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).


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


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.


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
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Bid Writer

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Guru Careers: Membership Administrator

    £23K: Guru Careers: We're seeking an experienced Membership Administrator, to ...

    Day In a Page

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific