This seems an age when 101 Thai Kitchen epitomises the height of Thai authenticity. To me, it is such a drag to travel that west to get some good eastern food. This new Thai venture @Siam, sandwiched between Koya and Mooli’s on Frith Street comes in as a great compromise in flavours and distance, though very often the lengthy queue at the front of Koya makes this little Thai gem appear an empty, second rate restaurant.
There is also another general sort of injury added to new Thai eateries in London: the fact that Thai food is no longer in trend. That everyone “knows” what Thai food is and that one can order a dose of Thai food in a pub, from a makeshift stall, or even from Tesco makes many authentic Thai restaurants oddly irrelevant. And, indeed, what’s the need in trying authentic, uncompromising flavours that may cauterise one’s uvula for the sake of food? Accordingly, for the sake of commerciality, many Thai restaurants tame, tone down their flavours, the herbal aggression and the heat replicating Thai dishes instead of making ones, and any Thai meal in London or the UK could not be complete without a Pad Thai or a Green Chicken Curry. This is woeful – as I am Thai – unjustifiable as if to falsely generalise that
Fish and Chips is the essence of British gastronomy!
As I have spent a good few years defending the Great British food to uninterested Thai visitors, I will use the next two weeks introducing alternative Thai flavours available in the London scene. @Siam is a decent alternative here. The place serves modern Thai cuisine with, of course, the kind offer to reduce to heat to suit the Western palate. Nothing is wrong with that. Half of the menu reads Central Thai food – curry and stir fry – the other half an odd mix of well-known North Eastern dishes – papaya salad and weeping tiger – and a few Northern specialities. This other half is what @Siam is amazing at.
What are those? My favourite and the easiest way of sampling the northern delicacies is to ask for the above Lanna Set priced at about £15. You’d get a tub of steaming hot sticky rice, extra crispy pork cracklings to go with fresh green chilli relish (known as Naam Prik Noom in Thai), spicy Northern sausage (called Sai Oua) and pork and ginger curry (Gaeng Hung Lay). This set, may I warn you, is mightily fiery. Briefly, the northern dishes are well known for the use of fresh green chilli, of clear herbal flavours and of almost no coconut milk in the curries, I’m afraid. The sausage made from pork, pork fat and various spices was hot. This was a dry sort of sausage, compared to Thai sausages from other regions, and oozed nutty chilli flavour combination. The Gaeng Hung Lay – a type of pork curry with aromatic chilli and ginger paste – was delectably sweet and appetisingly perfumed. The curry – my favourite -was light in texture – no coconut milk here – the creaminess came only from hours of stewing pork bellies and pork shoulders. The pork crackling was good, too, and the Naam Prik Noom relish was fresh. If you are a chilli whore, I’d say go for it. If not, just don’t.
Also noteworthy is that @Siam also does a special Thai menu – a good range of 5-8 dishes of no Western recognition – which changes almost daily. It is meant for Thai people who crave the home flavours, but the staff are more happy to cater anybody if the menu is called for. There might be a little translation hiccups along the way but you’ll get to experience Thai dishes you might not have heard of. Some are extremely regional and can only be found only in some provinces in Thailand. Last time I ended up with this Green Jackfruit Salad. “Salad” might be a misleading term as this dish was prepared by braising finely chopped unripe jackfruit in chilli paste and tomatoes. Spicy and sour, those were the dominant flavours to be followed by a hint of scented sweetness from Thai shallots, which balanced off the mild bitterness of the jackfruit.
For those heading for the middle-of-the-road flavours, the more popular Thai dishes at @Siam are decent. The deep fried corn cake – Tod Mun Khao Pod – was light, greaseless and crispy. The version here was made entirely from sweetcorn in golden batter. There are variations of making sweet corn patty mixed with potatoes and other vegetables, which I am not keen on.
Green Chicken Curry was also good. The kitchen was heavy-handed with coconut milk and it was advisable to inform your waiter how far you dare venture into the realm of heat! Nonetheless, the dish boast lean chicken breasts and crunchy bamboo shoots. The one below was a half portion and came as part of a two-course set lunch deal at £9.
I cooled myself off with a Khao Tom Mud Sai Klouy – steamed banana-filled sticky rice – with Thai tea ice cream. The steamed sticky rice was a little too wet but it was near perfect authenticity. The Thai tea ice cream was served as a cold contrast to the rice, a bit of an unnecessary touch.
Among all the new born and old school Thai eateries, especially in Central London, @Siam is striking in its mediatory approach to Thai dining. There are bits of everything: fiery, regional exoticism that Thai expats will adore and the more mainstream flavours that Thai food enthusiasts will find enjoyable.
My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.
Authenticity Rating: 8.5/10
48 Frith Street
Tel. 020 7494 4511