Som Saa

“I think you have not ordered nearly enough.” I raised an eyebrow in response. “It says here that we recommend four or five dishes between two people,” the waiter continued.

“We’ll see how it goes with these, we can always order more later on,” I chirped back. I am at Som Saa, the much-Instagrammed new Thai restaurant that was once a pop-up, or something. In truth, I hadn’t seen the sentence about the recommended number of dishes. I’m not a fan of main course-priced pseudo-tapas, and might easily have headed back across the road to the excellent value (and no less highly-regarded) Zengi instead. Nonetheless, having spied upon the meals of other diners, the portions didn’t seem to be terribly small. You would need to be a very fat person to want two-and-a-half of them. Besides, the desserts looked interesting.

I was there with LBJ, who was also keen to see what the fuss was about. Getting there at around 9 p.m., there was no queue, although they did tell us that we would need to wait 20 minutes, steering us to the bar. This is often a tactic used to get you to spend more on drinks than you had intended, but soon after we ordered a pot of tea each, we found ourselves being ushered to a comfy corner table.

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Speaking of tea, it was wonderful to see such a wide selection. I went for the Thai Rice Oolong (something which I haven’t been able to find in the UK, since the last time I was in Chiang Mai), while LBJ went for the nutty, biscuitty Korean nokcha.

The food at Som Saa is supposedly Isaan-style, that of the arid, impoverished Northeast of Thailand, which has closer cultural ties to neighbouring Laos than Bangkok. Isaan cuisine is about sticky rice and fiery salads with sun-dried crustacea, rather than colour-coded curries and pad thai. However, the chefs here aren’t Thai at all -Andy Oliver and Mark Dobbie previously worked with David Thompson, who runs Nahm, which became perhaps Bangkok’s most celebrated restaurant, after it decamped there from London. Not everyone in Thailand takes kindly to having a farang tamper with their cuisine, but I can assure you that Nahm was a highlight of my last trip there.

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The food took quite a while to appear, the staff rushing around to clean up after the various packs of City boys, trendy Baby-Boomers and media-types occupying the main room, with its faux-shanty town decor. On arrival, it did not disappoint though -the yum plaa foo (described as ‘crispy fish cloud salad with peanuts and green mango’) looked beautiful, and whilst the pheasant jungle curry resembled the contents of a beggar’s chamber pot, it exuded a far more enticing fragrance. We divided the rices (one jasmine, one sticky -the latter being traditional in Isaan) between us and got to work. The salad was a somewhat more acidic than previous versions that I have had, possibly because Thai limes are a bit sweeter than the ones found in Britain, but it had a pungent hit from both the brittle, floss-like fish and the pounded dried shrimp. Like the pheasant curry, it was tongue-searingly spicy, which was fine for me, but perhaps too much for LBJ (who wasn’t an admirer of the fish itself). Jungle curries largely avoid coconut milk, but draw on a wide range of herbs, roots and spices. This one was rich in green peppercorns, as well as chillies, which lent themselves well to the savoury pungency of the pheasant.

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In spite of what the waiter had told us, these two dishes would have sufficed for a light meal, if not exactly a feast. However, we were intrigued by the duck-egg and jackfruit seed ‘custard’, served with poached jackfruit flesh and crispy shallots. This was not delicious. It was in fact a flan, with an oddly salty taste, reinforced by some saline coconut cream that came on top. Still, I always like a crispy shallot.

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The other dessert we ordered was the ‘salted palm sugar ice cream with turmeric grilled banana’. This was more successful: the ice-cream had a rich, treacle-like taste, which melded rather nicely with the warm, caramelised bananas.

The bill arrived, with an unbidden charity donation of £1 to Action Against Hunger and 12.5% service added to the bill. It was £46.79 – not a terrible price for an interesting meal, although it would have been about double that had we done as we were told, perhaps more with cocktails. I would like to return, as I get the impression that the menu changes regularly -although LBJ declared that she actually preferred the elegant, yet unsung Isarn in Islington.

Som Saa

Food: 8/10

Service: 6/10

Ambience: 7/10

Value for Money: 6/10

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