I am in the minority; I never warmed to Hakkasan, underwhelmed by all three of the holy trinity of food, service and setting. Sitting in nightclub-like gloom, eating overpriced food served by poorly trained staff just doesn’t appeal and I’ve been at a loss to understand either the Michelin star or the multitude of fans. As for Wagamama, I credit it with popularising Japanese-inspired ramen more widely across the UK, and have certainly grabbed a quick meal there on occasion, but it’s not a restaurant I seek out. "Acceptable" is the best I can say of it, though at least it’s far cheaper than Hakkasan.

So Naamyaa, also from Alan Yau, was not a restaurant I made any particular effort to visit when it launched last year. (Yauatcha remains on my list, I have always assumed I’d like it but simply never managed to visit. Busaba Eathai I hear is decent, offering authentic Thai in sleek surrounds at high prices).

Indeed, I only came to visit Naamyaa at all after a seriously misguided visit to GBK. (I know, I know, I’ve said often enough that any restaurant that needs to put ‘gourmet’, ‘fine’ or ‘ultimate’ in its name clearly isn’t; in my defence a brewery we really like wanted to celebrate making it onto the GBK drinks menu and asked us to come along). Ten minutes was all we could endure of the appallingly awful "burgers", the too-close tables and the chest-vibrating music rendered into unrecognisable thumpy white noise by too many hard surfaces and a poor quality sound system. Social media came to the rescue when we asked for recommendations within the immediate area. Naamyaa was suggested three times within the first several responses!

Naamyaa is described as a "Bangkok Cafe", (in which Thai dishes are routinely served alongside food from neighbouring countries and a few from the West) and its menu, like that of Busaba Eathai, is a collaboration between restaurateur Alan Yau and chef David Thompson. Indeed, it’s owned by the same business and positioned as a sister brand to Busaba Eathai.

Naamyaa’s look and feel is much lighter and more informal than Busaba Eathai’s, which in turn is not as dingy as Hakkasan. For me, that’s definitely a good thing.

Naamyaa-181416

Stepping inside was an immediate balm after our nails-on-a-chalkboard reaction to GBK.  A colourful, luxurious interior which beautifully balanced traditional Asian design motifs with modern (but not minimalist) interior design was warm and inviting, vibrant yet relaxing. Instantly soothed, we were welcomed in and offered a choice of where to sit – in the main area or in the small, intimate space by the window. We chose a comfortable low corner sofa and coffee table flooded with light from the floor to ceiling windows.

The menu sections were a little confusing, we found. Dishes in one mains section came only with rice and those in the other section only with noodles, which felt a little prescriptive. And we didn’t spot the much-written-about Western dishes such as burgers or eggs on toast – I’ve since noticed they seem to be restricted to the breakfast and brunch menu.

Staff were ready to step in with advice about the various dishes, though once I explained my preference for mild to medium chilli heat rather than very hot, we were firmly steered away from large swathes of the menu with dire warnings about the heat levels. The specials board was also explained, though it would have been great to have printed sheets slipped into the menus as we couldn’t see the board from where we sat and it was hard to remember the full list we’d been talked through.

I’m always happy to see an appealing range of soft drinks, as these are so often after thoughts to the wines, beer, spirits and alcoholic cocktails list. My Watermelon Bangkok (£3.80) was wonderfully refreshing in the heat. Pete was happy to see Asahi beer on draft (brewed on license in the UK by Shepherd Neame) but £5.90 a pint is a little steep.

Naamyaa-183525

I remember having the Jasmine Tea Smoked Ribs (£8.50) at Hakkasan. I liked them there but couldn’t detect the smoking, making them pleasant but nothing out of the ordinary compared to much cheaper local neighbourhood chinese takeaways. These were much better with a mild but clear smokiness to the flavour, wonderfully soft and tender meat and a delicious sticky sauce coating.

From the specials board, Fried Eggs with Chilli Jam (£5) were incredible. The eggs cooked perfectly so that the yolk was a viscuous pool of golden liquid, the white was set but not rubbery, with a lovely crisp "skin" from being briefly deep fried. The chilli jam was a deeply savoury mush with a welcome fishy umami  note; so intense and so good I would order it on its own.

