All posts filed under “Thai

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Andy Oliver & Thai Grill @ Bar Story

Andy Oliver

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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RATING 5/5

THAI GRILL @ BAR STORY

213 Blenheim Grove
Peckham
London
SE15 4QL

www.barstory.co.uk

Bar Story on Urbanspoon

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The Begging Bowl: Truthfully Thai in South London

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.

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RATING 4/5

THE BEGGING BOWL

168 Bellenden Road
London
SE15 4BW

Tel. 020 7642 1910

www.thebeggingbowl.co.uk

Begging Bowl on Urbanspoon

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41° Experience, Barcelona

41° Experience

There is so much brilliance I can recall about this meal, but I have decided not to put all into writing. Lazy blogger, no. Necessity, yes. The “elements of surprise” are crucial, according to FAQ. When it was first launched, 41° Experience (or 41 Grados) by El Bulli-famed Ferran and Albert Adria was meant to be just a cocktail bar for the annexed Tickets. But it has morphed.. into a 16-seat, tasting-menu-only restaurant, most recently alleged as one of the most difficult to get reservations in the world.

Briefly. There is no reservation line. The booking is made via their website and partially requires payment. There are some drinks included in the €200-per-head tasting menu. You can order a separate alcoholic pairing at €45. Blah. Blah. The venue is a decent-sized bar space, dimmed and dark. There were more FOHs than diners. Above me was a nebula of eclectic images – a kind of modern pop art featuring disparate cultural items around the world – being played in slow motion. And soothing trance-like music..

Not so briefly. The fun at 41° Experience kicked off with a stubbornly square, neatly crafted “41°” ice cube which chilled a smoky liquid substance. Along came a jar containing drops of green olive, preserved in oil. Just your typical jar of olive – but the molecularised EL BULLI style. The liquid olive essence was entrapped in a gelatinous skin. Fragile, it rolled for an escape on the tongue and burst into a taste of what would have been like if I stuffed my mouth with 10 olives in one go. I have never made enough effort to be at El Bulli and I am – or was – never convinced by molecular gastronomy. BUT. That was some alchemy that I highly recommend.

Through my first 3-4 courses, I departed from Barcelona – the 41° latitude as the name of the restaurant portends- wandered through Italy, France, Russia, Asia and many more. Ferran and Albert Adria not only know so much about cuisines but also cultures, wherein lies humourous anecdotes and stereotypes. All these are re-interpreted into all the 41 dishes served at 41° Experience. Some were more successful than others. Some got me to physically interact and/or contemplate intellectually; others made me LAUGH OUT LOUD. (Something about France, of course. And Rene Redzepi might be on the menu). That said, as the concept of the menu relies very heavily on the elements of surprise, of not knowing what comes next and which country where you will end up, it is best not to do so much telling (or display any sharp and clear images). The cooking was exquisite but a complement to the concept. SO.. if you are a global character, know a lot about cuisines and cultures, you will be having a very good time at 41° Experience. If you are averse to internationalism, there is a high risk that you might not get the “jokes”, which are the best part of the meal.

Life-changing? No. But this meal reversed my eagerness in life and I felt happy, giggly.. as if I became a child again :-D

 

(Sorry. Can’t help not telling you of my most favourite dish – a re-constructed Peruvian “causa”. A thick slice of super fresh and

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firm yellowtail/hamachi marinated in lime, chilli and garlic was served nigiri-style on a velvety ball of spiced-infused mashed potatoes. The dish paid homage to the Japanese influences in Peruvian culinary tradition and taste-wise it was a bomb of citric umami).

PS Don’t hate me for doing this >_<

 

 

RATING: 5/5

41° EXPERIENCE

Avinguda Paral-lel, 164
08015, Barcelona
Spain

www.41grados.es