What is in the name.. ?
All Thai food connoisseurs in London must have at some point been to 101 Thai Kitchen in Stamford Brook. Yet, despite its institutional status, the name of the restaurant is often misunderstood. Some fa-rangs (as Thais call Caucasians) righteously assume 101 portends elementary Thai cooking. They are quite wrong…
101, pronounced Roy-Ed in Thai, is the name of a province in Thailand’s (rather far) North East/ Isarn where the majority of dishes on the menu originate. These include your usual spicy salad favourites of Larb and Som Tam, sticky rice and Weeping Tiger. What’s more, if you enquire or read the menu closely enough, you will also find that the current head chef comes from the South of Thailand and has brought with her the heated vibrancy of Southern favourites – many fish, curries and Islamic influences. And for the sake of those regional cuisines, 101 Thai Kitchen is a worthy foodie destination.
The Thai menu at 101 Thai Kitchen could be the most extensive and detailed in London. It not only boasts a decent translation of dishes but affords precise description of ingredients and cooking methods. There are many rare, authentic creations and seasonal dishes written in polychrome on the blackboard. But, like many other Thai restaurants, 101 also serves usual Thai favourites of Pad Thai and Green Chicken Curry, and while those dishes are not bad, you can have them cooked better at other Thai restaurants specialising in Central dishes. (Thai Rice, Addie’s and Patara came to mind)
Now. The tricky bit. After many trips to the restaurant I never scored good photographs and I will recount my overall experience there instead of merely writing a one-off review. First, bear in mind dishes are not small. Second, there is a star-rating system for chilli seasoning. 1 star – the level I always go for – gives you an authentic tingling sensation. 2 star will make your lips burn. 3 star? You are likely to poo fire the next day. If unsure, you can easily ask for the “usual” Thai heat. Third, the unique offerings at 101 – Northeastern and Southern dishes – are always spicy and it’s unlikely you can ask to have the heat toned down.
If you have a stomach for adventures, go for these dishes. They are my all-time favourites.
Kloui Kling Neua – a minced beef stir fry dish with a fine paste of lemongrass, garlic, ginger and kaffir lime. Salty and spicy. It is one of the hottest on the menu as there are usually a lot of green peppercorns hidden underneath the aromatic beef. Do note that heat from peppercorn comes alive much more slowly than chilli heat but it lingers. Tom Kreung Nai Wua is a sour, spicy and amazingly herbed broth of tripe, liver and intestines. Thais always clean them well and smother herbs on to kill the foul smell. I also love Sai Krok Isarn, a kind of fermented Thai sausages infused with rice and served grilled. They don’t look too dissimilar to English sausages. And Plar Plah Style Lao, a Laotian crispy fish salad with sweet chilli dressing and ground rice. For the most unique Southern experience, I usually go for Goong Pad Sator, which was absolutely stinky. Basically, it is a prawn stir fry dish with smelly, edamame-like beans and Malaysian-style Sambal. And I finished my meal off with silky and sweet Mor Gaeng Peuk (Taro Custard with Fried Shallots) and pungent Durian Ice Cream with Thai Condiments.
Which Thai in London?
101 or The Heron? Perhaps the ultimate question. And to answer it as bluntly as possible, I choose The Heron. The latter is just NOT so damned far as Hammersmith. When there are crossovers on the menu, I feel The Heron can do it more boldly and balanced. That said, the menu at The Heron is shorter and focuses more on North and Northeastern. No smelly beans, in other words!
And a quick Thai round-up for you all (will keep this updated)..
All Round Best Thai – Thai Rice Portebello
Best for Fine Dining – Nahm
Best for (Cheap) One Dish Food – The Heron
Best for Noodle Soup(s) – Thai Rice, Addie’s or The Heron
Best Northern – some dishes at @Siam
Best Northeastern – The Heron
Best Central/Bangkokian – Addie’s Thai (very good!), Patara or Suda (acceptable hygienic Thai “middle-class” flavours, not street food)
Best Southern – 101 Thai Kitchen
Best Desserts – Nahm (really one of the kind for Thai desserts in Europe)
Hope this helps
My head rating says, “8 out of 10″.
My heart rating says, “6.5 out of 10″.
101 THAI KITCHEN
352 King Street
Tel. 020 8746 6888