. My tip? Come as a group: you can book ahead, you’ll get better seats (ask for one of the semi-industrial cabina-style booths) and of course you can try more food.

Because that, when all is said and done, is why you go. Yes the interiors (in what was once an east London garment factory) are moody and exotic, but you didn’t come for sexy decor. You came because once you eat at Som Saa, you may never order another pad thai again.

By: Tania Ballantine

Posted:

Venue name: Som Saa
Contact:
Address: 43A Commercial Street
London
E1 6BD
Opening hours: Mon-Sun 6pm-10.30pm
Transport: Shoreditch High St Overground
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Average User Rating

4.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:9
  • 4 star:5
  • 3 star:2
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:0
LiveReviews|18
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Shona R
Tastemaker

Coming from Asia I can be a slight snob about asian food that gets too much hype.  Som saa however, was genuinely delicious!  A little expensive, so not a casual tuesday night affair.  But the food is asian tapas style to share with the table and the variety of vege/seafood/meat was perfect!  Warning: when they say spicy, they mean spicy!!!

Debbie H
tastemaker

Despite the hype this wasn't quite as amazing as I was expecting. Having said that the whole deep fried seabass with roasted rice powder and isaan herbs was to die for!

Sarah B
Tastemaker

Som Saa has been on my Need-To-Go List for practically the whole year since it's opening and so I was thrilled to finally make it in the door last week. We chose a bank holiday Friday to go as we thought it might be quieter and despite having an electrical fault and having to return after a drink nearby we were actually seated very quickly and the staff were incredibly professional in how they handled the situation. The cocktails that we enjoyed in the bar while we were waiting were delicious.

The menu is comprised of 5 sections: Grilled, Wok, Soup, Curry & Salad. You are recommended to order a dish from each so that you benefit from a range of flavours and textures once it all comes together, we ordered 4 dishes (skipping the soup) between two of us and this with accompanying rice left us fit to burst! The varying style and texture of each plate was certainly the right way to approach the menu and though the dishes can only really be received two at a time due to space constraints it made sense that each dish was enjoyed whilst hot and fresh.

Unfortunately that is really where my praise ends. Flavours were distinct, everything was cooked and dressed well and did exactly what it said on the tin but not one of the four dishes we ordered blew us away. Perhaps I have anticipated this meal for just a touch too long and so it had too hard a time living up to expectation but I thought there must be a greater reason than this why people are willing to pay quite a high price and wait so long for a table. The stir-fried Morning Glory is worthy of a mention but purely because it was the only dish we were served for which I couldn't imagine how I would replicate the flavour at home; I expected this feeling from every dish. The Pork Rib plate came especially recommended by the waitress and was so underwhelming - not least because the were quite bizarrely plated with great huge chunks of raw, undressed cabbage. 

I expected a menu with much more heart and a few fantastic surprises up it's sleeve but it instead fell rather flat. 

Chandni A
tastemaker

We'd planned to go to Som saa on a Saturday evening for dinner (risky..!) It is another restaurant in London that doesn't take reservations (unless you're in a group). We arrive to be put into a queue and told to return at a certain time. Fortunately our wait time wasn't too long despite it being peak time on a Saturday.

The staff were all very friendly and service was efficient.  However, the food was the best bit.....every single dish we ordered was so flavoursome and I felt like I was eating in Thailand.  Even the plastic dishes that the food was served on looked like they'd been plucked straight from the street markets, adding to the authenticity. The stand out dish was the pork curry - it was new on the menu and was so fragrant and definitely the highlight of the meal, eaten with the coconut rice. The papaya salad was so fresh and delicious. For the quality of the food, I would say that the food was reasonably priced.  I will definitely be returning to try out all the other dishes!!

Emily W
tastemaker

If you can get a table (and good luck to you) Som Saa is a real treat. Their signature whole fried seabass is out of this world. We ordered everything from curries to salads and baked aubergine, and there wasn't a crumb left on our plates. Would recommend ordering around 2 dishes per person plus rice. Be warned, a lot of it is pretty spicy, so if you're not one for a bit of a kick, then Som Saa probably isn't for you. This is some of the best Thai food i've had in London, though. 

Babs - Working Girl London
Tastemaker

I've been meaning to try Som Saa for ages and it did not disappoint. It has a creative cocktail menu and the drinks we tried were very nice. There are no starters or mains, just a selection of small dishes so you can eat tapas style. We tried about 5 different dishes. Each of them was tasty, except for the crab relish which I did not like at all. It was just a bit blah compared to everything else...that aside, the food was immensely flavoursome! The grilled chicken was my favourite dish, closely followed by one of the specials - a venison red curry. Sounds strange but tasted amazing! The whole meal came to about £40 per head, which isn't bad considering how popular this place is and the fact we had a cocktail each. I will definitely be going back!

NWG

The food here is absolutely fantastic. I had the gaeng hung lae (pork belly curry with pickled garlic and fresh ginger), which was perfectly spiced and rich with authentic Thai flavours. I also had dtom khamin gai baan - a beautifully light, clear broth (again, well spiced with a great heat to it) with guinea fowl.


The staff were all very friendly, as was one of the owners, who I'd chatted to at the bar.

