I became aware of Som Saa through the London foodie Instagram clan who couldn’t stop raving about it. It was hard to ignore the buzz that Som Saa has generated in the last few months. They do Thai food with a twist, I was told. After my visit, I felt it was much more.
Som Saa is now permanently based in E1, having moved from its original pop up Hackney residency at Climpson’s Arch.
We chose a bank holiday Sunday evening to visit Som Saa, hoping we will have a smaller queue to navigate as most Londoners would be away. We arrived at 6:30pm and got a table for 8:15pm which was not too bad. Fortunately Som Saa do allow you to wander off once you have given your name in, which gave us an opportunity to explore a lovely pub in the area called The Culpeper (see picture below).
Tip #1: Som Saa do take bookings for groups of four or more, so I would recommend getting together a few of your besties and making a night out of it!
Having dined in a number of trendy restaurants recently that operate in less than cramped spaces, we were pleasantly surprised to see how spacious Som Saa was from the inside. The front section is the bar area with a few tables and booths, while the rear section has the bulk of the diners.
The interiors are typical warehouse conversion complete with industrial materials, warm tones and interesting lighting features.
Open tables of various size and configurations as well as booths (accommodating up to six people) cater to various sized parties.
Luckily , we got a table next to the window from where we could see the chefs in action! They were all busy chopping, slicing, grinding and mixing, and all the aromas from the kitchen made us anticipate our food even more!
From the grill section, we ordered the Mu Yaang (grilled pork neck; £6.5) and Pla Yaang (Coconut and Pandanus smoked trout; £6.5).
The pork was succulent and came with a piquant sauce. The trout was delicately favoured but perhaps a bit tame compared to the other dishes we ordered.
We were lovingly coaxed into trying their signature (and most popular) Isaan-style Whole Deep Fried Seabass – Nam Dtok Pla Thort (£16). When it arrived at our table, it was one of the most impressive (and perhaps slighting daunting) looking dishes I have ever seen in a London restaurant!
The meaty fish came with a sauce which had the combined notes of sweet, sour, hot, citrusy and tangy, interspersed with lots of fresh herbs and chillies. Yes, it comes whole with the head, eyes, bones and everything and is slightly fiddly to eat. But for a Bengali like me, it was not a challenge at all and was almost pleasantly reminiscent of one of my favourite childhood dishes – Muri Ghonto (Bengali Fish Head Curry)!
To explore Som Saa’s take on classic Thai dishes, we also ordered the Beef Penang Curry.
The beef cheeks were buttery and melt-in-the-mouth, while the sauce was deliciously sweet with subtle tones of the peanuts coming through. It was not too spicy and perhaps (for my personal taste) could have done with a bit of a kick. Nevertheless, it was Husband’s favourite dish of the evening and he pretty much single-handedly devoured it all!
We also ordered some sticky and jasmine rice to accompany the curries – the sticky rice was too glutinous in my opinion so we ordered a second portion of jasmine rice which was delicious, even on its own! Portions were decent and both of us felt quite stuffed when the meal ended.
All the food was washed down with some refreshing Camden’s Unfiltered Pilsner, as Som Saa is home to Camden Town Brewery’s tank beer set up.
The total bill came out to be £62 including drinks and service for two. Yes, the prices are not comparable to your local Thai restaurant, and the menu is limited, but this is trendy Shoreditch Thai sharing plates, so expect some inventive dishes and unique flavour combinations!
Our evening at Som Saa was thoroughly enjoyable. The place was buzzing, and the staff were exceptionally friendly, warm and smiling. The service was efficient and attentive but not rushed, which made our overall dining experience a memorable one! Chef Andy Oliver and his co-founders are doing an impressive job giving this popular cuisine a fresh perspective. And not a single prawn cracker in sight!