Bangkok is a truly wonderful city full of vibrant culture, amazing nightlife, and delicious food. It's also really, really far away. But at least you can get one of the things that makes it (and the rest of Thailand) great, right here in London. These are the finest Thai spots in the city.
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With a name that literally translates to "mix and match," Champor takes that philosophy to heart. The place boasts both a colourfully cluttered interior filled with East Asian touches, and a menu that -- while keeping Thailand as its centre of gravity -- strays creatively off-shore, with globe-spanning ingredients like coffee, cheese, and wasabi neatly integrated into the dishes.
The Begging Bowl
With a rustic-looking, wood-hewn interior, the Begging Bowl seems to have a very casual edge... that is, until you try the food. The menu may rotate regularly, but it's consistently jammed with delicious dishes, all perfectly balanced to accommodate the five principal flavors of Thai cooking: salty, sweet, bitter, hot, and sour.
You'd be forgiven for not realizing that Smoking Goat is, indeed, a restaurant. Hidden in a Soho basement space, and accessed by ringing a doorbell, it looks more like a dive bar than an eatery. And, as it turns out, it does a damn fine cocktail... but the food is what you came for, and you won't be disappointed. Inventive, delicious, spicy, and meaty, prepare to want to return very soon.
The Pepper Tree
Perched next to Clapham Common tube station, Pepper Tree is a casual spot putting out fast, affordable Thai street food (with a little Chinese for good measure). The spices may have been a little muted to account for Western tastes, but the flavors gain a little more subtlety for it (and you can always ask for the volume to be jacked up a little).
As classy as Thai places come, Elephant is part of a multi-national outfit with sister venues everywhere from Malta, to Paris, to Bangkok itself. The decor is extremely well thought out, with ornate wooden carvings on the walls, and fine china on the tables. The food itself boasts a fine-dining feel, too, with well-practiced classics from the traditional menu that won't disappoint.
Neatly ensconced just off Upper St, Isarn's low-lit, sleek, and moody look contrasts its relatively inexpensive (and delicious) menu. The food comes in generous portions, beautifully presented, and covers both the classics (fish cakes, curries, pad Thai, etc.), along with a few inventive numbers, such as the mint, lemongrass, and peanut swordfish.
The Heron is actually a pub -- and not a particularly great-looking pub at that -- but within it hides one of the best Thai restaurants in London. The menu focuses on the Northeastern region of the country (flavors like holy basil and papaya abound), and the place turns into a karaoke lounge at night, just to seal the authenticity deal.
When you're way out in Norwood (where is Norwood you ask? Just north of Croydon.) you have to do something pretty special to impress the city's less-peripheral residents. And Mantanah certainly delivers with a menu of firey, intense, and bright flavors that have lost none of their kick since leaving Southeast Asia. Worth the trek, wherever you live.
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Jason Allen is a senior editor at Thrillist who feels that, all too often, the Thai pads him.