"Here at Khao San we serve only Thai food. We no serve fusion food. Fusion food is confusion food. Here at Khao San we no like to confuse our customers."
So said Pan, the lovely chatty owner of Khao San Thai Restaurant in London, on my first visit to her restaurant, about a year ago now.
With the utterance of Pan's better-than-fiction quip, I knew right away that after 2 years of searching, and tolerating watery curries in the Thai-only-in-concept kitchens above English pubs, and trying to make myself believe the decent but ultimately too-sugary and too-flashy concoctions of the Busaba Eathai chain, I had finally found my place in London to get my fixes for proper Thai food.
In the few months that followed, I was commuting weekly to the Netherlands for work. Babs and I fell into a Thursday night routine. He'd pick me up at Heathrow and I'd call Pan to say we'd be around in 20 minutes.
The order never varied greatly. 2 portions of tom yum seafood soup. Thai fishcakes. Morning glory fried with garlic and chilli. Pad Thai with seafood. Khao San house special noodle -- seafood dry-fried with a very thin rice noodle we Chinese call mee sua.
My joke after ordering, embarrasingly, never varied either: "But Babs, what are you going to eat?"
Above: Khao San's tom yum talay is my best-in-category find in London so far
Above: Khao San's fish cakes, and house special noodles made with mee sua
Khao San's tom yum soup especially -- with just the right level of fire and acidity from chili, ginger, lemongrass and lime, and without the over-sugariness at less authentic establishments (who use sugar to mitigate the heat) -- was always a great antidote to the week of work-canteen lunches, with alarmingly processed meat and soups made from flavoured powder.
Their morning glory was always a bright green, rather than the olive-y brown when an inexperienced cook has fried it too long. And the seafood mee sua was a tasty and lighter alternative to pad thai, which in some places can be too greasy and over-sauced.
If dining with friends at Khao San, eat family-style to try the more indulgent dishes such as their shredded green papaya or green mango salad with dried shrimp, curries (rich with coconut milk) and a whole fish steamed Thai style. Wash down with Thai ice-tea -- its slightly sickly sweetness (from using condensed milk) will help to manage the chili if needed. If in season, try Pan's baby pumpkins baked whole with custard for dessert.
And tell Pan I stopped dropping by not because I got confused, but because I got on the road. And I'll be back as soon as I can.
108 Chepstow Road
London, W2 5QS, UK
+22 20 7221 9984