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@Siam: We Are in Thailand

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Enough said,

My head rating says, “7 out of 10″.

My heart rating says, “8 out of 10″.

Authenticity Rating: 8.5/10

@SIAM

48 Frith Street
London
W1D 4SF

Tel. 020 7494 4511

www.atsiam.co.uk

@Siam on Urbanspoon

17 Comments

    • You know I am one of those people who walk past @Siam and head for Koya. It wasn’t until my Thai friends start “checking in” @Siam on Facebook that I realised there is a worthy rival to Koya next door! That said, it’s always a dilemma for me where to eat on Frith Street. All the best and my most favourite places are there.

    • It is. Apart from the green chicken curry, everything tastes authentic. They put a bit of courgette and red pepper pieces in the curry which they could do without. Still decent, nonetheless :)

    • The Lanna Thai set is tucked at the far back of the English menu. You don’t need a Thai translation for that. Just look thoroughly ;)

      They also do North Eastern and Bangkokian sets which are also very good. The Bangkokian set – called Set Phra Na Korn – includes a shrimp paste dip – Naam Prik Ka Pi – that stinks and might not be to everybody’s liking though. But for North Eastern dishes I think 101 Thai Kitchen does them better. Will be on the blog next week!

  1. tim

    so whats the verdict – is this as good as 101? or is it just that its easier to get to? either way i’ll definitely be trying it out…

    • The menu at 101 is better because it’s more extensive and there are A lot of wow factors. @Siam is more of a crowd pleaser Thai restaurant but they do some special dishes they do not advertise. You’ll only have to ask what they cook daily on their Thai menu. These are really authentic dishes but very distinctly spicy. The three sets at the end of their English menu at @Siam – the Lanna set above is one of them – are very authentic but their stir fry dishes and coconut milk based curries can be a bit basic and not exciting. That said, there are still dishes at 101 that do not “hit” for me. To me, I prefer @Siam to 101 but it’s because I am not a big fan of North Eastern Thai food 101 is renowned for. Will be posting about 101 very soon if you fancy to hear what dishes I recommend there :)

      • tim

        i will be interested to hear what your favourites are! i’ve given the menu a good work out during a lo of visits there so i have a few too. i really like north eastern thai food, but i agree that there is some stuff that 101 misses on, and thats why i think ppl can do w/ a guide telling them the good things to order.

      • Very sadly, I have deleted my photos from 101 before uploading them (!!!) but will be visiting again soon. Stay tuned ;)

  2. Lesley Taylor

    Hi there

    Thanks for the review. We have a new Thai cafe in Brixton which I think is pretty good (and cheap!) – Kaosarn. I’m not Thai but the flavours seem pretty balanced to me and I like it a lot. I’d be interested to see what you think.

  3. Thanks for the heads up on this place. I sampled both the Northern (Lanna) set and the E-sarn set, they actually complemented one another quite well. Both were good, but just fell short of being great, as the pork belly in the Northern curry wasn’t quite melt in the mouth, and the sirloin in the E-sarn set was a tad overcooked. That said, I will be back!

    • Hey,

      Did you go for lunch or dinner? I came across a better pork belly at lunch as opposed to many of my dinners @Siam. Such a logic might not exist though.

      PS Thais tend to overcook meat. It’s a fault in our culture >_<

  4. Pingback: 101 Thai Kitchen: What Should You Do at This Thai Institution? | The Skinny Bib

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