Naamyaa-184749

Naamyaa Chicken (£9.50) came with (a tiny portion of) noodles and beansprouts, and half a plain boiled egg and dragonfruit slices that seemed more for show than an integral element of the dish. Oh-my-goodness was this hot! One of the dishes our waitress deemed less hot than most of the rest, this was not only way too hot for me, it was also too hot for Pete who has a much higher chilli tolerance. A shame as we both thought it was delicious, but had to admit defeat as our mouths couldn’t take any more burning.

Naamyaa-184823

Braised Tofu, Aubergine and Shimeji (£9.40) was in the Rice Set section of the menu, which meant it came with a bowl of rice and a pot of broth soup. This was the second standout dish of the meal for me. Much like a Chinese black bean dish but with far more complexity of flavour to the thick sauce, I struggled to identify what ingredients added to the richness – fish sauce, shrimp paste, something else entirely? And I absolutely loved how tofu, aubergine and mushrooms all had a lovely silkiness in common and yet each had their own texture and taste.

Naamyaa-192333

My Lemongrass Panna Cotta with Fruit (£6.50) was let down for me by the fruit which wasn’t as fresh or flavoursome as it should have been, featuring underripe strawberries and tinned peaches. Next time, I’ll skip dessert and focus on the starters and mains.

Naamyaa-193030

We were surprised that two out of three filter coffees (£3) listed in the menu were not available (poor stock management) but what was available was a good coffee. It took an inordinately long time coming though.

We really enjoyed our evening at Naamyaa. Although we’d have to be careful with choosing dishes given the chilli heat, we’d definitely go again. A big thank you to those who suggested it!

Naamyaa Cafe on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

 

Though it was something of a Fulham Road institution for over 25 years, I never managed to make it to Thai restaurant Blue Elephant at its original London location. In January last year, they moved into a shiny new building at Imperial Wharf, a short distance away.

We finally made our maiden visit on a sunny Sunday in May, driving down from North West London and parking in the adjacent car park that is part of The Boulevard complex. There’s also an overground rail station just around the corner, with quick services from Clapham Junction.

BlueElephantBrunch-25 BlueElephantBrunch-9

The space had already been interior designed as a Thai restaurant when the Blue Elephant team took it over, adding their own touches. It’s modelled on a traditional Thai house, with lots of dark wood panelling, beautiful artwork and statuary and fresh tropical flowers.

T_Ball_Blue_Ele_MG_8504
image provided by Blue Elephant

Although pastiche like this can often be a turn off, I thought it well done in this case. Spread over three floors, it’s an expansive space, but divided into different areas and rooms, it doesn’t feel that way.

BlueElephantBrunch-12 BlueElephantBrunch-11

The first Blue Elephant was opened in Brussels over 30 years ago by chef Khun Nooror Somany Steppe, a Thai living in Belgium with her husband Karl Steppe. The London branch opened a few years after that and now there are twelve in the chain, located across Europe and Asia. Most recently, Blue Elephant have launched cookery schools in some of their locations, with a London school said to be coming soon.

Even though I’d heard some good things about the food (and some less so), it was the high prices of the à la carte menu that put me off visiting for so long. Frustratingly, the website menu doesn’t show prices (and requires you to download a PDF to boot) but we’re talking starters around £11, mains around £30 and sides and desserts are similarly pricey. A multi-course Thai dinner for 2 could easily run to £150 or more even with only a modest drink order.

However, the Blue Elephant Sunday brunch buffet turns that on its head, offering an enormous feast for a fixed price of £30 per person.

BlueElephantBrunch-7 BlueElephantBrunch-6BlueElephantBrunch-2 BlueElephantBrunch-5BlueElephant-124528 BlueElephantBrunch-1
BlueElephant-124542 BlueElephantBrunch-4

Tables groan with a huge array of starters, mains and desserts. Plenty of staff are on hand to explain dishes and help as needed. Most things are self-service with a manned noodle soup station, made to order and a roast lamb station, with meat carved from the joint on request.

When we visited, the buffet was spread out across the top floor with dining tables on the ground and lower floors. That does mean lots of clambering up and down the stairs with loaded dishes.

As my hip has been playing up lately, I have poor balance carrying things at the best of times and have mild vertigo when going down stairs as well, I resorted to using the lift provided for disabled access. It was slightly disconcerting as it made such loud beeps as it came to rest each time, but no one seemed too put out. If stairs are an issue for you too, ask for a table near the lift when booking.

