Friday, 21 August 2020

AngloThai, Dalston

I made a rule a while back never to write up one-off dinners or pop-ups, no matter how successful, because it seemed a bit pointless - not to mention more than a little mean - going into exhaustive detail on an event that by the time it made it to the pages of the blog, had long since happened. And it's true that I'm breaking that rule today - the AngloThai collaboration between John Chantarasak and Lee Westcott occurred a week ago at time of writing, is not planned in the same format again, and I worry that by writing about it I'm only going to make you hideously, wretchedly jealous.

But two points in my defence. Firstly, food as good as this, the kind of wildly inventive and stunningly executed Thai fusion you'd be lucky to find anywhere, never mind a wine bar in Dalston, deserves to be talked about as much as possible. And secondly, although this particular menu, and Lee Westcott's involvement, was a one-off, AngloThai are planning many, many more events in the coming weeks, so there's no need to have too much of a case of the screaming FOMOs.

I will allow myself a bit of gloating, though. Look at this beauty - a Carlingford oyster, dressed in a lovely sharp XO sauce and studded with dainty bits of fermented wild garlic. I think I've come full-circle on cooked oyster now; at one time it was raw or nothing, and putting them anywhere near a heat source was blasphemy. But you know what, oyster is not a shy, retiring flavour, it really can take a bit of dolling up, and poached in its shell over coals and dressed in one of those deep, complex Thai sauces that probably take about 2 days to make, it was a brilliant introduction to the meal.

There was a lot going on in this scallop dish, all of it good. Firstly of course there was the main ingredient itself, sweet and firm and meaty, a fine specimen. It was sat on a bed of miniature garden peas and sorrel, which had the most indescribably vivid flavour not to mention a pitch-perfect balance of summery vegetation and sharp sorrel-y citrus. Then over all that was poured "tom yum", the sweet/sour Thai broth which was clean and complex at once, a genuinely masterful bit of cooking. Then finally, dried scallop roe was shaved over the top, a little extra note of seasoning and colour.

Next arrived a plate of raw beef - Irish sirloin, quite incredibly marbled - dressed in nam prik (Thai chilli sauce), jewel-like ransom capers and herbs (sorrel again I think) from John & Desiree's house in Battersea. Again, there were lots of elements fighting for attention here but through it all stood the beef, dense and rich with ageing, some of the best I've had in a while, and I tried quite a few different butchers through lockdown.

The main course was, to absolutely nobody's disappointment, more beef - specifically bone-in ribeye - expertly charred over the coals, crunchy with salt and char but still melting in the mouth like slow-cooked brisket. It was an incredible thing, tasting and looking the part of the kind of thing you'd spend many times more on in the world's finest steakhouses, and the world's finest steakhouses probably couldn't have come up with a dipping sauce as good as "elderflower fish sauce and Tabasco 'jaew'", sharp and floral and packing a punch of umami, another masterclass in balance and taste.

There was a veggie side, as well - cauliflower, also grilled over the coals, served with brown butter and 'yeast and dried shrimp', a silky, fatty, earthy concoction somewhere between tahini and whipped marmite, studded with tiny little prawns.

Dessert was an appropriately knockout end to a knockout meal. Strawberries - steeped I think, or at least treated somehow to make them extra powerfully-flavoured and sweet - were arranged around a cute little quenelle of frozen yoghurt and something the menu coyly describes as 'rapeseed' but was in fact a fluffy, buttery, salty, moussey thing we lost all capacity to accurately describe and collectively settled on the word "fluff". On that, some leaves of Thai basil - a clever touch - and finally the stroke of genius, a sliver of meringue spiked with Sichuan peppercorns. Absolutely perfect.

You'll notice I haven't attempted to hazard a guess at which dishes, or elements of dishes, were mainly Chantarasak or mainly Westcott. In a way, it hardly matters - it was all wonderful, and both chefs deserve equal, lavish praise. But also, I think even if the labour was divided up so cleanly (and I doubt it was anyway), I still wouldn't know where to identify the fault lines. Both styles merged so well, so seamlessly and to such incredible effect, that it was like eating the menu of one entity, a fine-dining professional using Thai flavour profiles and top British [edit:] and Irish ingredients to stunning effect, with a flawless command of it all. Service, too, managed by Desiree, struck that perfect balance of friendly and (suiting the surroundings) informal, but extremely capable.

So yes, I'm sorry you may not have had the chance to try the above - I feel for you, I really do. But look, have a click on their website, sign up for the newsletter, and keep your eyes peeled on your inbox for future dates. I'm sure you won't have to wait long. And soon enough you'll be settling down to a £50 Thai-UK tasting menu, with some lovely natural wines, and wondering why on earth it had taken you so bloody long.



Anonymous said...

"top british ingredients" - the two ingredients you name checked were both irish...

Chris Pople said...

My mistake! Have corrected.

moi said...

Veggie dish with prawns? I know they're core to Thai cuisine, but it's not actually a veggie side... (I know, I'm a pedant.)