Most Thai restaurants in London cater to perceived Western tastes, but in the basement of The Heron the food tastes just like it does in Thailand. The clientele is mainly Thai, so much so that only recently has the menu been translated into English. Upstairs is a sports bar, downstairs a rough and ready room with a couple of TV screens, plain wooden tables and multi-coloured plastic chairs. Karaoke features in the evenings.
I was taken by a Thai friend, and being in a group of six we were able to try a wide range of dishes. In restaurants in Thailand the chilli quotient is much higher than in the UK, and so it is here. Steamed sea with a red chilli broth was searingly hot, though for all this the sea bass was carefully cooked (13/20). Some dishes have pungent tastes that will not appeal to all, such as soup nhor mai, a salad of pickled bamboo shoots, lime, chilli and mint. I enjoyed sai krok isarn, which is grilled fermented pork and rice sausages balls, the skin of the sausage made from pork intestines. This dish had a rich, flavour, and in this case not over spicy (14/20). Deep fried catfish had no hint of greasiness (13/20), while glass noodle salad had plenty of spicy kick to it (13/20).
Not every dish worked: prawn balls tasted greasy (11/20), but som tam moo yor, papaya salad with Vietnamese sausage, had vibrant spicing (13/20). Grilled marinated pork was served with "Jaew", a fish sauce and chilli powder relish, but here again the spicing was not too strong (13/20). Rice was too hard for me, almost crispy, but this is a minor quibble in a meal full of vibrant flavours. On more familiar ground, pad Thai noodles had good texture (13/20), and I was very impressed with the tom yum goong soup, whose prawns were well cooked and with a complex, rich, spicy broth: this is a dish you will see on almost all Thai restaurant menus, yet rarely is it done this well (15/20). What is very noticeable is that the immediacy of the spices throughout the dishes, with no dumbing (or chilli-ing) down. Such strong flavours may not be to every taste, and if you want a smart setting then look elsewhere, but this is probably the most authentic Thai food in London. The bill came to £20 with (non-alcoholic) drinks for more food than a sane man could eat.