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Tuesday 4 November 2014

Night Elm - Som Saa - Look Mum No Hands

Friday 31st October - Battersea to Broadway Market takes about an hour on a good day, so when an East London amigo of mine threw a Halloween party, I decided to do a little pre-drinking and eating to kill two (or in this case, four) birds with one stone.  Fittingly for the 31st October, we started off at the new bar beneath the fabulous Rita's - Night Elm (on Mare Street - see what they did there?).

A glamorous walk past the toilets takes you to the downstairs space at Rita's, which has just been converted from private dining space to bar.  Asian influences (often present on the main Rita's menu) are noticeable in both the drinks and the décor at Night Elm, with bottles of lesser-known booze lined up, and the likes of Singapore Sling & Sake Low/Hi-Ball on offer.  Mary enjoyed the former, whilst I had an excellent Dark Rum & Fig Old Fashioned for only £6.50.  That's approaching Seven at Brixton territory.

Complimentary popcorn is just the start of the snacks.  Save space for Honey BBQ Pork Puff (£5), Hot Bean Devilled Egg (£3.50), Spice Sesame Cucumbers (£4) and Rita's famous Soy & Ginger Hot Wings (£6).  Had I not filled up on Salted Caramel Doughtnuts at Pont Street earlier in the day, I would have ordered a Dough-Friterole - a doughnut filled with dulce de leche & covered in chocolate.

At the time of writing, Night Elm is only open Thursday-Saturday, 6pm-midnight, but check their holding page here for the latest timings.  It's a great little spot for affordable cocktails - you may want to pair a visit with the full dining experience upstairs.

Top foodie spots nearby - Bouchon Fourchette // Lardo // Rawduck // Licky Chop // Hill & Szrok

Fancy another cocktail? - Try Pearl above the Cat & Mutton and the recently reopened Peter's & Co. Gin Palace, both on Broadway Market, or go a bit further afield to the fantastic Peg & Patriot at the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green


We powered on, down a couple of dark & dingy side streets, past the tempting London Fields Brewery bar, to Climpson's Arch, one of London's real hidden gems.  This stunning, secluded coffee roastery and bar also has a La Marzocco Linea Barbecue out the front which is put to good use by rotating chefs & foodie residencies.

The latest team to take over the cooking are Andy Oliver and Tom George who have brought small town Thailand to the arch in the form of Som Saa.  Andy has worked in Thai kitchens for almost 10 years, and wants to showcase lesser-known dishes from the Northern and North-Eastern provinces of Thailand.

Unless you know your nam prik nuum kap moo from your jan naem, or you are allergic to nuts, you are best off going in a big group and ordering everything.  

We kicked off with tua prik krob (£3) - moreish Thai cashew nuts with kaffir lime, dried chilli and lemongrass.  This was swiftly followed by pla dip bai cha plu (£5) - Betel Leaf with citrus cured wild sea bass, kaffir lime, lemongrass and mint that was anything but subtle.  I loved it, Mary found it too much.  No cutlery needed so far.

We finished with gai yaang (grilled chicken le with jaew dipping sauce - £6.50) and moo yang (grilled pork neck, chilli, lime and garlic - £8), accompanied by unlimited sticky rice baskets (£2.50/head) - enjoy shaking the rice out of its little bag.  Lime, ginger, garlic, chilli are all recurring flavours in this cuisine, but the different combinations never seem to tire.

See some nice B&W shots by Ben Broomfield here

Depending on your hunger levels, you can move on to bigger plates such as geng hung lay (Northern style pork belly curry with pickled garlic and ginger - £12.50) and nam dtok pla thort (deep fried seabass with Isaan herbs and roasted rice - £14) and finish up with kluey thord "ice cream" nan dan beep (salted bo.lan palm sugar ice cream with turmeric grilled banana - £4.50).

And once you've exhausted that menu, return for brunch: "Classic Thai brunch dishes such as Chinese doughnuts and rice porridge with crispy pork will be served at weekends, alongside a special Thai coffee developed in conjunction with Climpson and Sons Coffee Roasters."

Oh, and there are cans of Beer Lao, Thai-inspired cocktails, Sang Som Whisky-Soda buckets, and cracking wines to keep you hydrated.

There's a real buzz in the foodie community around the Som Saa residency, and for good reason. There's affordable and exciting food & drink of the highest quality, the setting is stunning (reminding me of the outstanding Big Crow in Toronto), and if you don't spend all your money on gung pao nam jim talay, you'll be booking your flight to North Thailand as you walk out the door.

Matt The Thai Tips - Smoking Goat (more Thai BBQ from the Begging Bowl team) has just opened in Soho and is also generating quite a buzz.  I've also heard good things about Esarn Kheaw in Shepherd's Bush for more Northern Thai food.  Then there's always the bonkers bargain Churchill Arms in Kensington, the equally nutty Spicy Basil in Kilburn, and cheap & cheerful Kaosarn in Brixton & Battersea.  


For one last drink before wandering down to Broadway Market, we dropped in to Look Mum No Hands, the stylish café / bar / cycling refuge that stays open til 11pm Wednesday-Saturday on Mare Street - N.B. The Old Street branch (open til 10pm every day) has a bike repair workshop on site and runs bike maintenance courses. 

It was incredibly chilled at 8.30pm on a Friday night considering they have one of the best beer selections around - I would be a regular if I lived locally.  Expect to find the likes of Kernel, Partizan, Beavertown and Pressure Drop on their taps.  If hops aren't your thing, wine, cakes & Square Mile coffee are also on offer.

Two "cycling cafés" have just opened near me in Battersea, but they don't come close to matching the effortless cool of Look Mum No Hands.  Fingers crossed they expand to South West London soon.

Matt The Beer - for another pint or two nearby, try London Fields Brewery, The Dove, The Cock Tavern or Sebright Arms

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