Som Saa – one of London’s best Thai restaurants
The other day I clicked on a lifestyle website’s “Best in London” guide that someone had re-tweeted. I don’t usually pay much attention to “best of” posts but I suppose they, at least, create debate, which surely can’t be a bad thing.
Articles like “10 burgers to eat before you die” and “15 dishes every northerner in London will love” are harmless enough but they can give poor advice, which makes me feel sorry for the unknowing, especially visitors to London.
This particular post was a case in point. There were a few odd choices in there but the one that stood out for me was their pick for best Thai restaurant – Busaba. Sure, it’s perfectly fine but for my money anyone who thinks it’s the best Thai in London shouldn’t really be recommending Thai restaurants.
Where should’ve been named as London’s Best Thai then? I hear you say. Well, I’ve eaten at some excellent ones and there are some others with huge reputations that I’m yet to try so I’ll have to get back to you on that one. Instead I thought I’d just write about one of my favourite London Thai restaurants, Som Saa.
They’ve been in residence over at Climpson’s Arch by London Fields since October and will be sorely missed (not least by us), if and when they eventually move on.
Som Saa’s menu contains a lot of dishes from the northern and Isaan regions so people who only ever order green curry or pad thai will need to branch out. Many items are cooked over a charcoal grill set up outside and the menu is divided up into small and large plates. They also serve up an awesome brunch but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Our first trip to Som Saa was on a Saturday evening. Knowing how busy it gets, we turned up just before 6pm and so avoided the bulk of the weekend rush. If you’re flexible about the time that you eat, no-reservations restaurants can suddenly seem to make an awful lot of sense.
We kicked off with a couple of cans of Beerlao and some thai spiced cashew nuts (Tua prik krob). The nuts were seasoned with kaffir lime, dried chilli and lemongrass. It’s one of the best bar snacks I’ve had and was a real taste of what was to follow. I’ve tried to recreate this at home but it’s just not the same without the kaffir lime leaves.
I certainly won’t forget their marinated pork neck (Moo yaang) with chilli, lime and garlic dressing (nam jim) in a hurry. I eat a lot of spicy food but this dish rendered me speechless for a good couple of minutes. You know, the chilli equivalent of brain freeze. Fantastic! The dish was fresh, tangy and (yes) invigoratingly hot, great for chilli freaks like us.
Everything we ate after this seemed positively mild in comparison. Even the Isaan style green papaya salad (som tam plaa raa) seemed to be much lower down on the Scoville scale. Som tam is one of my all time top dishes but the Isaan version doesn’t contain peanuts and I missed texture that they provide. Still, what’s a nut or two between friends.
Somsaa’s most recognisable dish is almost certainly their whole fried sea bass (Nam dtok pla thort). It’s certainly impressive to look at. A whole deep-fried fish, head and all, covered in roasted rice, garlic and herbs. It was delicious, such a fantastic way to eat fish and great value at just £14. Northern style pork belly curry (Geng hung lay) was quite mild and sweet (or so it seemed after the pork neck). All of this was served with unlimited sticky rice at a bargainous £2.50 per person.
Weekend Brunch Menu
If you’re on the lookout for a tasty brunch with the difference, Som Saa could be just the place. They open from 11-3 every Saturday and Sunday and there’s nothing else quite like it around.
The menu only contains a few options, all of which are excellent. My go-to dish is rice soup with crispy pork, poached egg and pork balls (khao dtom). It’s a bit like a Thai take on congee but the rice isn’t cooked down nearly as much and it’s jam packed with flavours, all of which work together perfectly.
I don’t typically see beef as a brunch option but their rice noodle soup with braised beef shin, pickled morning glory and burnt chilli sauce (kway tiao nam neua) has forced me to rethink. The broth is deep and tasty but somehow still manages to be light and refreshing.
Brunch at Som Saa won’t leave you feeling bloated and lethargic so you may as well add on some chinese donuts with pandanus custard (pa thong ko). Why not eh?!
We love the fact that this great little place doesn’t hold back on chilli and bold flavours like so many places do. I’m not saying it’s definitely the best Thai restaurant in London, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of them.
A few more pics.
Evening meal for two, food only: £51
Meal for two inc. quite a few drinks and service: £81
Opening times: Dinner Thurs-Sun 6pm-11pm, brunch Sat & Sun 11am-3pm
Address: Arch 374 Helmsley Place, Hackney, E8 3SB