Andy Oliver is a chef with a substantive skill set and no PR boost. He was a semi-finalist of Masterchef when the show was far less a self-promoting bypass to UK restaurant industry. He spent years working, washing and wok-ing under David Thompson at Nahm London. He went on to travel in Southeast Asia and spent more than half a year in Thailand learning the language and continuing his training as a Thai cuisine chef at Bo.Lan Restaurant. (One of my most loved places in the world). Last year Andy returned to London and headed up the operation of Naamya Cafe with David Thompson and Alan Yau. Now he helps run the operation at The Begging Bowl (quite possibly the best Thai restaurant in London) and waits for the right opportunity to open his own restaurant.
According to my book, Andy’s name surfaced, during his time at Nahm, via the Loft Project, and I had the chance to try his cooking at a one-off pop-up in East London years ago. Then, for a *farang* cooking Thai food, he was promising. And it was that experience that brought me to Thai Grill @ Bar Story.
Thai Grill @ Bar Story
Bar Story is housed at one of those railway arches behind Peckham Rye Station. The venue features an indoor cocktail bar and an outdoor drinking space. Very eclectic, with a lot buzz from cool South London crowd.
Thai Grill is a stall separate from the kitchen of Bar Story and stations at this venue on Mondays only. The menu scribbled across a few blackboards is concise and features what Thai blanket as Gai Yang + Som Tam (Grilled chicken + Papaya salad). Andy plays around with the Thai “Yang” category and extends the menu to encompass other favorite grilled items usually found at Som Tam carts in Thailand. There are grilled sea bass (£12), pork skewers (£4), chicken thighs and drumsticks (£5), prawns (£4), home-made fermented pork sausage (£5), and minced beef in betal leaf (£5). (If this isn’t easy to imagine, think Burnt Enz but Thai). £6 for a peanut-y Som Tam and £1 for a bag of sticky rice. You grab your drink from the bar.
I ordered everything from the menu and it was SENSATIONAL. The perfectly steamed, sticky and fragrant Sticky Rice arrived, as it should in Thailand, in a flimsy plastic bag. I started off with salt-grilled seafood dishes. Goong Pao (Grilled prawns) was spot on. The prawns were marinated in a traditional concoction of coriander, garlic, pepper and turmeric and grilled at a controlled low heat for delicious springy-ness. I also enjoyed Plah Pao (Grilled fish) very much. The sea bass was gutted, cleaned and stuffed with a healthy dose of herbs (lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, etc.). It was first grilled at low heat and finished on higher heat for a crispy effect on the skin. The result was as I hoped for – soft and moist meat with peel-able, lightly crispy skin. (It could have been a little crispier). Both the prawns and the fish were served with freshly prepared seafood dipping sauce (garlic, coriander and green chilli). The latter boast great citric tang and herbal refreshment.
Som Tam (Papaya salad) was done peanut-y Central-style. (Thai call it Som Tam Thai, as opposed to Som Tam that are from the Northeastern and enjoy Laotian influences). The best way to get the Som Tam you want (anywhere in the world) is to tell the chef which flavors you prefer (one or two chilli? sour? salty?). I asked for sour and spicy and it tasted superbly authentic. Yum Taeng Kwa (Cucumber salad) appeared very much soft-core (food) porn. The dish featured a spicy salad of cucumber slivers with coriander, mint, shallot and ground dehydrated shrimps. The salad itself verged on being too spicy but the gooey soft-boiled egg was instrumental in balancing out the heat.
The eating continued with Nham Yang (Grilled fermented pork sausage). Andy has my respect for making his own sausage for Nham Yang. (Young generations of Thai rarely know what actually goes into it). The taste, however, was not spot on. That is, the taste of the sausage was saltiness leading to mild sourness from the fermentation process. It should have been the other way round, in my opinion. Correctness aside, the dish was yummy. The pork used for fermentation was much better in quality than you would find off a street cart in Thailand. The only non-Thai dish on the menu was Bo La Lot (Grilled minced beef in betal leaf). It was bigger and more protein-led than most Bo La Lot I have come across. I enjoyed the gradual release of herbal aroma in the minced beef. The home-made Nuoc Cham (Vietnamese dipping sauce) was elegant.
Moo Ping was
sex pork on skewers. These were shoulders and loins marinated (coriander roots, pepper, garlic, fish sauce, palm sugar) and crisscrossed with fat pieces on skewers. When being grilled, the fat dripped into burning charcoal and created a burst of smokey perfume. And before finishing, they were brushed my coconut milk and left for the last sizzle. The taste – sweet, garlicky, porky, smokey – captured my nostalgia of Thailand. Eating with the sticky rice, I had my orgasm moment. Also peaking was Gai Yang (Grilled chicken), served with two kinds of home-made dipping sauce (sweet chilli sauce and “Jeaw” sauce). Here chicken thighs were grilled whole and then jointed. The turmeric based marinate was carefully applied only to the skin. Again, they were grilled at low heat for roughly 20 min (so be patient) and finished with a brushing of sweet and musty sauce. The result was another orgasm nostalgic moment. The chicken meat was juicy, had a good depth of taste and just fell off the bone. The special brushing sauce proved bloody special. (Andy has a special purveyor of organic and rare palm sugar from Thailand, and it makes his recipes quite extraordinary). My only criticism goes onto to the Jaew dipping sauce, which I found a little too sour. (You may see from the pile of paper dishes in the last photo. We had 3 portions for Moo Ping and 3 for Gai Yang).
Andy’s strength, from what I have tasted, lies not only in his cooking and understanding of Thai food, but also in knowing the limitation of cooking authentic Thai food in the UK. (Say, herbs suffer from jet lag and many other items aren’t allowed in according to Custom laws). Accordingly, he uses the very good produce that tastes and can be found in the UK to wisely construct his menu. Nothing is processed or comes from a tin. No MSG. The result is something simple but sublime, genuine and utterly zingy.
The team was also very helpful and friendly.
(Another criticism, though. If there is a bunch of Thai walking in, please provide spoons with forks).
Updates on menu and specials can be found here.
THAI GRILL @ BAR STORY
213 Blenheim Grove