photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
Tottenham Court Road is a special kind of hell. A cesspit of American candy stores blaring David Guetta, broken Primark bags, and McNugget-eating, gnarly pigeons. Anything that transports you away from the area, literally or metaphorically, is a good thing. It’s why we like Arcade Food Hall—a faintly monstrous-looking gastronomic airport terminal that can take you from Nashville to Nepal via excellent hot chicken and momos. It’s also why we like Plaza Khao Gaeng, a small Thai restaurant on the mezzanine level of the food hall making fantastic and fiery food that is truly transportive.
Unlike the pumping atmosphere downstairs, Plaza Khao Gaeng is camouflaged and calm. It’s an homage to khao gaeng (curry over rice) canteens all over Thailand and, in particular, one khao gaeng that lives in an old Bangkok cinema. The blinds are pulled down, the lurid floral tablecloths are wipeable, and dishes like klua kling muu (dry wok-fried pork) arrive on plastic plates, the meat singed from the blazing flames that you can see and smell from the open kitchen. The restaurant treads the line between a tribute and exoticism carefully. Thoughtfully, in fact. Considering the form of the JKS restaurant group, it isn’t surprising, but it’s never a given either. Especially when the appalling opening of The Ivy Asia was in 2021, not 1971.
London's Best New Restaurants Of 2022
photo credit: Aleksandra Boruch
Once you taste the food—sour orange curry that slaps your taste buds and unapologetically fierce chilli and galangal-laced pork—you’ll understand that this isn’t a hackneyed replica but a love letter to the blazing flavours of southern Thai cooking. The menu consists primarily of curries but there are other things too. Miang phuket is a glorious drinking snack: a crunchy mixture of nuts and sugar, white hot chilli and soothing coconut, all piled into a betel leaf. It would be Wonka-ish if it wasn’t for the unforgiving jolts of bird’s-eye chilli. Perfect with a frosty Singha or three. That’s the kind of thinking you want to have: a bucket of beers, achingly tender gaeng massaman neua (beef massaman curry), rice, morning glory, a series of southern curries that will blow your head off bit by bit, and a bill that will probably come in at around £40 a head.
The more people, the more plates of food you can order at Plaza Khao Gaeng, and the aim of the game here is to have as many welcome beads of sweat as possible. Of course, if you don’t love chilli you can still come. There’s always the crispy fried eggs with gooey orange yolks to cool things down, or a shot of sweet pink condensed milk if things really get too much. But ultimately, like the relentless area it’s in, Plaza Khao Gaeng doesn’t take any prisoners. It’s delicious and uncompromising and if you can’t handle the heat then, well, you know what to do.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Be the first to get expert restaurant recommendations for every situation right in your inbox.
A starter of coconut and cashews mixed with palm sugar and unadulterated whacks of heat. Pile the mixture into a betel leaf, wrap it up, stuff it into your mouth, chew, wipe your forehead, and repeat. Exhilarating and excellent, every meal should start with a dish like this. It gets everyone going.
This is one of our Best New Dishes Of 2022. Check out the full guide here.
Pik Gai Tord Khamin Deeplee
Crispy chicken wings are great. But crispy chicken wings topped with a turmeric-laded pile of crunchy onions, flowers, and other bits and bobs… are even better. These wings are wonderful drinking buddies. Addictive in the best possible way.
Gaeng Massaman Neua
For the chilli-adverse, this beef massaman curry is a must. Actually it’s just a must full stop. The meat does all the things you want it to—fall apart, melt, whisper sweet nothings to your taste buds—and the curry sauce is Glastonbury bog brown, full of chunks of soft potato and little baby shallots.
Klua Kling Muu
Nee naw, nee naw, nee naw. That’s the sound of your internal monologue calling the fire brigade. This wok-fried pork is HOT. In every sense of the word. We like to shovel it in with rice and curry sauce from somewhere or other, let a little party start on our tongue, then go back for more.
Gaeng Som Talay
Sweet, sour, salty, spicy. Those are the marks you want hit and this orange curry certainly hits the last three. Mussels and squid are softly cooked in a gradually molten curry sauce alongside chunks of garcinia (a sour fruit). Noses will sniff and brows will be wiped.
Subpar brunch cafes across the city, take note. This is how you fry an egg. Crispy AND gooey.