Calling all lovers of funk, spice, and all (Thai) things nice – it is your prerogative to run, not walk, to Farang at your next available opportunity. In the wake of a number of disappointing, or middling at best, Thai dishes from various food stands and pub kitchens, a recent meal I had at Farang completely reinvigorated my love for the cuisine.
Farang serves up modern Thai food courtesy of a team led by Sebby Holmes, who himself learned to cook Thai food at South London institution, Begging Bowl. There he learned about the balance-fuelled cuisine, where salty, spicy, sweet, sour, and creamy flavours are held in careful opposition against each other.
From Begging Bowl, Holmes launched another icon of London’s Thai food offerings, Smoking Goat, where he was head chef. He stepped back from the traditional restaurant model in 2016 and launched Farang’s first iteration: a street-food-oriented offering of pop-ups, supper clubs, and private catering events. This quickly grew, heading to festivals and even popping up abroad multiple times in Budapest, before settling into a brick-and-mortar location in Highbury. And it’s there, in a gorgeous corner setting, that they’re to be found today.
Within a year of opening, Farang had received a Michelin bib gourmand, which it retains to this day. And on top of that, for the past five years, they have been awarded the Thai Select Award, which certifies the authenticity and quality of their Thai food in the eyes of the UK Thai Embassy. Farang is, it cannot be stated enough, a stunning restaurant – equally suited for a quick bite or a luxurious meal, and packed with flavour either way.
When you enter, you’re surrounded by foliage and greenery that runs up the walls and along the ceiling. The verdant display sprouts up behind displays of books and ingredients. And the dining room is immediately welcoming and cosy, with vast windows that run along the entirety of the corner restaurant’s breadth.
Early evening sunlight dapples the tables, and there’s an intimacy to the whole affair. But it’s not the result of tables being shoved claustrophobically close together, but rather an inescapable feeling that you’re about to join a dinner party with friends. This is as much down to the sincere warmth that each customer is greeted with, as the room itself. It’s an exciting place to be, a happy place to be, from the outset – and this carries through to the food.
On the menu
A compact menu at Farang offers up a small selection of dishes across snacks, small plates, curries, large plates, and sides. Snacks and small plates range from the House fried fresh shrimp & white pepper crackers to the absolute-must-order ‘Gai Prik’ – Crispy Thai IPA battered chicken, fish sauce glaze, blood orange, fresh herbs & lime. The latter just might be the best piece of fried chicken available in London. Meanwhile, large plates encompass the likes of Whole sharing crispy seabass with samphire dressed in a coconut & mandarin ‘nahm yum’, and the curries include an Aromatic coconut curry of tiger prawns and a Spicy jungle curry of aged beef shin.
But the best way to dine at Farang is to trust the staff and opt for the set feasting menu. Priced at £55 a person, the feast finds the table is slowly but surely hidden under a parade of dishes. It’s a clear progression of a meal and a journey for the diner.
Shrimp crackers give way to bite-sized ‘miang‘ morsels of prawn, coconut & peanut caramel, and sour fruits. The fried chicken follows, then crispy fish (at which point you’re starting to get full), which is succeeded by your choice of curry. That’s all then capped off with a sweet treat to cool the palate and put out the flames. Oh, and you get a cocktail to boot – a rotating seasonal fruit spritz.
It’s a feast for sure – one that belies its relatively affordable price for the amount of food you get. And it’s a price that is far below the prices commanded by other restaurants with food of this quality.
A note about spice…
A word to the wise: Farang uses the word ‘spicy’ to describe only one dish on their feasting menu, and only two across the whole menu. Other dishes steer clear of using the word ‘spicy’. There may be warmth to them or a level of spice, but this is communicated by ‘chilli’ in the description. So, when you read the word ‘spicy’ on the menu at Faranh, trust them – they do not take the word lightly.
The Spicy jungle curry of aged beef shin virtually induced a panic attack in my dining partner (who otherwise happily soldiers through spice-laden dishes with much less fanfare). And much as I’d like to pretend the warm weather caused my sweaty brow, the reality is that it was the heat inside the bowl that provoked the response.
That spice, though, also demonstrates exactly what makes the dishes at Farang so successful. When the dish was laid in front of us by the curry chef (each dish is presented by the chef that created it, time willing) it was explained that the dish had an intense spice and saltiness to it. It was borderline, we were told, over-salted. But this was purposely done and diners were instructed to ensure they ate the curry with the rice. It’s not just individual dishes that balance flavours at Farang – it’s the entire eating experience from start to finish. Each dish responds and informs what preceded it and what comes after it, or what is served alongside.
Take the restaurant home
If you’re as enamoured with the dishes at Farang as I was, you can even recreate some small part of their success at home. The restaurant sells a collection of freshly-made curry pastes, stir-fry sauces, and dipping sauces – PAYST – that makes the food accessible to ordinary home cooks. There’s no need to source countless ingredients and pound them together into a paste. Farang has already done it for you. But stock up, because I’ve already all but finished a bottle of the burnt chilli sauce in just one week. It’s astoundingly good stuff that lives up to the ‘goes on anything’ status more than any other sauce I’ve tried.
Even if you do buy the whole seleciton of PAYST ingredients, however, you’re sure to find yourself returning often. Farang is a demonstration of what makes eating joyful – flavour, experience, and context all unite for an intesnely gratifying experience.