Monday, 17 January 2011

101 Thai Kitchen, Hammersmith


I had almost given up trying to find decent Thai food in London. In fact, more than that, I had given up. At one time I had a (short) list of potentials that I'd collected from recommendations and review sites and I was quite prepared to travel far and wide in the mindlessly optimistic hope that eventually I would come across something worth paying for. It always seemed so odd that while Indian/Pakistani, Vietnamese, even Malaysian cuisine had at least a couple of restaurants that did them justice, all London had to fly the flag for Thai food was a few branches of Busaba Eathai (tame, but OK), Patara (OK but expensive) and Nahm (hugely expensive and still just OK). Where were the Thai restaurateurs doing for their cuisine what Mien Tay were doing for Vietnamese or Tayyabs for Pakistani? I assumed there must be somewhere out there, but successively more depressing experiences in places like South Norwood (I wasn't exaggerating when I said "far and wide") eventually got the better of me and I stopped trying.


So why, after all that, did I find myself in Hammersmith on a damp Saturday night, risking further disappointment? The main catalyst was a thoroughly dispiriting press trip to a flashy new Thai restaurant/bar in Fitzrovia called ORA, where we nibbled on starters that looked like something Kerry Katona might advertise followed by hardly very exciting mains that (I learned later) would have pushed the price per head to around £50. The owners, judging by the "no expense spared" decor, bespoke cutlery and overblown branded reception area (perfect for being spotted in Heat magazine, I imagine) are probably far more interested in attracting along minor celebs for a photo opportunity than providing a value for money dinner, and although sadly they are hardly unique in holding these priorities, it doesn't make it any less annoying. And it was after I'd slunk away home from ORA, sick from soggy crab cakes and sweet cocktails, that my determination to finally find a Thai restaurant worth the money was reborn. Harnessing the power of Twitter, and the phalanx of supremely well-informed and well-travelled foodies that lurk there, I booked a table at 101 Thai Kitchen.


I know this shouldn't really mean anything, but I couldn't help being pleased to see a number of what looked like Thai families amongst the boisterous crowd inside 101 Thai. In all likelihood there's no reason why Thai diners shouldn't make as poor a choice of restaurant as anyone else, but even so, it served as a Sign. We browsed the large menus helpfully appendixed with a pictorial guide to all the ingredients (some more necessary than others - I'm quite happy to discover what sator is, but I'm already quite familiar with garlic thankyouverymuch) but in the end made most of our choices based, yet again, on tips from the Twitterati. First to arrive were the Isaan sausages, which had a pleasing loose texture and sweet caramelised skin. They were served with some simple Thai greens, and some dry roasted peanuts. Yes, those dry roasted peanuts, like you get in the pub. A bit odd, you might think, but who doesn't like dry roasted peanuts?


Laab is a kind of meat salad, a traditional recipe from Northern Thailand (so I'm told) and very nice it was too. In this case the meat was duck, but also included a healthy smattering of offaly bits which provided texture and some added complexity of flavour. It was surprisingly fiery too, shot through with a healthy handful of red chilli and who knows what other spices.


The star dish overall was this fried sea bass, served whole but helpfully filleted into two gorgeously crispy halves. The flesh of the fish was moist and delicately sweet, with the colourful salad topping consisting of shallots and red chillies and bean sprouts amongst, I'm sure, much else. On the one hand this was a fairly straightforward dish but it is never easy to cook fish this well, as anyone who's ever had a mushy overdone specimen can tell you. The flakes of sea bass fell apart with the gentlest of prods, their crispy coating working addictively in the mouth. Very good indeed.


Along with our food arrived a selection of greens - just plain vegetables, carrots, iceberg lettuce, mint - and a bowl of pork scratchings. No, not some kind of traditional Thai pork, or exotic Asian preparation, these were Mr Porky's. You could either criticise a bowl of Mr Porky's pork scratchings for not been authentically Thai, or just shrug your shoulders and roll with it. We opted for the latter.

I suppose, in the end, much of what makes a good restaurant is very difficult to put your finger on. The food at 101 Thai Kitchen was excellent, of course, but there was something about the honest presentation and bold colours and flavours that I just found irresistible - the character of the place just shone. This was probably helped by the service, our waitress being so friendly and helpful that if she'd presented us with trays of Iceland brownfood and sweet chilli dip we would probably still have enjoyed ourselves. But homely details like the hilarious appearance of pub snacks masquerading as authentic Thai ingredients (no pictures of them in the glossary, I notice) gave the whole experience real charm. I am happy, not to mention relieved, to report that the long search for a good Thai food in London is over, and for only £25 a head with a bottle of wine. Other restaurants in London may have the engraved cutlery, bespoke uniforms and tabloid photo opportunities, but 101 Thai Kitchen has the heart.

