Tuesday 29 November 2022

Speedboat Bar, Soho

It's been a very long time since I did my post-University trip to SE Asia (yes, I am a cliché, I know) and although this was 2001 (I am also old) and years before I thought about starting a food blog (in fact probably years before the first blog even existed) I remember being constantly surprised by the quality and value for money of the food at every turn, but in Thailand in particular, at everything from roadside cafés to hotel breakfasts. I would not expect perhaps, twenty years on, to still be able to pick up a plate of seafood noodles for 40p as I did back then, but this is a country used to eating very well and not paying very much for the privilege.

Now there are some very good Thai restaurants in London, and some extremely talented Thai chefs, but they all have the issue of what is the typical London one-two of staff costs and rent, and what seems to be a perculiarly Thai cuisine issue of complicated and expensive supply routes. Some places, like the wonderful Kiln in Soho, sacrifice some ingredient authenticity for more local alternatives, such as the use of Matt Chatfield's cull yaw for their cumin skewers, and do very well out of it. But the fact is, for whatever reason, there is no such thing as a cheap Thai restaurant in London.

At Speedboat, then, and following the success of the Plaza in Centrepoint, chef Luke Farrell has turned his attention towards more informal, café-style food to go with an interesting drinks list in this new spot in Soho. This doesn't mean it's a budget option - we managed to spend £46 a head on a normal amount of food and a couple of drinks - but it is very good, and a hugely enjoyable way of spending an evening soaking up a Snakeblood Negroni with things like the above, a bowl of worryingly addictive crisp fried chicken skins covered in something called zaep seasoning, involving turmeric and paprika amongst many other things.

I wasted a good few mouthfuls of "Clams and mussels in dipping sauces" attempting to dip the de-shelled seafood in the sauces before realising the best technique was to scoop up whichever one of the two sauces you preferred (one with soy and peanut, the other a fierce green chilli) with the beastie inside its shell, before drawing out the seasoned seafood with your teeth. Such a simple idea, but so much fun, and both sauce options were a great match for the seafood even if I did end up suffering from the effects of the chilli after a while.

No-one can do salads like the Thais, and pickled mustard greens with Chinese sausage was a lovely mix of colours, textures and punchy flavours. If I was going to be extremely critical I could say the Chinese sausage didn't have a lot of flavour in its own right, but whatever else was going on more than made up for it. Farrell grows his own Thai herbs and veg on a plot of land in Dorset, and you certainly couldn't tell they weren't authentic.

Possibly the only dish I didn't completely love was "Drunkard's Seafood & Beef Noodles" which didn't have nearly enough alcohol punch for me (in fact I couldn't detect any) and where the noodles were a bit mushy and claggy. Also the overall effect from a rather subdued set of flavours was of a high street Chinese dish, and there's nothing much wrong with that of course it just jarred next to all the fire and crunch going on elsewhere.

Much better was crispy pork and black pepper curry, with a lovely rich, complex sauce and containing healthy thick slices of pork with crunchy crackling. I can find things to enjoy in even the most ordinary Thai curry, but this was another level, speaking of a long, careful cooking process and masterful command of spices. I loved every bit of it.

So, another great, medium-budget Thai restaurant in London. I had a blast at Speedboat, and though it wasn't perhaps as astonishing as Plaza, or as authentic as Khun Pakin, or as cool as Kiln, it still clearly fills a need that London has for informal, intelligent Thai food and I thoroughly recommend it.



Ned Beauman said...

Drunkard's noodles are called that because you eat them when you're drunk, not because they're actually supposed to contain any alcohol!

Anonymous said...

You live and learn! I had a dish called drunken prawns in Indonesia years ago which did involve a lot of alcohol being added to a bowl of live prawns. And then being set alight. I was probably thinking of that.

Anonymous said...

Chris, did you ever get the chance to eat at Nahm, David Thompson's Thai restaurant at the Halkin Hotel? Absolutely incredible. He's meant to be opening another Thai place in Chinatown, if the internet is to be believed...

Chris Pople said...

Ned: I managed to somehow post that reply anonymously, but it is me!

Anon: No, never got the chance so I'm very much looking forward to trying the new place.

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Sevitz said...

Landed up going to Plaza Khao Gaeng last night because of your review above (speedboat was full).

Wow. Amazing. Proper Thai.

Thanks for the review.