On top of all this, they have an excellent drinks selection - the Camden Brewery tank beer is my recommendation, from a big beer fan.

I've been back again since this visit and tried even more great dishes.


Luke S

The best Thai food I've ever had - better than Nahm in Bangkok. Every dish was incredible.

Sarah (kukkiiandkoppee)
Tastemaker
We ordered a variety of dishes a few were disappointing, a couple were acceptable and the only good dishes were the curries. The aubergine dish was unacceptably smokey and poor tasting. The whole sea bass was eye-catching but, in my opinion wholly and unacceptably deep fried to death. Given the price and the raving reviews I was expecting to be blown away. 
Kudos on the styling and selection of tea (up to £7 a pot!!). Sadly it's not enough to bring me back.
Bonnie W
Tastemaker

Som Saa is a lively restaurant just a 5 minute walk from Liverpool Street Station with a sort of rough around the edges decor that works to give a bit of a tropical feel. It kind of reminds me of a Thai Dishoom. On a Thursday at 6:30 there were probably about 10 tables left but I have heard it can often fill up quickly. They don't take reservations and wait to seat you until your whole party has arrived but you can sit at the bar for a drink while you wait. The cocktails are interesting and I ended up going for the popcorn iced tea which was refreshing and fragrant with oolong tea. For a Thai restaurant I wasn't sure how many vegetarian dishes they would offer but luckily there were about five on the menu that could be made vegetarian. The vegetarian coconut and turmeric curry was absolutely delicious - potentially the best I've ever eaten! With cauliflower, green beans, squash and crispy shallots I could have easily eaten two portions. The salted caramel palm sugar ice cream with caramelised banana and toasted sesame seeds was amazing and big enough for two to share. Even if there's a wait for a table at Som Saa, it's worth it.

Laura B
tastemaker

Only had to wait 20 minutes on a Tuesday night which was just enough time to get in a delicious cocktail from the range of creative options on offer. The food was all delicious - highlight being the pork starter - no idea what the sauce was but it was amazing! The sea bass was crispy and tasty but my dining buddy didn't love it. The panang curry was just the right spicy with tender morsels of meat. We even got a candle in our ice cream for my friend's birthday.

The atmosphere was good, a bit noisy at times, and the staff were helpful with recommendations. Some of them seemed a bit pushy, trying to get us out, and our drinks were lost for a while but overall an excellent dinner!

Elizabeth P
tastemaker

Worried it wouldn't live up to the hype I prepared myself for a long wait to get in on a Tuesday night. Actually it ended up being just 45 mins, during which time I got to drink real, yes REAL, cider with all its dry couldy goodness in the large front of house bar.

The menu offering definitely seems more authentic than most Thai restaurants I've visited in the UK, and not a fried starter in sight! It also encourages the sharing culture we've developed in London which means I get to sample more food 😃

We ordered 4 dishes between 2. The chef then decides which rice is most appropriate for your order - sticky or jasmine- which we thought a nice touch. All of the food was delicious but the Pad Prik pork dish was by far my favourite. Each piece of meat was half crispy cracking and half melt in the mouth, cooked in a delicious red curry paste with green beans. The aubergine dish was another delicious and surprising dish. The spice factor on everything was just right for me and the staff very helpful in pointing out spicing and allergy information.

I was disappointed not to have room for desert- the is some Palm sugar ice cream and banana I'll definately be trying next time.

Really can't fault the food and atmosphere. A welcome new addition to the city!

Tatiana R

Awesome food. Waited about 1.5 hours for a table (we were walk-ins). Had about 5 dishes between two, with sticky rice and delicious cocktail. Looking forward to my next visit already!

Daniel L
Tastemaker

This is definitely one of the top thai restaurants if not THE top thai restaurant. It is no wonder it is the most hotly anticipated new opening in 2016! Yes I managed to get a table on the first week in their permanent location. The staff are really friendly and rather attentive, and really know their menu well which helps when you are trying to decipher what the dishes mean. The waiter was kind enough to warn you on the more spicy dishes. Most of their dishes are so flavourful and have such a rich aroma that you possibly can't go wrong! Also, they have a nice selection of craft beers which was a pleasant surprise! Definitely will be interested in a revisit as they have told me their menu will change regularly.

Esther J
Staff Writer

Let me be blunt this Thai restaurant smashes all the rest in London out of the water. It’s favours are incredible, influenced heavy by the flavours of northern Thailand they are deep and sensational. Lots of pungent dipping sauces, heaps of pickles all severed in a stripped back setting of the Climpson's Arch in Hackney. Fabulous guys!

Manningalive
Tastemaker

Prepare to have your senses awoken by explosive Thai flavours.  The food at Som Saa is exciting, vibrant, and undeniably authentic.  I would recommend ordering a selection of dishes to share with your group to ensure you get to sample everything.  The seabass is crispy and fragrant and the dessert is quite possibly the best I've ever hadAnd it should be given that it's the only dessert on the menu, the salted palm sugar ice cream with grilled banana does not disappoint.  Despite its industrial feel the atmosphere is warm and inviting which is mirrored by front of house.  This Hackney pop up is worth queuing for.