8/10

101 Thai Kitchen on Urbanspoon

19 comments:

Sharmila said...

Glad you liked it! It is one of only two places I have had good Thai food in London, managing to actually get the balance of hot, sour and sweet, rather than just sweet (are all these Thai restaurants in London secretly working for the sugar advisory board?).

On a more random tip, the other place I have had great Thai food is actually a Thai supermarket on Shepherds Bush Road. I recall the owners are from Bangkok, and the wife makes a load of dishes up for lunchtime takeaway. The chicken laab, as well as the red curry are both fantastic.

Lizzie said...

HAMMERSMITH though. Ugh. Still, I did tell you about Thailand in New Cross and you didn't listen...

Mr Noodles said...

Is today 101 Thai Kitchen day? What with you and Gourmet Chick posting reviews!

I'm glad you liked it and you're spot on about what makes this place, its kooky charm. That and the Isarn sausages!

commissionergordan said...

You were so close to one of the best Thai restaurants in the City.

You should really try Esarn Kheaw is Shepherds Bush on Uxbridge Road.

http://www.esarnkheaw.com/e_index.html

Emma said...

Yum, sounds good - might have to try it out.
I would disagree, however, about Malay food being done well in London - I've found that I've had Thai food in London that's comparable to what I had in Thailand, but not one single Malay meal (and I've tried a lot!) that is comparable to what I've eaten in Malaysia. Maybe I've been lucky with the Thai food and unlucky with the Malay....

claire said...

I've also heard good things about Esarn Kheaw - the Guardian chap loved it http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/jan/17/esarn-kheaw-restaurant-review though despite living about a 3 minute walk away i've not been myself yet...

Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours said...

Hurrah for something close to me in Weet London.

I'll be checking it out soon.

tim_g said...

101 is soooo much better than esarn kheaw!

glad you enjoyed it, looks like you ordered well.

altho you still missed some of my fav dishes!

London Lady said...

I find it interesting that on the same day you and Gourmet Chick posted about the same place and yet with entirely different outcomes and experiences. Love the blog!

Mia said...

As the comment above says very interesting to read two very different reviews from bloggers who usually have very similiar opinions. Might just be forced to check it out and make up my own mind!

restaurantinyourhead said...

My favourite London Thai is the T.A. counter at the thai market off westbourne grove, but this sounds really promising. the bass looks great! will try it soon. Tnx

Pavel said...

Let me know if you do find a great Thai place. We went to Blue Jade a couple of weeks ago in Pimlico but I was left distinctly unimpressed the food was really average sadly!

Mzungu said...

For years I've been meaning to eat here. For some bizarre reason I've still never managed ot get through the door. When will it happen...

Gourmet Chick said...

Chris sounds like I had a different experience to you - perhaps my mistake was not trying the Isaan sausages which look pretty good in your picture. Still I think my search for good, cheap Thai in London continues. Lizzie's suggestion is next on my list.

Alice said...

thanks for the review, looks like the kind of place that really splits opinions down the middle in a way that taste is almost arbitary! Have to agree with everyone recommending Esarn Kheaw - best thai food I've ever had in England! x

Chris said...

Mr Noodles/London Lady/Mia: Yes a complete coincidence we both visited so close to each other. Can't decide whether I was lucky or she was unlucky...

Lots of recs for Esarn Kheaw, thanks for those - it's on the list!

An American in London said...

At the risk of attracting scathing comments, I had a pretty horrible meal at Esarn Kheaw last year. I mean, so memorably bad that I vowed never to trust Matthew Norman again (though he further lost credibility when we wrote something about how Chinese food doesn't do vegetables well).

I'd love to hear why people like Esarn Kheaw so much.

Going With My Gut said...

Looks pretty authentic! Will have to give it a go. I share your despair at the dearth of good Thai food in London. If you get around to trying Khao San on Chepstow Road, would love to hear what you think

Wen

Psyche said...

As a Asian people I'd said there is a good Thai restaurant in London, the address is:
addie's tai restaurant 121 earls court SW5 9RL
Normally I don't eat Thai food as they are too boring for me, but this restaurant do pretty good thai food.
I came from China, and got lots asian friends, and this place is recommend by one of my taiwanese friend.