Welcome to a series of articles rounding-up the very best restaurants in London for specific cuisines. We’re not talking authenticity here, rather the kind of food we really love to eat. Value is kept firmly in mind, and most of our picks represent this; on the flip side, of course, some places are so good that they are worth saving up for. As ever, please do let us know your thoughts and other recommendations in the comments below.
Article updated November 2014.
The Begging Bowl
Serving up small-plate dishes modelled on Thai street food, this Peckham restaurant is bang on trend. But there’s plenty of substance to back-up the style: carefully balanced chillies, herbs and spices help make everything from curries and soups to stir-fries and fish cakes glow with flavour. We also like the fact that bottomless rice (sticky or plain) is provided throughout the meal for just £1 per person. Try betel leaves studded with sharp pomelo and crunchy palm sugar for a real taste explosion.
This family-run Shepherd’s Bush stalwart has been serving traditional dishes from the north east of Thailand for over 20 years. The specific regional style of cooking, combined with an unfaltering dedication to sticking with family recipes, has made it understandably popular with Thai communities, and you’ll find some unusual dishes on offer alongside more familiar London options. Homemade Thai-style sausages with garlic and chilli and a fresh-flavoured minced beef salad with lemon juice, lime leaves, chilli and coriander are two dishes that are particularly aligned with the region, and that we’d heartily recommend.
Featured in our list of London’s most authentic restaurants, The Heron is the real deal. Set in the slightly dingy basement of a boozer that goes by the same name just off Edgware Road, it’s far from the capital’s prettiest eatery, but the food is as vivid and bright-flavoured as it comes. Hot and sour soups, stir fries and spicy salads feature heavily on the Thai-language-only menu (there are pictures), alongside opinion-dividers such as fried duck tongues. Prices are cheap with mains around a tenner, and the predominance of Thai customers is a reliably good sign. Just be warned that when dishes say spicy, they really do mean it. Oh, and there’s karaoke.
Originally winning fans with its BYO restaurant on the fringes of Brixton Village, there’s now a second branch of KaoSarn in Battersea — though we still prefer the more bustling atmosphere of the first. The food here comes with a certain level of authenticity anyway, but if you want the spice level to be of true Thai standards, just ask and the kitchen will make it happen. Either way, it is vivid flavours that makes it stand out from the crowd: fresh herbs, limes and fresh chillies are used in abundance, and a more careful approach to sourcing ingredients than many a Thai restaurant could claim really does shows through in the end product. All the classics curries are done and done well, while lighter options such as steamed sea bass also stands out for its fragrant flavours.
Not far from Norwood Junction station is this south London secret that locals may not really want sharing. Oh well. What looks like a run-of-the-mill, unmodernised and unexciting Thai-takeaway both outside and in is in reality anything but. Authentic levels of spice (ask them to tone it down if necessary) and sauces that carry a powerful thwack of flavour make it stand-out, while friendly service feels almost as precise as the cooking, and prices are unbelievably low at around £5-£8 for main course meat dishes. For anyone lucky enough to be local, they even deliver.
Hidden away near the top of Lancaster Gate’s Lancaster London hotel, this plush restaurant is the poshest and most expensive in our list. But with full set menus starting at £35, it’s still decent value if you’re after somewhere more service-led. Dishes lean towards the well-known classics and tend to be toned down in heat, though the kitchen will gladly ramp things up for you if requested. A wide range of authentic desserts and the ability to pair dishes with matched Thai wines are little extras that set the restaurant apart from its more casual counterparts. That and a pretty special view over Hyde Park.
Taking the place of a dive bar on Tin Pan Alley, the look of this Thai barbecue restaurant hasn’t changed all that much. The lights are low, the air is smoky and the majority of the space’s twenty-to-thirty seats are set around a central bar. A short menu focuses on hefty chunks of meat marinated and grilled to perfection so as to be ludicrously tender and pleasantly charred. Try the bolshy-flavoured lamb ribs basted in fermented shrimp, chilli and palm sugar, and fish sauce chicken wings if you can. There’s no reservations so prepare to queue, and be warned that vegetarians aren’t well catered for — but this is one of London’s very best.
Read our full review of Smoking Goat.
Blue Elephant: Set in still-new-feeling Imperial Wharf, this smart spot with sound cooking boasts a large outdoor terrace as well as neatly secluded dining areas fitted out with foliage.
Busaba Eathai: A Thai chain from Alan Yau, the man who also brought us Wagamama’s. Despite it’s growing number, there are some fantastically-flavoured and great value dishes on the menu.
Rosa’s: A small chain with branches in Spitalfields, Soho and Stratford, Rosa’s serve simple and healthy-feeling café-style dishes along with Thai beers and whiskies.
Sukho: A stylish Fulham restaurant that blends elegantly-presented Thai dishes with other pan-Asian influences to good effect, but with lofty prices.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.