The Best Modern Thai Restaurants In London

From Kiln to Som Saa, a bright and spicy revolution is here

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On a similar trajectory to Indian restaurants before their recent revival, Thai food was oft relegated to sad takeaway boxes. A land of sugary green curries and limp spring rolls, devoid of the bright flavours that are the very essence of the cuisine.

Then something happened. A city bored by homogeneous pad thai was thrown a lifeline in the form of genuinely exciting Asian flavours, with the steady emergence of a new type of Thai restaurant that has been hard to miss.

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These spots offer more exotic dishes than the sweet curries that have been churned out of chains over the last 10 years. Grilled fish, head and all, comes with flesh that falls apart, soups are gloopy and glorious with a depth of spice beyond just eye-watering and herbs are thrown on whole rather than shredded and hidden.

If you can't handle the heat you can ask for dishes "mai phet", though at these eateries the spice is half the fun.

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Kiln

Where other open kitchens flaunt Big Green Eggs and sous-vides, Kiln, opened by Ben Chapman of Smoking Goat fame, goes far more rustic: assorted clay pots filled with embers, over which the bijoux restaurant's excellent Northern Thai street food-influenced dishes are prepared.

Perhaps it's the simplicity of the technology that gives the kitchen an unusually calm, laid-back feel. Perhaps it's the confidence that the cooking will speak for itself. Perhaps it's the reggae on the stereo. Whatever, you'll find a particular mellow joy — despite the occasional chilli hit — in baked glass noodles with Tamworth belly and brown crab meat, or langoustines with kaffir lime and mint.

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Kiln, 58 Brewer St, Soho, London W1F 9TL

Smoking Goat

In the small Soho quarters that used to house a dive bar, Smoking Goat wanted to replicate that energy and so play vibrant music in the Thai BBQ restaurant. They specialise in rare produce and use English chestnut wood to burn the fire which gives everything a warmth and sweetness.

The flavours are sharply contrasted but excellently executed - particularly the crispy pork belly with pickled watermelon and picanha beef with lemongrass and chilli. The star of the show is the restaurant's namesake, a smoked goat shoulder with Thai herbs. Order it with sticky rice that you prize from a plastic bag with pink strips of goat which are fatty and tender. This October they open a Shoreditch venue inspired the open air canteens and bars found across Thailand, complete with a short menu focused on seafood and high-end barbecued meats.

Smoking Goat, 7 Denmark St, London, WC2H 8LZ

The Begging Bowl

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One of the first to the scene when it come to authentic Thai street food, the Begging Bowl's quality nonetheless hasn't wavered. The menu has evolved but kept some of the classic hits and the limitless rice side dish is an excellent way to soak up pools of sauce and a few Kafr Sour gin cocktails.

Dig into smaller plates like the lemongrass minced pork with roasted rice or the crispy squid which pops in your mouth with their sour chilli dip. Leave room for a Geng som curry with wild turbot and finish with the banana fritters in coconut sesame batter and peanut brittle.

The Begging Bowl, 168 Bellenden Road, Peckham, E15 4BW

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Som Saa

The journey from Hackney pop-up to number four in the National Restaurant Awards has been remarkable for this uber-trendy East London eatery. Their popularity shows no sign of waining, and with offerings like smoked duck soup or five spice soy braised beef cheek curry, why would it?

Chef Andy Oliver's two years cooking in Bangkok is obvious in the bright, sour, sweet and sticky dishes he serves up. The signature 'Nahm Dtok Pla Thort' (deep-fried whole sea bass) is crunchy, salty and unctuous mess of deliciousness. Don't wimp out on this one - you'll be scraping the bones clean by the end of the meal.

Som Saa, 43A Commercial St, London E1 6BD

Farang

Named after Thai slang for a foreigner - the jury is out on whether it's a term of endearment or an insult - Farang is a pop-up gone permanent, joining the Islington foodie set of Primeur, Trullo and Black Axe Mangal to name a few.

The Thai street food spot is a venture by chef Seb Holmes who has cooked at the above Som Saa, Begging Bowl and Smoking Goat - ergo his Thai cooking credentials need not be questioned. Set in a retro Italian restaurant, Farang serves plates (big and small) all packed with juicy morsels like tempura chicken with scotch bonnet glaze, jungle curry of salmon and monkfish or curried egg noodles with braised beef cheek.

Farang, 72 Highbury Park, Highbury East, London N5 2XE