If you love Thai food, you know you can’t ignore that craving for fresh lime, ginger, chilli and basil. As spring runs along and we dream of summer, we give you our list of London’s best Thai restaurants, for those days when a direct flight to Bangkok, Phuket, or Samui doesn’t fit into the agenda.
Serving modern Thai food with a light, casual café vibe, Rosa’s started as a humble street food stall, and has slowly expanded to a small chain with several branches across London. The family-run restaurants provide homely street food dishes at reasonable prices, often with a modern twist. Particularly noteworthy are the stir-fried crispy pork with kra pow (a crunchy Chinese take on a Thai classic), and the fragrant fresh summer rolls in peanut sauce. While they do provide the usual staples of green curry and pad Thai, be sure to browse the drinks and dessert menus, which boast a number of hot and cold Thai teas and coffees, as well as Thai whisky and Chang beer. Seated on little stools in this charming café, spooning coconut ice cream almost seems just as good as sitting by a stall in the streets of bustling Bangkok.
With an ever-growing number of branches across London, you may find yourself walking straight past Busaba – but that would be a mistake. The menu is simple yet flavoursome, providing an array of Thai salads, noodles, curries, and particularly noteworthy starters. While the dining environment is perhaps not so intimate, as guests are seated at communal tables, this is easily forgotten once the flavours of the food take the stage. Definite must-tries include the peppercorn squid calamari and the chargrilled duck breast in tamarind sauce. Amongst incense, floating orchids, and dark wood, the atmosphere here is sleek and stylish, yet try to avoid peak lunch and dinner times where possible – Busaba is a popular choice, and it is clear why.
Serving contemporary Thai cuisine, Patara is an import to London straight from Bangkok. While there have been a few changes in the menu, this West London chain still holds plenty of variety with well presented, genuine dishes, in a modern environment. Highly recommended is the seafood at Patara, in particular the sea bass wrapped in chargrilled banana leaf. Whilst the restaurants are small and tables are close, get into the groove and imagine yourself in a hot Thai market after hours, as you order that local speciality of fragrant sticky rice with mango, a true favourite whatever the weather.
For that special evening or occasional well-deserved treat, Nipa provides an excellent all round experience nestled within the Lancaster London Hotel. The menu focuses more on the classic dishes and these are mildly spiced, but can easily be adjusted on request. The atmosphere is intimate, especially for a grand hotel, and exudes elegance. For those looking to enjoy the spectacular view over Hyde Park and simply sit back and indulge, Nipa features a number of set menus, with an added special touch of pairings with Thai wine. It is the perfect setting for a sophisticated dinner with the in-laws, as you nibble on fish cakes and stir fried scallops.
Certainly one of the more authentic restaurants, what The Heron lacks in fancy décor, it makes up for in flavoursome dishes. Whilst there is Thai Karaoke available, the food here really is the star. Located in a dark basement in Paddington, The Heron specialises in north-eastern cooking. For those who know it, this means eye-watering, tongue-burning flavours, from hot and sour soups served the truly Thai way (in a big metal pot), to punchy papaya salads. First-timers should note that when they indicate a dish as ‘spicy’ here, they certainly mean it. However, what better way to soothe the senses than a few bottles of Thai beer?
Barbecued meat is certainly a favourite in Thailand, whether it is eaten on the rural roadside during a pit stop, or during lunch hour between skyscrapers. Within a dimly lit, smoky space in Soho, The Smoking Goat captures some of this essence, featuring meats and seafood combined with exquisite flavours cooked on a wood-fired grill. The sweet and sticky fish sauce chicken wings are a must-try, and will take any Thai native right back to the days when mum made them. The Smoking Goat certainly embraces more of the cool, modern vibes of Thailand. Be prepared to leave messier than when you arrived – this food calls for using your hands and licking up every last bit of sauce.
The family-run Esarn Kheaw boasts many charming homemade dishes, such as the typical sour Thai style sausages. The atmosphere here is modest, but certainly comes with a genuine, homely Thai charm. The dishes are reasonably priced, and have the flair of a local market place restaurant in north Thailand. There is always a lot of native Thai clientele, which is a good sign, and the food really shows the beauty of cooking with tradition and care.
The Begging Bowl brings the bold flavours of Thailand to Peckham | Courtesy of The Begging Bowl
Do not be put off by the name – this Peckham restaurant serves up Thai street food that is both trendy and authentic. Served in little artsy painted bowls and dishes, there is a tapas bar vibe about this place, as customers are invited to order several small plates of really big flavours, and traditional street food is taken to the next level using rich herbs and spices. With a limitless serving of rice for just ₤1, this makes the experimenting all the more fun. Do as the Thais do and order a variety of dishes to share, using the rice as an accompaniment. The sticky slow-cooked shin of pork, and the stir-fry of tofu and shiitake mushrooms come highly recommended. It’s as close to Phuket as you can get in Peckham.