Minor non-Thai issues
There were a few issues that annoyed me at The Begging Bowl. Firstly, there was a soup bowl placed on top of my plate in a manner that resembles what the Chinese do with rice bowl. Most diners put food in that bowl and ate from it. If you do this, please kindly inform diners that they are soup bowls, not rice bowls. Thais eat off a plate; and this gives out a wrong impression, of the restaurant’s not being aware culturally. Secondly, there was an odd format to the menu: four circular symbols in different colours at the top to suggest portion size and prices – think Yo! Sushi!? – and then, the following descriptions of dishes that were printed in corresponding colours. Confusing. What’s so uncool about putting the price right after the dishes? Also, please put at least one Thai word on the menu. Thirdly, both Jasmine rice and sticky rice accompanied all orders. Please don’t do this. Nearly all of the dishes were only ideal with Jasmine rice and just wouldn’t go with sticky. Fourthly, the restaurant did not quite have a Thai vibe. Though I liked the veranda, the long and handsome wood tables where diners share meals with strangers, and the walls adorned with naturally worn, re-painted planks of wood, it lacked a distinctive Thai character. Some random Thai DJ tracks should fix this. All that aside, The Begging Bowl, a casual, but pristine neighbourhood Thai restaurant of Peckham by ex-Nahm chef Jane Alty, was really, really impressive.
Thailand via Peckham
The menu at The Begging Bowl was concise, with a focus on a more elegant Bangkok-influenced style of Thai cooking. No papaya salad, in other words. The price per dish was fixed at £5.5, £7.5, £9.5 and £12.5. While the portion was not large, the ingredients were authentic, well-sourced and of good quality. The restaurant should also be commended for (successfully) making its own curry paste. Crispy Rice (£5.5) was served with a ground pork, chicken and peanut dip. The crispy rice discs, uneven in size, were skilfully deep fried and grease-less. The coconut-milk-based dip was fragrant and acceptably flavoured, though verging on being too sweet. It would benefit from a hint more of curry paste. Salad of Salmon (£7.5) was vibrant. The salmon – deep fried and flaked – was well complimented by a saliva-inducing melange of star fruit, shredded green mango, mint, coriander and Thai red onions. There was a pleasantly balanced heat from the chilli. Charcoal Grilled Gurnard (£9.5) reminded me of a steamed curry souffle dish “Hor Mok” better recognised in the UK as fish amok. The fillet of gurnard here was rubbed with red curry paste, coconut milk and holy basil leaves, wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. Nice. The burnt scent from the banana leaves imparted well onto the delicate fish. The seasoning could have done with a stronger herbal boost. Hot & Sour Soup with Tiger Prawns (£7.5) was a Begging Bowl take on Tom Yum Goong. Bluntly speaking, it was more “sour” than “hot”. The prawns were beautifully poached in the herb-infused broth – a wondrous note of galangal, lemongrass, shallots and coriander – I could do with a couple more. At present, there seemed more cherry tomatoes – nicely poached too – than prawns. Green Curry with Rabbit (£9.5) was very proper. The minimally coarse texture of the curry, as opposed to the super smooth and milky curry one usually comes across, was the sign of the kitchen’s hard curry-paste-pounding labour. It boast piquancy and released depth. The vegetables – pea aubergines, round eggplants, chilli, baby corns – were perfectly cooked. The rabbit, which there was not much of, did not have such a robust taste, and (god forbid) we couldn’t help thinking if we would get more meat (cost-wise) if it was replaced with chicken (sorry!). I also loved Duck Curry (£9.5), an inventive retouch for Gaeng Gari which is traditionally prepared with chicken. Here the un-boned duck breasts was simmered to fall apart very moreishly. This was nicely contrasted by the biteful jersey royals, while the topping of deep fried Thai onions rendered perfumed sweetness. Equally stellar was the finely tuned, soul warming curry concoction of tumeric, cardamom and ginger. It also surprised me with gusty chilli kicks. The accompanying cucumber relish added vinegared sweetness and freshened up the rich curry.
The cooking at The Begging Bowl has shown promises – authenticity, care, refinement and inventiveness. If I lived in SE, I could see myself becoming a regular. That said, we thought ’tis a pity there was only one dessert of Mango Sticky Rice on the menu.
THE BEGGING BOWL
168 Bellenden Road
Tel. 020 7642 1910