Sometimes a bad food experience can manage to put you off an entire cuisine. With me that was very much the case when it came to Thai food. A very, very bad Pad Thai eaten many years ago and the, in my head at least, apparent dominance of lemongrass in their dishes which I can't stand meant that I had successfully managed to avoid this particular country's food for a good few years.
Getting older, wiser and more experimental when it comes to my food I eventually ended up eating dinner at the rather lovely Zaap in Leeds which just so happened to serve me up an incredible prawn Pad Thai that made me completely rethink my perception of Thai food, in fact surprising me so much with it's fresh, zingy and new flavours that I couldn't help but wanting to explore more of what Thai food had to offer now that I had finally looked passed my initial reservations.
Yes of course there are plenty of bad Thai takeaways in London, much like you get terrible Chinese and Japanese offerings, however I was lucky enough to find two real gems that have seen me slowly but surely branching out from my initial and rather safe noodle orders, though they remain my staple hangover choice, to things I would have never imagined choosing to eat only a few years back. Whether you are a fan of Thai food or not, these two places serve pretty fantastic food at good prices and are worth stepping out of our your food comfort zone for!
MODERN THAI SMALL PLATES @ SOM SAA
A stones throw away from Spitalfields market, on the formerly rough but now increasingly gentrified Bethnal Green rather than Shoreditch end, you'll find Som Saa and it's exposed brick dining room. Yes, a lot about Som Saa is unarguably text book hipster - the no bookings policy that means more often than not having to wait an hour or longer if you show up any later than 6pm (we got there at 5:45pm and still waited for 25 minutes), the small plates sharing concept, meant to help you explore a wealth of flavours but in reality resulting in a bill that very quickly adds up to quite a bit, and of course the cool and striped back interior BUT that is all kind of ok and bearable because the food served here is simple fantastic. In fact the queues have only built up since its opening because every restaurant critic worth her or his name has given this place a rave review (most recently my favourite restaurant critic The Guardian's Jay Rayner) and rightly so. Everything we sampled blew my mind and was not your typical Thai takeaway style dish either.
The menu is split into several sections like wok, curry and grill and with 4 to 5 dishes between two people recommended you get to try a little bit of each. Though a lot of the menu is meat heavy and I would like to see a few more completely vegetarian options, there was plenty for us to choose from even with my none meat eating. Highlights were the yum makeua yao, a grilled aubergine salad with egg and prawn floss, adding a slightly acidic note to this vegetable that made it taste like nothing I ever quite had before in the best of ways, and the incredible gaeng baa pla, a jungle curry with daily fish, thai aubergines, holy basil and wild ginger, that blew mine and my dining companion's head away with its chilli power and spice combination, beautifully married with silky chunks of white fish and other herbs. Everything is served with fragrant sticky rice that proved too good to resist for soaking up juices even for someone that usually isn't a massive fan of rice like me.
Cocktails were equally delicious, taking classic drinks and giving them a Thai twist without going into the gimmicky- my 'bamboo planter’s punch' for example a refreshing and fragrant mix of Jamaican rums, guava juice, pandan syrup and lime that was way to easy to drink while my friend's 'dragon’s milk' a sweet concotion of sticky rice rum, kahlua, coconut cream, condensed milk, salt, sesame presented itself as one of the best creamy cocktails I have ever had.
Yes, you may have to wait for a table and not all dishes were flawless, one let down was the pad pak, a limp mix of veg that could have easily been eaten out of a plastic container and made at a below average Chinese takeaway, but overall where Som Saa tries to push the boundaries with traditional Thai food it thrillingly and exceptionally succeeds with a modern and elegant touch that few newly opened restaurants these days manage to have. I will be back to explore more of the menu and am even prepared to endure a bit of a wait to secure a seat here, a commitment I rarely make in London unless the food is truly worth it.
EXCEPTIONAL THAI FOOD DELIVERED TO YOU @ ROSA'S THAI CAFE
Though I am yet to eat at one of Rosa's five London restaurant locations I can fully vouch for the exceptional quality of food that they serve up, it having quickly becoming my takeaway of choice since it became available on Deliveroo. Why? Well the husband and wife duo that started this mini chain believe in making authentic Thai dishes that are healthy, full of flavours and not afraid to push boundaries and traditions a little in their flavour combinations and ingredients.
Yes, they absolutely nail a Pad Thai, not only the classic prawn version is delicious but their tofu one comes equally recommended by me which is saying something as I very rarely enjoy tofu, and their drunken noodles, a heady mix of flat rice noodles, Thai basil and a hell of a lot of chilli will beat even the worst of hangovers, but my absolute favourite of the menu so far, and heck I am slowly trying my way across the whole thing, is their incredible salmon red curry. This beautiful mix of lightly battered deep fried salmon fillet in red curry and Thai herbs absolutely blew my mind when I first ordered it. It screams with flavours yet is so delicate and well prepared that I was craving it for weeks after I first ordered it.
This isn't some shitty takeaway option you will feel gross after or order as last resort- Rosa's offers stunning food that I am lucky enough to be able to enjoy in the comfort of my own house. If you are in their delivery zone I urge you to do the same ASAP and if not I would suggest a visit to one of their restaurants just as much. You won't regret it and like me will want some regular Rosa's fare in your life.