Alongside Japanese and French, Thai cooking is also one of my favourites, and in 2009 I was lucky to attend a week’s full time course at the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School in Thailand. It was an amazing experience and I learnt a great deal about this fascinating cuisine.
Back in London, and after numerous mediocre meals at far too many restaurants I decided to give Thai food a break. I was then invited by Putachad (Nong), a Thai artist and amazing foodie, to visit her favourite local Thai restaurant “Charuwan”. I’ve known Nong for about 17 years and have enjoyed many superb meals with her, so I knew I was in for a real treat.
Charuwan is a small family run restaurant in Archway with traditional Thai decor; it boasts a large Lanna style roof which gives a warm and cosy feel to the restaurant. Service is efficient, friendly and very gentle as in most good eateries in Thailand.
Nong ordered some of her favourite dishes from the menu, starting with “Moo-Ping” (spare ribs with garlic and pepper @ £4.50) and “Tod-Mun-Pla” (Spicy Thai fish cakes @ £4.95).
Both dishes were good although the spare ribs were the better of the two. The pork had been marinated for some time and deep fried. I don’t normally order pork ribs at restaurants as I find them dry but Charuwan’s version was succulent and perfectly cooked.
We were then served a plate of “Lab-Kai” (minced chicken mixed with dry chilli, shallot, herbs and lime juice @ £5.95). Also known as “laap” or “lap”, this was sensational and exactly how I remembered it from my classes in Thailand. It had been finished off with ground roasted rice which added a delicious nuttiness to the dish. The balance of sweet, salty and sour flavours was also spot on, I loved this dish.
Another favourite Thai salad of mine, and one that I had from many food stalls on the streets of Thailand, is “Som-Tam” (or Green Papaya Salad @ £5). Charuwan’s version tasted delicious, although I remember having tiny dry shrimps in similar salads I had in Chiang Mai which added another layer of flavour to the dish.
The “Moo-Pad-Prik-Khing” (or Stir-fried pork with red curry and green beans @ £5.95) was served next. This was deliciously hot - the pork and accompanying beans were quickly flash fried and had a delicious wok/charred flavour to them.
The “Pla-Muek-Phao” (or Sweet and Sour fish @ £8.95) was in my opinion the best dish of the evening. The fish was fresh, meaty and purchased that morning from Billingsgate. The sauce had great complexity of flavour, it was sweet, tart and salty, and complemented the fish perfectly.
We also had a “”Kung-Pad-Prik” (or Prawns fried in fresh chilli and onions @ £7.25). This was one of the simplest but also one of the most successful dishes. The prawns were meaty and perfectly cooked and with just the right amount of heat for my palate.
A Thai meal would not be complete without a curry, so we ordered a “Kaeng-Panaeng” (Beef cooked in panaeng curry and coconut milk @ £6.95). The curry was thick and rich and as aromatic as the one I remember making in Chiang Mai. Similar to the more ubiquitous Thai red curry, Panaeng curry is more aromatic due to the addition of cumin, cardamom, and mace to the red curry paste.
We ordered a “Kai-Pad-Ka-Prao” (or Stir-fried chicken with basil leaves and fresh chilli @ £5.95). This was another excellent dish with the sweet and rather aniseed flavours of the holy basil permeating through the heat of the fresh chillies.
Another classic that we could not miss out was “Pad-Thai” noodles @ £6.50. This was delicious and tasted very authentic. It was studded with a generous portion of meaty prawns, and had that nice mixture of different flavours: sour (lime and tamarind juice), salt (fish sauce), sweet (palm sugar) and nutty (roasted peanuts).
To finish the meal, we shared a bowl of “Banana in Coconut Milk” @ £2.80. This was served warm and rounded off the meal nicely.
Head-Chef Non is married to Mrs Pai who was serving us throughout the evening. They both came to speak to us as we finished our meal, and we had a lovely chat about Thai cooking, and Chef Non’s in particular. Visiting Charuwan has been one of my best restaurant discoveries of the last twelve months and reminded of the joys of authentic Thai food. I now look forward to eating and cooking more Thai food in 2010.
Verdict – Authentic Thai cooking & charming surroundings with efficient and friendly service at very reasonable prices. An excellent local Thai restaurant. Highly recommended.
...What Others Are Saying....
Benjamin de Jong on 14th March 2011: I'm writing to give you some feedback on the superb Charuwan restaurant in Archway. I visited on 5/3/11 and enjoyed an absolutely splendid meal with a couple of my friends. I purposely didn't mention The London Foodie because I wanted to sample their regular standard of cooking. They did not disappoint. I shall cut to the chase: I started with Larb Kai (Minced Chicken salad with Thai spices, lime juice and mixed herbs) It packed a serious punch and balanced the sweet, sour, salty and hot exceptionally. It had flavour, texture and was a pretty big portion.
My main was Pla Nueng Ma Naow as recommended by the waitress as her personal favourite (Steamed fish with lime, garlic, coriander and chilli). Again, this was exceptional. It was a simple fillet of white fish served in a shallow dish just covered in a thin soup-like sharp sauce with chopped fresh chilli, garlic, ginger and coriander which had been added near the end of the cooking process and still had a small 'bite' to them. Delicious. I had this with sticky-rice, which was perfect for absorbing the sauce.
My two friends (females) shared Satay-Chicken. The sauce clung to the thin tender skewered chicken without being dry. It was spicy and garlic-y without overpowering the peanut. The second best Satay-chicken I have tasted in all my 23 years. (The best being that served at Kinnaree Restaurant behind The Mailbox in Birmingham).
My friends then moved on to a Green and a Red curry. The Green curry was mellow and sweet with a lime kick and a fragrance provided by the Thai basil. It seemed to fill the mouth with flavour with every mouthful whilst not actually being particularly rich.
I found the Red curry to be much the same, the only difference being that it was a little spicier and seemed to have the added richness that tomato brings. The atmosphere was lovely, the staff kind, attentive and happy to help and the food absolutely brilliant. I will be returning and I will be taking more friends.
Regardless of whether you see fit to post this I want to thank you for your good work and devotion to food and the sharing of it with others.