From slurping up pad thai noodles amid the petrol fumes of passing motorbikes, to dissecting a colossal king prawn from its shell under the beachy shade of coconut trees: part of the magic of eating Thai food is the experience that comes with it.
It’s hard to replicate that among the skyscrapers and shopping centres of London. But for your best bet this side of the Andaman Sea, these are the five spots not to miss.
Best for discovering new dishes and ingredients: Farang
Bouncy blues tunes and the look of a cosy family trattoria are not the welcome you’d expect from one of London’s most well respected Thai restaurants. But it reflects perfectly the fun fusion vibe of Farang (a Thai term referring to white foreigners).
The restaurant, which was a well-loved local Italian for over 20 years, now serves up exciting combinations of unusual Thai flavours and top quality British produce – some of which are still made in the old pizza oven. Don’t miss the zingy yellow curry with meaty chunks of lime-infused Cornish monkfish or the incredibly moreish pork ribs dripping in sweet star anise glaze.
You’ll want to mop up every last drop – so make sure to order some of Farang’s hand-slapped rosemary salt roti which provide a useful (and delicious) tool. There are vegetarian and vegan-friendly options aplenty and feasting and tasting menus for the indecisive.
The restaurant previously won an award from the UK Thai Embassy recognising the authenticity of its food.
Best for street food atmosphere: KaoSarn
Don’t expect linen table cloths and hand towels at KaoSarn. Instead do as the regulars do and grab a handful of paper napkins as you navigate flame-grilled skewers oozing in roasted chilli sauce and slippery soy-soaked noodles.
The menu is heavily dominated by old street food favourites – which come in hearty portions – and the food is as cheap and cheerful as the mismatched decor. Tables spill outside, making KaoSarn one of the best places to soak up the buzzy atmosphere around Brixton Village in summer.
Oh and best of all? It’s BYOB. So grab an ice-cold Singha (Thailand’s iconic beer) and swing by the ATM beforehand, as this little joint is cash only.
96 Coldharbour Ln, Brixton, London SW9 8PR, 020 7095 8922
Best for freshly cooked: Kiln
With just four tables, a few counter seats and no reservations, getting a spot at Kiln can be a challenge. But it is one that is absolutely worth the wait.
Chosen as the UK’s Best Restaurant in the 2018 National Restaurant Awards, this Soho hotspot specialises in a roadside barbeque style of Thai cooking. The kiln it is named after is the hulking stove which dominates the restaurant. On it sits countless rustic claypots from which wafts a tempting mix of palm sugar, sweet basil and hot charcoal.
The 22 seats along the steel counter are the best in the house, as you can watch the chefs scrupulously chopping, flipping and searing ingredients – most of which have been picked or caught just a few hours before.
At less than £7, the baked glass noodles with Tamworth pork belly and brown crab meat is probably the best value dish in London.
Best for no-frills northeastern fare: 101 Thai Kitchen
Don’t let the bubblegum pink exterior fool you. This is serious Thai cooking, with recipes mostly local to the Isan region in the northeast of the country.
From the shredded papaya and tamarind salads to the lemongrass and coconut soups, each dish manages to pack an explosion of sweet, spice, salt and sour into every mouthful.
Food is served up on garishly patterned plates looking as if they’ve come straight from your grandma’s dresser. Tuck in under the regal gaze of the Thai royal family, watching from their picture frames.
The restaurant, which is just around the corner from Ravenscourt Park, is a favourite with Thais living in west London.
Best for fusion dishes: Patara
Patara first opened its doors in 1990, introducing South Kensington to a whole new, contemporary take on Thai dining.
Its imaginative specialities, which have included slow-cooked osso buco in massaman curry sauce and tuna carpaccio with banana shallot, took Londoners by storm and now Patara has six restaurants scattered across the capital, plus international outposts in Thailand and beyond.
Its eateries are instantly recognisable by their stylish dark wood interiors and exposed stone floors.
Prices are slightly higher than the other restaurants on the list – a curry will easily set you back £17 or more – but portions are much more generous than most establishments in the chichi neighbours they’re located in.