Thai food used to be a bit of an anomaly in the UK. It gained a foothold through the traditional pubs of London in the 1980s, where – through luck more than anything else – the cuisine became a popular choice with landlords wanting to offer something more than the standard pie and chips in the evenings. Green and red curry, pad Thai and spring rolls were exotic enough to pique interest, and tapped into the already established taste the British had for spicy Asian cuisine.
Of course, that’s all changed. Thailand soon became a popular holiday destination, and returning tourists were keen to recapture the fresh, aromatic flavours of the country back on home soil. This, combined with easier access to ingredients and an overall increased interest in food, meant Thai grew out of pub kitchens and into refined restaurants and supermarkets shelves. Ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, palm sugar, fish sauce and galangal are now easy to find, while som tam, tom yum and kuay tiew are recognisable dish names.
One of the most exciting Thai restaurants to appear in the last few years is Som Saa, a pop-up that focuses on regional dishes from around the country. It becomes a permanent venue in April, offering fans of the cuisine the real, authentic flavours of Thailand. Started by chefs Andy Oliver and Mark Dobbie, with Tom George running front of house, the trio fell in love with Thai food whilst travelling. ‘The north of the country really inspired us as it's somewhere we all went early on in our travels,’ says Mark. ‘You can see straight away how different the food is up there; it really introduces you to the idea of regional food in Thailand.’ It soon becomes clear that their restaurant couldn’t be more different from the pubs of the 1980s.