The Begging Bowl, restaurant review: Thai street-food heaven in south-east London

The Begging Bowl, 168 Bellenden Road, London, SE15 tel: 020 7635 2627

A hot dusty journey back from the seaside and a surfeit of ice-cream led Mr M and me to one thought: spicy food. There's nothing finer for blowing away the tastebud's cobwebs and for making summer feel RIGHT HERE than hot and sour soups, crunchy peanut-encrusted salads and rich coconut curries that bring out beads of sweat on the brow.

But where? There's a terrific Thai café near our house but there's several miles and a taxi-roadblock between us and it. We'd seen a fun-looking place in Hove, where we'd just been (see below), but turning back is insanity. Then we remember the smugness with which our south-London-dwelling friends have been going on about their array of local restaurants. One of these is The Begging Bowl, a Thai-street-food place in Peckham. So that's that.

We crawl along the road, looking for one of those undistinguished plain fronts that the best Asian cafés seem to have. We stop at a leafy corner restaurant with abundant plants out front and wooden benches to ask where it is – it is, of course, The Begging Bowl, as a discreet sign on the wooden verandah reveals.

And perhaps it's the sunny day, or the relief at being out of the car – or genuinely the look of the place – but we feel instantly relaxed.

We've got in just under the wire, as lunch is served till 2.30pm and no matter how many strollers-by stop and ask for a table, they stick to it. That shows confidence radiating from the tiny kitchen at the back of the light, airy room.

Soon after that, the unmistakable sound of woks in action kicks in: we've ordered five dishes from the 12-item menu, colour-coded for prices. (Dishes are for sharing. Yes, I know I grumbled about these the other day, but the glory of spicy food is in the dipping in and out of the heat; sharing is perfect for that.)

First up, a green curry with poached chicken, baby corn, pea aubergines and Thai basil – what elevates it stratospherically from the norm are the beautifully cooked chicken – in tender, properly cooked slivers rather than depressing waxy cubes – and the intense sour spicing that give my mouth an internal goosebumps moment. That unmistakeable whack of lime and fish sauce, chilli and coriander in a murky muddle – wow.

I dip from this into a delightfully huge and juicy green papaya salad – the strips of tangy fruit and heaps of peanuts make a soothing crunch (not quite so sure about the random tomato…). Each of these is £10.50 and definitely big enough for sharing. The salad comes with – if you like – four huge, unctuous chunks of sticky pork belly.

Having not clocked that, we've ordered pork shin, slow-braised in cassia bark, dark soy, star anise, with pickled mustard greens and a duck egg. Oh good grief, it's great. It's earthy and stringy and pungent, all good things in a dish such as this.

Rounding things out, two veggie dishes (each £6.25) also above and beyond. Stir-fried asparagus with garlic and soy is a crisp, subtle delight and "sweet potato, sweetcorn and turmeric fritters", which turns out to be one big tangle of crisp strips of lurid orange, dotted with kernels of corn. It looks a bit like one of those 3D kids' toys that expands and contracts – this one only contracts, straight into our mouths, with a peanutty sweet chilli sauce.

Sweet, sour, salty, rich: all the greatest hits are here, and did I mention that the £1 portion of jasmine or sticky rice is limitless?

We've slaked our thirst with the local brew, Peckham IPA. If we'd come at nighttime, when things are – locals tell me – very busy as there are no reservations, we could have had a discounted pint at the pub down the road and received a text message when a table comes free.

With service like that, New Zealander chef/owner Jane Alty and team seem to have it sussed. Later, I discover that she's worked with the don of Thai food, David Thompson, which explains the imaginative menu.

A bit more attention to details such as replacing the chipped bits of pretty china and picking up litter under the pavement tables, and there'd be nothing to fault. Certainly I'd come begging for more (groan).

8/10

The Begging Bowl, 168 Bellenden Road, London, SE15 tel: 020 7635 2627. Price: £50 for two

Four more things I've been eating this week

Ice-cream

After extensive research, I can confirm that there's no finer ice-cream in London than at Gelupo, Jacob Kenedy's Bocca di Lupo spin-off.

Unithai

Liked the look of this tiny Thai supermarket-cum-café in the back streets of Hove but it was 10am, too early for spicy noodles. Seaside friends say it's fab.

'Love your lunchbox'

Supperclub entrepreneur and author James Ramsden comes up trumps again with a book full of delicious, unusual dishes to end sandwich ennui.

Summer parties

I was surprised and delighted to find bright, beautiful and cheap trays in Ikea that would make great plate/drink holders for guests.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable