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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kavey Eats was a guest of Blue Elephant Group.