Thai food, as you might have guessed – being half-Thai and all – is one of my favourites. I’m sure I consume more than the average Brit, and cook my version of it several times a week. I expect I developed the taste for it whilst in utero, but travelling through Thailand as a 21-year-old certainly nailed it for me.
The street food markets of Bangkok were undoubtedly a defining moment, but actually, I vividly recall my first meal on landing, in a mid-priced Sukhumvit hotel room at 12am. Completely jet-lagged, my boyfriend, G, and I ordered room service and were treated to a tom yum goong which blew our minds and taste buds. Despite having been exposed to Thai food from infancy, up until this point I had just dabbled (after all, I am only half-Thai – a substantial portion of my diet was made up of baked beans, SMASH and oven chips). The rest of the trip was a culinary adventure, like a road trip with no GPS. I couldn’t tell you exactly what we ate, but our senses had been ignited.
We left our holiday with our appetites well and truly whet, but sadly those dizzy chilli highs were never replicated once back home. Sure, there were Thai restaurants everywhere, but the essence of Thailand was always greatly diluted – stir-fries lacking oomph, cloyingly sweet curries, and that quintessential balance of sweet, salty, spicy and sour frequently missing.
Fast forward over a decade, and Thai food in London is finally catching up. Farang in Highbury was the first taste of authentic food in the UK I’d had apart from my aunt’s. I visited back in October, way before I started my blog, so unfortunately no notes or photos taken. Another visit due in the pipeline. I’ve also heard marvellous things about Som Saa and Smoking Goat.
Supawan, on the other hand, is a very recent discovery, despite it opening a couple of years ago. Having been in a baby and toddler bubble since 2014 (when they say time flies with kids, they’re not bloody wrong), I rarely bothered to read restaurant reviews or scan the Time Out website as I did pre-kids – why would I when eating out was an annual event? However, I had just started to raise my head above the trenches and was even on Instagram! It was through this new addiction that I came across a food writer called ‘Bitten & Written’. He posted a photo of a fried chicken wing at a restaurant called Supawan. No other information, not even an actual recommendation, but I had a good feeling.
I found to my delight that it was based in King’s Cross – drivable in 20 minutes from my house. As a tired mum to three pre-school kids, the idea of going into town and travelling an hour for dinner seemed like a frivolous waste of precious sleep time. So, first box already ticked. Further research revealed excellent reviews, including one from Marina O’Loughlin in the Times, which sealed the deal – we were going. It actually ended up being so good I went there twice in as many months. That might sound lame to the avid restaurant goer, but as someone who rarely leaves her postcode, this was a big deal.
On the first visit, G (now my husband) and I made a last-minute Saturday night reservation. The place was rammed, and as we walked in, that unmistakable waft of Thailand hit us – a familiar warm pungency, the smell of fish sauce, of curry pastes frying, umami in the air. We smiled to each other with a sense of anticipation we hadn’t felt since our first date – and that was some time ago.
As I scanned the southern Thai menu, I felt like I had won Willy Wonker’s golden ticket. That childish excitement at having the keys to the sweet shop, of unknown pleasures about to seduce us, like the very first time I tried the miso black cod at Nobu back in the noughties – so different to anything I’d ever tried, I was buzzing for days.
Whilst we cogitated, I ordered a lychee martini– not too sweet and so drinkable I almost downed it. We started with the Phuket cashew nuts, simple but moreish, and yum khao tod (main photo), which turned out to be the winning dish – a salad comprising a crispy rice ball torn into pieces and adorned with the dressing to end all dressings – zingy lime, searing heat, a hint of sweetness, the perfect amount of fishy saltiness, and laden with nuts, mint and coriander. So good that we ordered a second one, which accidentally turned into a third due to a kitchen error. We didn’t complain.
Next arrived the moo ping – barbecued pork skewers – a Thai street food speciality, and the gai yang gorlea – barbecued chicken skewers, not dissimilar to satay, but perhaps slightly less memorable. The moo ping was a delicious mouthful of salty, slightly sweet, chewy but tender pork, and again warranted a second portion. Then finally meiang Phuket – a flavour explosion of grilled prawns, toasted coconut, peanuts and a syrupy palm sugar sauce, presented on little cha pruu leaves (a relation of the betel leaf), which you wrap and chomp in one or two mouthfuls. Bliss.
I never scrimp on dessert, so although I was already undoing the top button on my jeans, I ordered the salted caramel ice-cream. Very enjoyable it was too – creamy with a delicate hint of caramelised palm sugar. G didn’t order dessert but instead wanted a spoonful of mine. I had to slap him down as he went in for a second mouthful. We might teach ‘sharing is caring’ to our kids, but not when it comes to my dessert.
My second trip to Supawan was just a few weeks later, with a fellow mum-friend. We got one of the first tables of the evening at 6.30 – home by 9, hurrah! – and again were greeted by that wonderful smell. I insisted on the yum khao tod, but aside from that left the floor open to suggestions (I thought it only polite).
My companion ordered the toa hoo neung kling – steamed tofu with ginger, soy and fermented soya bean. Not a dish I would have ordinarily have chosen, but the flavours were intriguing, in a moreish, addictive way. Sweet but hot, with a fermented back note and a big whack of that famous umami. Rather delicious and her favourite dish of the evening.
The laab aubergine – grilled aubergine – was bathing in yet another superb dressing– all sweet and sour goodness made of tamarind and mint, and no doubt copious amounts of sugar. I would have grabbed the bowl and drank it, had I been alone. A side of garlicky morning glory provided our greens for the evening.
Our final dish was from the specials menu, khua kling – a dry minced pork curry which packed a punch – deeply savoury, fiery and with lemongrass and lime leaves running through it. With our lips pleasantly burning, we decided to call it a night. No dessert for us this time, our respective beds were calling!
I’ve been thinking about Supawan since I left the building. Two trips are just the beginning – so far I’ve only experienced a fraction of the menu, and with so many dishes yet to try I’m itching to get back. Even if it does mean leaving my postcode for a few hours.
Read more about Bitten and Written.