Having never graced Thailand with my presence (madness I know, because who hasn’t been to Thailand) my experience of Thai food is somewhat limited to the western-friendly versions dished out anywhere but Thailand. In their defence, most are usually run by expats wanting to bring a piece of their local cuisine to their adopted home, or at the very least have a sourced a chef who does have roots in the country. But they’ll inevitably still be tailored towards the palate they are serving. What you then end up with is a large menu split into categories such as curries, stir fries, noodles and rice, soup on occasion, and 10 or so dishes in each category- something for everyone you could say.
As an indecisive orderer with a shocking case of plate envy, I hate being confronted with a multipage menu book. Add the fact that the descriptions are usually a bit lacking, and I am really in my personal hell as I try to navigate from the tom yum goong to the pad preaw wan, all the while trying to pick something I haven’t ordered before, but not wanting to choose something too obscure that I won’t like. Even when we dined at the Lotus of Siam, often described as the best Thai restaurant in America or the world even, the ridiculously large menu was still my undoing. I used to smirk at the people who always order the pad thai or the green curry after a starter of fish cakes, but over the years I have been worn down by sub-par choices (a burn-my-insides-spicy pork mince slush comes to mind) and now generally resort to a red curry or spicy stir fried type dish. It’s just easier, and there is less chance of diner’s remorse.
Needless to say, I was surprised and delighted when we sat down to a succinct one page menu with not a green curry in sight when we visited Som Saa for dinner. This Thai pop-up restaurant is currently taking over Climpson’s Arch from Thursdays to Sundays, serving dinner and weekend brunch until early 2015. As you can probably gather, I usually shy away from Thai unless first suggested by friends but Som Saa’s popularity, great reviews, and unusual sounding dishes popping up all over my Instagram feed convinced me that I had to get a taste for myself.
I’ll just come clean and tell you straight away that I could have ordered everything on the menu, yes, it’s small but there wasn’t much I didn’t like the look of. After a cold, wet trek from the tube, a certain someone and I warmed up inside and enjoyed a fiercely salty jan naem (grilled fermented pork) while waiting for the rest of the group and a table to come free. (I was surprised to find they can only serve bar snacks on the rather roomy outdoor tables…) Then finally our party of five huddled cosily round the table and tucked into a couple of som tam (papaya salads), gai yang (grilled chicken leg), moo yang (grilled pork neck), gung pao nam jim talay (salt roasted prawns), moo parlow (five spice braised pork belly), nam dtok pla thort (deep fried seabass) and sticky rice all round. All the while sipping some cocktails, good wine, and Thai beers.
The star of the show had to be the seabass; the perfectly crispy skin kept the flesh tender and moist, combined with the zingy Issan herbs, it was a knockout. It was ably supported by the solid papaya salads, one which gave off a particularly ‘burn your face off’ heat, and the piping hot sticky rice which was perfect for soaking up all the different sauciness. My other stand out was the pork neck, not a cut I eat often, I was impressed by the tenderness, and how moreish it was paired with their nam jim sauce. Now that I am reliving it, I would happily go another round of that. And the rest I guess…
I’m going to chalk this down as one of my successful Thai dining experiences, I entered intrigued and left happy and satisfied. For those of you out there who really adore Thai food, give this a go because it’s authentic but not your run of the mill and you might actually discover a new dish or two to pine over!
So tell me, are you a fan of Thai food? What’s your favourite dish?
Som Saa, Climpson’s Arch, E8 3SB, open Thursday to Sunday from 6pm, Saturday and Sunday brunch from 11am-4pm, no bookings.