We try some seriously spicy food at Esarn Kheaw
The green Thai restaurant on Uxbridge Road has been recommended to me so many times, I don't know why I've never been there before.
I won't pretend I know how to pronounce Esarn Kheaw but I can say that Esarn is a region in the northeast of Thailand (or so the menu reliably informed me). I have a hunch, though stand to be corrected, that Kheaw might mean emerald, which would explain the green-ness of it all. Not just a green exterior but minty-green walls inside, with matching table cloths and napkins, skilfully folded into lotus flowers.
According to the Lonely Planet, the northeast of Thailand is a place “where people munch on chillies like chewing gum” and the menu at Esarn Kheaw certainly reflects a love of the spicy stuff. As well as the usual Thai fare, Esarn Kheaw also offers several regional specialities, such as a spiced papaya salad (£4.95), marinated chicken livers (£6.95) and spiced duck (£9.95). The menu is helpfully divided into different sections offering beef, pork, chicken, fish, stir fried dishes, Thai curries, noodles and rice, and has a varied enough vegetable selection to give vegetarians a decent choice.
We opted for the enigmatically named 'Son In-Law's Eggs' (£6.95), which was described on the menu as being a traditional northeast style dish made of deep fried eggs, sweet & sour sauce, fried garlic and red onions. We just hoped that the son in-law in question had been given the eggs as a reward or a welcome into the family, rather than as a punishment or sign of disapproval. We also ordered some special Thai noodle soup (£6.95), a green vegetable curry (£6.95), sticky rice (£3.00 a portion) and egg fried rice (£3.50).
The restaurant's interior of minty-green walls covered in pictures of royalty might not seem like the most modern backdrop. But if the recent outpouring of concern in Thailand over the sick, elderly king – said to be the world's longest reigning monarch – is anything to go by, the Thai royals seem to be almost revered, even in Uxbridge Road.
Our meal arrived without too long a wait but the son in-law's eggs were not quite as expected: I somehow thought that being deep fried they might be crispy. Even so, the smooth tamarind sauce, delicately flavoured with garlic and onions led us to the conclusion that the son in-law had been a valued member of the family after all.
As I tucked into my green vegetable curry with coconut cream and soya bean sauce, it suddenly occurred to me that I had not asked beforehand how strong the curry was likely to be. Bad mistake: this curry was not for the faint-hearted. I am not sure exactly what was in it - some snow peas, some sweetcorn – I was far more focused on making sure the water jug didn't wander too far down the table and out of reach. In any case, I could feel the winter demons fleeing my body in fear as I ate.
Our two little parcels of sticky rice arrived, daintily wrapped up like presents in wicker baskets. The rice lived up to its name and stuck to itself, the plate and the fork. However, there was too little of it to take the edge off the curry and I ended up helping myself to my companion's egg fried rice, which did the trick a little better.
Desserts were more variations on the sticky rice theme, some containing banana, some not and we shared a portion of black glutinous rice in banana coconut cream (£2.50). Again, the rice arrived neatly wrapped up, this time in a banana leaf, giving it an altogether exotic appearance. It tasted warm, comforting and strangely familiar......just like Christmas pudding, in fact.
I have heard conflicting reports about the service at Esarn Kheaw and complaints of slowness when the restaurant is full, but during our visit, it was faultless: fast, polite and extremely attentive, with mini cutlery and special treats provided for children.
The final bill came to a very reasonable £37.75. Whether kheaw turns out to mean 'emerald' or not, the restaurant itself is a gem.