Former residents of Climpson’s Arch, Som Saa finally opened in April, on Commercial Street in Spitalfields, after two years and £700,000 of crowdfunding. But, if the queues are anything to go by, it was worth the wait.
The interior wears that trendy East London bleak warehouse look well – it’s a former fabric warehouse – with a mix of exposed brick, thick, battered wooden tabletops, steel girders and tanks of beer from Camden Town Brewery. It’s the first set up of its kind from the local brewers, and unfiltered, unpasteurised pilsner are transported in old gantry tanks straight from the brewery.
The staff, too, are really good – friendly, passionate, knowledgeable, efficient. Many have been with the chefs (Andy Oliver and Mark Dobbie who both previously worked at Nahm with chef-patron and Thai food guru David Thompson) from the beginning.
But, of course, it’s the food that draws these sorts of crowds: uncompromising, regional Thai. We’re recommended to order four to five dishes between two after sampling a cocktail each. It’s all good – one mouthful in and we’re already planning the next trip – but Bangkok-style Som tam Thai screeched with flavour – salt, sour, and chilli fire.
Sticky rice was addictively good and the ideal carrier for a mellow, sticky Burmese-style curry (gaeng hung lay) of pork belly and shoulder, topped with pickled garlic and ginger. Nahm dtok pla thort (whole deep-fried sea bass) looked terrifying, but hacking into the crisp, roasted rice-coated skin, gave way to the most tender flesh, and was perked up with sprightly dressed Isaan herbs.
Tom George, who has Goodman on his CV, looks after front of house and has put together a cracking drinks menu to go with the flavour-packed food. Wine is designed to match, he promises, but I grab a Salty Kiss, a sour, German-style gose beer from Magic Rock Brewing that pleasantly puckers with gooseberry, sea buckthorn and sea salt. It really works.
There are only three desserts on the menu – Jackfruit poached in coconut cream, which they make in-house (authenticity is everything here), and palm sugar ice cream with grilled banana are worth a try.
Brave the queues, or book in one of the cool booths if there’s a group of you, and you’ll be smug in the knowledge that you’re dining at one of London’s most exciting and hotly anticipated openings of the year.
Written by Laura Rowe, May 2016
Interiors and food images by Steve Joyce; profile shots by Ben Broomfield
43a Commercial Street
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