I’ve become a Thai food seeking missile after eating in the likes of Smoking Goat and Som Saa (a pop-up seeking a new residency). I blame Seb Holmes who was a former sous chef at The Begging Bowl, head chef at the Smoking Goat and of course he cooked alongside Andy Oliver at Som Saa. Putting 2 + 2 together common sense would say that The Begging Bowl has to be worth checking out. Owner/Head Chef Jane Alty who has been a Londoner for over 10 years boasts cooking credentials gained at the likes of Bibendum, Galvin at the Windows, the now retired Racine and of course Michelin starred Nahm which is based in Bangkok. She opened Thai street food influenced ‘The Begging Bowl’ in August 2012 and is positively inspired by her travels to Thailand spending time with relatives who are based there. It’s so good to see chefs bringing back some exciting flavours from Thailand and The Begging Bowl is a fine example of that.
Being from a different part of town my perception of Peckham evoked thoughts of doubt in my head after walking all the way from the Hoppers in Soho via the ghetto Old Kent Road – could a Thai oasis really exist? Thankfully the rough entered into the smooth and the neighbourhood wasn’t too shabby at all in this part of Peckham.
The menu format is keyed with circular symbols in different colours corresponding to portion size and price – the dishes and their descriptions are then correlated to their respective colours. An interesting way to match price vs size, head scratching nonetheless, I didn’t care nor should you. The drinks menu is less nebulous.
Unlimited Jasmine or sticky rice was available at £2 per head – a rarity in London, albeit you should eat less to save room for everything else!
Salad of baby squid, star fruit, ginger, coriander, mint, deep fried garlic, chilli & line dressing (£6.25). Sweet squid, fragrant everything else and look at those suction cups! The squid was cooked to translucent and in my humble opinion it could have down with a bit more as it was chewy and a challenge on the jaws.
Stir-fried venison haunch with chilli paste, onions and spices (£8.25). Really succulent pieces of venison with those aromatic spices and breath of the wok made for a faultless dish, I only stopped when there was no more.
Salted free-range pork cheeks with coconut cream and aromats (£6.25). It’s so cooked to see a lesser cut make the table and it’s cooked to fork tender. The aromats did the job too but not being too overpowering.
Fillets of Gurnard charcoal grilled on banana leaf covered Gola coconut red curry (£10.50). Distinctive spices, aromatic, deep smoky flavours and yet the flavour of the fish still came through. An excellent plate of food that was demolished.
Stir-fry of morning glory, with crispy garlic, soy & white pepper (£8.50). A staple for me when it comes to Thai food and it’s done really well here, perfect umami from the soy and you can really taste the breath of the wok too.
Fillet of stone bass & clams in coconut & turmeric boiled curry (£12). What I liked about this dish is that the inherent flavour of the fish stayed intact within all the creamy aromatics. Those little clams were like sweet little jewels.
Suffolk chicken leg massaman curry with peanuts, Thai shallots & roasted quince (£12). You can really taste the robust roasted spice flavour in this bowl of goodness, it’s much less sweeter and milder than some of the massaman curry’s I have had and that chicken just rolls off the bone.
Fermented free-range pork belly wrapped in caul, charcoal grilled and served with cabbage, peanuts, ginger & birds eye chilli. If you knew what a ‘caul’ was you’d probably deliberate too much and not enjoy this one which I did very much. You could taste a funk (in a good way) in the little sausages which were intensely rich a savoury. I can just imagine chowing down on these in a Thai shack by the roadside surrounded by them hanging up dry fermenting.
Fish cakes with sweet chilli sauce (£6.25). Greaseless, less spongy and more coarse than I’ve had before but packed full of flavour – the sweet chilli wasn’t too sweet and had a good bite to it. Not as memorable as the other dishes but good to have nonetheless.
The damage: Expect to pay £30-£35 per head for a lot of food!
The good: After dining in here I’m convinced that there is a world of Thai food I’d really enjoy outside the ubiquitous high st fare which generally tasted like Thai food made by Thai folk coming to the UK cooking for Westerners. On the contrary, I’ve not been to Thailand yet (yet being the operative word) but I can believe that the dishes served at The Begging Bowl really taste like food cooked by folk who have been to Thailand and have brought back the exciting flavours. The gurnard and venison are an absolute MUST.
The bad: You can only book for 8-10 people only.
168 Bellenden Road
Peckham SE15 4BW
020 7635 2627