I have a very duplicitous nature about approaching food. Whilst swooshes, liquid nitrogen and a famed name above the door is an occasional treat, when it comes to Asian food I return to my brazen and primitive roots. I don't require ash, acrobats hanging from ceilings or immaculately trained waiters, just seriously delicious, straightforward food. That doesn't make it simple, it means one has to rely solely on the tastebuds.
And my tastebuds tell me good things about Khon Thai, a modest outfit in Swiss Cottage. By modest I mean abominably stark and bare in terms of decorum. Behind a translucent green curtain at the front, are two long tables, a counter for ordering food and so many plastic flowers it's like a Frida Kahlo parade. It appears like your typical local take-out, so why the fuss? HOW does it even make it to a blog post?!
Because flavour-wise, it's probably the most memorable Thai I've had in a long time. You may remember in my local NW neighbourhood, we're starved of good Asian places, so I'm rearing to check any new openings in this genre no matter how humble. Though humble in taste, these dishes are not.
The dish that caught our attention was the Hor Mog, a fish paste mixed in with egg and red curry paste, then steamed in a banana leaf. This brought me straight home. Sweet and slightly spicy from the paste, the texture of a good steamed egg is light, puffy and maybe even velvety. Small pieces of fish added extra texture.
A sharp and tangy papaya salad kept us peachy and cut through any heavy curry flavours.
And we just had to try the Green Curry. Just one word: perfect! Richness from the sauce, and enough kick to get that nose at a healthy run.
So that was visit number one. We had visit number two very shortly after...
If there had to be one let down, the Steamed Sea Bass Thai Style was that black sheep. Good sweet and sour going on from the limes, Thai basil and lemongrass, but this little fish was cooked from frozen, totally affecting the texture.
At our previous visit, the insider tip from the front of house were the homemade corn cakes ("All our starters are homemade, madam"). Nice crunch and soft inside, but sliiggghhhttlly over-cooked.
The winner this time though was the Laab salad (Minced Chicken). I class myself in the Super Spicy Chilli League, and this made me reconsider my pride. Loaded with that acute chilli blast upon first taste, it does dissipate quickly, but man does it make an impact. A very good impact. Beautiful Thai tangyness that makes you think of sunny beach holidays.
And to end, a Massaman Duck Curry. These guys do their curries well. Often Thai restaurants in the UK serve watery slop that is truly sad, but this perky and coconutty version was the real thing.
My goodness, it's a turning point for NW. Khon Thai is a family run business, which began as a stall in the Swiss Cottage Farmer's Market. I dare put my South East Asian card down and say this is probably the most genuine Thai place I've been to in the UK. I just love its humility, which further adds to the authenticity. Fantastically warm and cheerful service, it's one of my favourite local spots. You'd be pushed to spend more than £12 per person for about 3 shared dishes and rice. It's also BYO, with a massive basket of complimentary spicy prawn crackers!