BlueElephantBrunch-8 BlueElephantBrunch-17

Everything Pete and I tried (and between us we tried a lot) was very good, though I found myself drawn most strongly to starters and desserts, many of which were absolutely excellent.

BlueElephantBrunch-15 BlueElephantBrunch-16
BlueElephantBrunch-19 BlueElephantBrunch-20

The dessert table in particular had lots of things I’d never tried before. I was familiar with most of the fresh fruit, beautifully carved and cut. The only one missing for me was some fresh mango, which was certainly in season during our visit, to enjoy with the delicious sticky coconut rice.

BlueElephantBrunch-18BlueElephantBrunch-21 BlueElephantBrunch-22

But I’d never come across one fruit on the table before! I did ask my waiter, who went away and came back with the (obviously incorrect) answer of rambutan, so I left its identity aside and broke into the prickly protective shell. The fruit is soft, tastes both sweet and sharp, and it’s quite distinct from any other fruit I know.

A quick web search reveals that this spiky treat is salak (salacca zalacca) aka snake fruit. The fruit of the salak palm tree, it’s native to Indonesia but now grown and enjoyed across East Asia and is a popular street snack in Thailand, where it’s often sold pre-peeled and eaten dipped in sugar and salt.

BlueElephantBrunch-23 BlueElephantBrunch-24 BlueElephantBrunch-14

We were also fascinated by some of the Thai sweets we’d not seen before, such as the strange but accurately described crispy jelly, with a crunchy shell and soft interior!

Although there were a good number of vegetarian options, I’d say the buffet is best value for omnivores and pescetarians who can benefit from a larger selection of the many dishes on offer.

I’ve read mixed reports on the à la carte offering, both in terms of price and food. But given the high quality of the dishes we tasted, I think Blue Elephant’s Sunday brunch buffet is an excellent way to enjoy their food at a fair price.

 

Blue Elephant on Urbanspoon
Square Meal

Kavey Eats was a guest of Blue Elephant Group.

 

I was recently invited to a mango-themed evening meal and masterclass by Suda, a Thai restaurant just off St Martin’s Lane, near Covent Garden.

The mango dishes and demonstrations were lead by Kessuda Raiva, Executive VP of S&P (who own a number of restaurants and food businesses in Thailand as well as Patara and Suda here in the UK). She was helped by Saipin Lee, S&P’s regional manager for UK and Europe.

Mini

We enjoyed some delicious Thai dishes including green mango salad with crispy fish, roasted duck breast red curry with mango and tomatoes and golden fried sea bass fillet in batter with mango and Thai herb salsa. These are available throughout June, on Suda’s special mango menu.

My favourite, as I expected it might be, was Mango Sticky Rice, a dish I adore.

Here is the recipe for Mango Sticky Rice. I have rewritten the instructions to make them clearer.

 

Kao Niew Mamuang (Mango Sticky Rice)

Serves 5-6

Ingredients
2 cups of glutinous rice
1 cup of coconut cream
3 tablespoons coconut cream (for topping)
2 pinches of salt
1 cup of sugar
5-6 Thai mangoes
Optional: a couple of pandan leaves

Method

  • Soak the glutinous rice for 6 hours (or overnight). Drain. Wrap rice rice in a clean muslin cloth and steam for 15-20 minutes until rice is cooked. *see note.
  • Boil 3 tablespoons coconut cream. Add 1 pinch of salt over low heat. Set aside.
  • Dissolve 1 cup of sugar and 2 pinches of salt in 1 cup of coconut cream and cook on a very low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. You may also add pandan leaves for flavour, if you like.
  • Remove from the heat, stir in the cooked sticky rice and mix thoroughly, cover and let stand for 10 minutes. Then mix again.
  • Peel and slice ripe mango.
  • Place sticky rice on a small plate and top with mango slices. Spoon the additional coconut cream over the rice and mango.

Note: You can also cook the sticky rice in a microwave. Pour boiling water over uncooked rice, to about an inch over the surface. Stir occasionally, during five minutes, then drain. Add clean warm water to cover the rice and microwave on high for approximately 5 minutes. Remove and stir. If the rice is still hard, microwave for a further 3 minutes.

Kavey Eats attended the Suda Thai mango dinner and master class as a guest of the restaurant.

© 2006 - 2014 Kavita Favelle Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha