I am not going to beat around the bush. If you love spice and heat – and let me just stress the latter, HEAT – then stop what you are doing right now, make an excuse that you have to leave whatever you are doing and get yourself down to Spitalfields – 43A Commercial Road to be precise. At this address you will find a little white sign with black writing on it with the words Som Saa. Go in and if you find yourself there at lunch time, you might just be lucky enough not to have a wait before being shown to your table.
This Thai restaurant, opened earlier this year by ex Masterchef 2009 finalist Andy Oliver, Mark Dobbie, chef from now closed Michelin starred Nahm restaurant in Knightsbridge and Pok Pok in New York and front of house, Tom George, will more than knock your socks off. I had gone with really high expectations after hearing all the hype and had half expected them to be crushed after my visit. It’s normally the case when a play/book/film/restaurant get’s over hyped you feel a real crushing blow that it really wasn’t that good, but with Som Saa it is a whole different story.
The seed for Som Saa was planted a couple of years back when they ran a pop-up (of the same name) at Climpson’s Arch in London Fields. This ran for a year and began to get so much of a cult following that leveraging into a permeant bricks and mortar site was an obvious transition. They had had the chance to try out a range of dishes on punters and had leaned valuable lessons on what worked and what needed to be fine tuned. They raised their capital through crowdfunding raising a staggering £700k in 4 days.
They wanted their new residence to have the same feeling and vibe of the old Climpson’s Arch and although I did not get to experience it, looking at the architecture it has the exposed brick arches, rustic, tables chairs and flooring that I can only imagine is not too far removed from their pop-up days. There is a small window looking onto the kitchen itself, with incredible smells wafting it’s way around the restaurant.
Similar to another recent great find – Gunpowder – Som Saa’s lunchtime menu is short but perfectly formed. I much prefer short menus as the offering is always far superior and the food far fresher. My companion and I opted for the following:
gung golae – grilled prawns in a southern style coconut marinade
som tam thai – Bangkok style green papaya salad with snake beans, dried shrimp, peanuts and cherry tomatoes (they can make this vegetarian if you wish)
gaeng hung lay – Burmese style curry of pork belly and shoulder with pickled garlic and fresh ginger
gaeng baa pla – jungle curry with family fish, thai aubergines, holy basil and wild ginger
khao hom mali – jasmine rice
It’s no exaggeration that every dish was punch-the-air fabulous. Seriously they did not even slip up on one dish. Papaya salad is always a good indicator of whether the restaurant will be any good and even that was delicately balanced with the necessary zing and heat.
I loved the look of all the menu, but felt that this was more than enough for a midweek lunch. Apparently the evening offering offers a few extra dishes, but I would go back in a heart beat and eat the same again and perhaps alternate with a new dish on every visit. I skipped dessert, as I invariably do, but I have been reprimanded by one of my instagram followers who insist I am missing out and that I must ‘give them a try’. I also didn’t take advantage of the interesting cocktails – ‘day by the pool (yes please ;o) – prosecco, jasmine tea, gin, creme de violate, lemongrass cordial, but with school runs to rush too I really couldn’t.
Som Saa is a rare Thai citrus fruit that has, apparently, an incredible flavour and can be found in old Thai recipes. Thompson describes it as a “metaphor for the restaurant” in that he wants to “introduce diners to new tastes”. It is time to move on from the dumb down version of Thai food that we have all grown up with and to experience a more authentic Thai experience.
43A Commercial Street
lunch: tue-fri: 12-2.30pm
dinner: mon-sun: 5-late (last orders 10.30pm and 10pm on Sunday)