Top Tables

Kolae, restaurant review: There’s no other way to say it – this place is cool

The only thing you’ll struggle with at new opening Kolae in London Bridge is deciding what to order – everything is so delicious. Just don’t overestimate your spice tolerance, writes Lilly Subbotin

Thursday 30 November 2023 06:30 GMT
The small-plate situation may put off classic-menu-layout purists, but that’d be their loss
The small-plate situation may put off classic-menu-layout purists, but that’d be their loss (Lilly Subbotin)

It’d been a while since I’d last been to London Bridge. I’ve generally avoided it since leaving a job at a pharmaceutical magazine (as boring as it sounds) run by a terrifying woman who genuinely brought me into her office and shrieked at me when I handed in my notice. However, I’m glad I put this aversion to the area behind me to check out Kolae.

From the guys who brought us Som Saa, Andy Oliver and Mark Dobbie, the 80-cover restaurant is nestled in the heart of Borough Market. The surprisingly spacious three stories combine industrial with cosy chic. Soft wood, exposed brick, fabric lampshades and an open kitchen; there’s no other way to say it, Kolae is cool.

Comprised of smalls, larges and sides, it’s essentially a small-plate situation which may put off classic-menu-layout purists, but that’d be their loss. Our waiter kindly guides us in terms of how much to order as well as questioning our spice levels – on the latter I’d say don’t overestimate yourself and act like the big man, I like spice as much as the next guy but the sour mango salad with roasted coconut and dried fish blew my bloody head off. I was spluttering like an idiot and gulping sparkling water for dear life. However, when I braved a second nibble, it was, from what I could taste, fantastic. Just proceed with caution.

The grilled mussel skewers are cooked in coconut milk, and are ridiculously flavoursome
The grilled mussel skewers are cooked in coconut milk, and are ridiculously flavoursome (Lilly Subbotin)

Though a slim menu, it’s still tricky to tackle as everything sounds so appealing. A definite must is the grilled mussel skewer, cooked several times while covered in coconut milk, they’re meaty, juicy and ridiculously flavoursome. And as someone who dislikes food admin, I loved the fact that they were deshelled and ready to devour. Just as mouth-watering is the soy-braised middlewhite belly and ribs. I hate to rattle out a cliche such as melt-in-your-mouth, but that phrase has never been truer than for this dish. It’s sweet, it’s sticky, it’s fatty and it was my pescetarian except-for-special-occasions guest’s favourite of the night.

You have to admire how the kitchen doesn’t hold back – at all – on the heat, once again exhibited in the prawn, snake fruit and shrimp paste relish. Don’t be fooled by the pretty presentation, those chillies were lethal, and slightly detracted from the flavours, which was a shame as what could be tasted underneath the heat was great.

In juxtaposition to the soft, meaty textures of the mussels and the pork was some unapologetic crunch and crackle from fried chicken skin which combined flavours of roast chicken, pork crackling and heaven, and the kale fritters doused in homemade sriracha which were horrendously moreish. A south Gati curry of minced prawns was creamy and well-spiced, taking the edge off the mango salad and shrimp paste mouth fires.

The dessert, for me, was a bit of a let down. I think it’s brave to have one pud on a menu, but if you’re going to do it, it’s got to be pretty much perfect. (I can’t help but think of the matcha French toast at Shack-Fuyu in Soho). Pandan sticky rice, young coconut sorbet, peanuts and jackfruit was exactly what it said on the tin. It just didn’t combine together to make more than the sum of its parts. The jackfruit was pretty tasteless and looked deceptively like sweet mango, and the rice was merely okay. I liked the coconut sorbet and would have preferred a bowl of just that. It was in such strange contrast to the boldness and flavour of the preceding dishes that I was left a little flummoxed. I think they could easily build on it and do a Thai twist on a rice pudding which would be stunning.

There are several great cocktails – western classics made with fresh Thai ingredients – I was a fan of the lemongrass and pandan rum milk punch, and the skin contact orange wine recommended by our waiter beautifully complimented every single dish.

Kolae are doing very exciting things. I’ll be heading back asap to devour a bowl of that pork all to myself. And a mussel skewer. And chicken skin.

Kolae, 6 Park St, London, SE1 9AB | |

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