As it turns out my first Begging Bowl experience in Peckham also happened to be my first al fresco lunch of 2013 which was very nice indeed and one I hope to replicate again during the summer months. On a recent rare warm afternoon my friend and I decided to make the most of the Spring weather and sit outside to eat lunch, imagining we were dining on the streets of Phuket rather than Peckham. Despite the sudden heavy downpour the minute we finished eating our mains it felt great to dine outside in the fresh air and I can imagine that it’s a great spot to eat with friends on a hot summer’s evening.
Commanding a fantastic spot on the corner of Bellenden Road and Choumert Road in the gentrified Bellenden Road area of Peckham, The Begging Bowl is an excellent south London restaurant that serves incredibly tasty authentic Thai food, but not the average Thai food you will have eaten in the UK. The menu is noticeably different for a start, you won’t find the typical lists of red curry, green curry, yellow curry and Pad Thai dishes that are commonplace on most Thai restaurant menus. The lunch and dinner menu changes daily and you will find a carefully planned assortment of dishes set at different price points that are designed to be shared, like tapas style Thai food.
I personally love sharing dishes and it was fun to eat the same dishes as my friend and discuss the tastes and flavours we were experiencing. The recommendation is five dishes between two people, which was spot on for us (but I don’t hold back with food, the more the merrier!). We shared a couple of super fresh, surprisingly spicy salads to start: pomelo salad served with a dressing made from peanuts, chilli and lime as well as a papaya salad with sticky pork. The pork was beautifully tender and soft, just as it should be. We also shared the Stir-fried noodles with tiger prawns and Charcoal grilled pork skewers served with a satay sauce. Both were delicious, wonderful textures and flavours, all perfectly balanced. But the icing on the cake for me was the Steamed whole sea bass with chilli and lime, which was perfectly cooked, not overdone as can often be the case with sea bass, but soft and tasty, beautiful melt-in-the-mouth texture. I think steaming sea bass is the way forward! Jasmine and sticky rice is served with all meals and comes included within the price of the mains which is great and makes the overall cost less expensive (as it is quite normal to pay extra for rice at most Asian restaurants in the UK). Thankfully both my friend and I like Asian food to be cooked with a generous measure of chilli and spices and it was nice to eat Thai food with a real kick, nothing overly sweet (as is usually the case with Thai food in Britain). Dishes are served with a pile of ground dried chilli and lime to squeeze which is a great addition to food cooked in the Thai style. Following our mains we moved inside to the nicely designed relaxed restaurant to finish off our lunch with some beautifully sweet banana roti.
The name ‘The Begging Bowl’ nods to the fact the menu is inspired by Thai street food. The quality of the food you will eat at The Begging Bowl is excellent, fresh and tasty, a noticeable step up from the very predictable and often bog standard food served at many Thai restaurants in the UK. Service is friendly and the atmosphere is great, it even felt buzzy on a Thursday afternoon in April with tables of people having a sneaky afternoon drink (including us!). Decor wise the restaurant is suitably vibrant to match the food, but not over the top. It has a trendy feel and the side wall of the interior is made up of planks of wood painted in green, orange and white, seemingly inspired by the makeshift restaurants and wooden hut structures of eateries in Thailand.
Jane Alty, who set up The Begging Bowl and manages the kitchen, trained under Australian chef and Thai food expert David Thompson while he was working at his Belgravia restaurant, Nahm. Alty also spent some time working in Bangkok on Thompson’s book ‘Thai Street Food’. It definitely shows that the restaurant is managed by someone who really knows how to make the most of Thai ingredients. It is worth noting that The Begging Bowl is not a cheap restaurant, you will pay around £65 for food and drinks for two people. Prices start at £5.75 for smaller / lighter dishes and rise to £14.50 for the whole steamed sea bass (the most expensive dish on the menu) but in my opinion it is well worth the money. You are paying for freshly prepared high quality food as well as the skills and expertise of the very talented chefs who carefully craft the daily menu to give you an authentic taste of food from Thailand, of which I’ve never tasted better in Britain.