Saturday, 19 January 2013

Latymers to The Begging Bowl - a Thai evolution - Jan 2013

A good few years ago now, the food trend du jour was for Thai food in pubs. Don't ask me why, I wasn't involved, though I do remember it involving pre-prepared easy dishes and just enough fried stuff to make sense alongside a couple of pints. In these fast moving days of lusty tattooed young chefs preparing robust local food in every spit and sawdust boozer in zones 1 and 2, that seems pretty old hat.

Thankfully for the food historians, there are still a few working examples of the lazy predecessor to the gastro pub. The Windmill on the Cut in Waterloo is one (though the clientele and the actors spilling from the nearby theatres mean it's still one of my favourite pubs in London, albeit not for the food). Latymers in Hammersmith suburb Brook Green is another. Pre-prepared tasting sauces, frozen veg and factory spring rolls, old sticky rice and tough fatty duck all reared their heads. This is food you'll keep eating for a while afterwards, and not in a good way. 

Thankfully, within London at least, there are enough people out there who manage to cook decent Thai food, taking it out of its inauspicious start to provide a solidly egalitarian lunch or dinner option. Around the capital I'd note a few worth popping into; Rosas (Spitalfields and Soho), The Pepper Tree in Clapham, Thai Corner Cafe in Dulwich, Brixton Market's Khaosarn and Spicy Basil in Kilburn (an old favourite on trips to the Tricycle Theatre). 

And there's now another one to add to that list it would seem. The Begging Bowl in gentrified Peckham enclave of Bellenden Road. 

Its bright, open corner location opens up wonderfully in the early January light and large open windows and outside seating will be a godsend in the summer and will near double its capacity. Fashionably small wooden tables and communal bench seating are lovely, but we were left with little room for the multiple small plates of food (yes, that again) once water and a cute little pot of Jasmine tea were stacked up. 

There's not much delineation between plates that would be starter or would be main other than the price, so it helps if you're happy sharing. Prices vary from £5.50 to £12.50 and with a recommended 2-3 plates per person it can get pricy for a neighbourhood restaurant. Thankfully they include the rice in that price. While there are a few staples featured, there isn't a focus on the thick curries many will associate with the region, instead more is made of subtle and steamed melanges of exotic vegetables, herbs and fruit like galangal, morning glory, krachai and the rarer members of the aubergine family. On our trip there weren't too many dishes on the regularly changing menu, but still enough to construct a reasonable selection from. 

One of the best Pad Thai dishes I've had was a smashing demonstration of how unctuous and satisfying this often bland noodle dish can be. Soft and pillowy pork belly in a light peanut sauce came with a sharp papaya salad, though the portion size was a little disappointing for the price. The only disappointment were a handful of satay pork skewers, cooked, but not charred, and without enough texture or flavour correspondingly. 

There's easily enough here to bring me back, and it's a fantastic new local spot for the local lads and ladies who lunch. Given Bellenden Road's firmly cemented position as an extension to East Dulwich's Lordship Lane, I don't think that they've got anything to worry about.

View Thai food in London in a larger map

Begging Bowl on Urbanspoon

Latymers on Urbanspoon

Spicy Basil on Urbanspoon

Rosa's Spitalfields on Urbanspoon


  1. I went when it first opened, and thought the spicing a little tame. Sounds like a repeat visit is due.

    Have you tried The Heron?

  2. @ Lizzie - I liked it, will definitely be back. Mainly because they weren't just churning out the standards. Haven't tried The Heron, though many other people recommended this on twitter when I asked for other Thai recommendations in London so I'm going to pop in when next in the area. Doing some work that way next week so will report back!


  3. I have been a long term resident of Thailand and am a frequent visitor and seeker out of authentic Thai food and so was very interested to seek out the hyped claims of the Begging Bowl as it is pretty local to my wife and I. Basically don't believe the hype - all of our dishes failed to hit the mark and the best I can say is that the ingredients were fresh and well presented and the staff are friendly and efficient in a cool space. The Thai fish cakes seemed liked canned tuna dressed up as deep fried barbequed chicken nuggets. Wet and rather pointless. The duck curry was too hot and lacked coconut milk and any sort of delicate flavours to have balance and was too effete in those that it had to be regarded as anywhere near 'street authentic'. The pork belly which replaced the menu pork belly option was like eating soggy cardboard - it's hard to make pork boring and tasteless but they did. By the time the last course came I wasn't expecting much and they didn't dissapoint - it was steamed sea bream with a jug of some sort of watery sauce. No flavours at all to speak of and so we asked for chilli sauce and got some sweet bottled variety to try and spice it up a bit. In the end we came away rather sad - because if this is a restaurant from an acolyte of David Thompson then he should dissociate himself forthwith. I have tasted a couple of dishes of his at London's Taste Festival and they were amongst the very best food of any cuisine that I have ever tasted. Here it was a confused, bland attempt at Thai food that missed the mark by miles. The place on Friday night was heaving and folk were having to queue for up to and over an hour so they were busy as they will ever be and most folk seemed to be enjoying themselves so what the heck. The staff were friendly and efficient and the place had a welcoming buzz but sadly if it's delicious food with Thai heritage you are after then try somewhere else because the Begging Bowl is definitely not it.