Som Saa began as a pop-up in Climpson’s Arch before a wildly successful crowd-funding exercise that led to these spacious premises towards the south end of Commercial Street. Chef Andy Oliver having previously worked at Nahm in London and then at the fashionable, if oddly named “Bo.Lan” in Bangkok for two years, so knows his way around a kaffir lime leaf. He shares the head chef duties with Mark Dobbie, another Nahm veteran.
The dining room was quite large, seating around 80 diners in its two sections. The back section allows you to peer into the kitchen, and has some booths along the wall. The hard surfaces means that noise levels are quite high, though as this was a midweek lunch service it was still possible to actually hear my dining companion.
There was a short wine list ranging in price from £22 to £90. The vintages were omitted, which I find lazy and mildly patronising to customers, since vintages vary significantly in quality for most wines. The list featured bottles such as Rabl Langenlois Gruner Veltliner at £28 for a label that you can find in the high street for about £13, the excellent Markus Molitor Riesling at £34 compared to its retail price of £16, and Gestad Weingut Zieriesen at £48 for a wine that will set you back about £18 in a shop. The enjoyable Billecart Salmon rose champagne was £90 compared to a shop price of £60.
The meal began with a bar snack of fermented pork with a crisp salad leaf. The meat had quite a lot of flavour, the pickling process involving garlic and chilli and bringing a pleasing piquant flavour note (13/20). Also good was som tam, featuring raw green papaya mixed with snake beans, peanuts, cherry tomatoes and dried shrimp. The papaya was just right in texture and the dish had a potent chilli kick, more the level of chilli that you see in Thailand than in London (13/20). I really enjoyed grilled prawns in a coconut marinade, the shellfish carefully cooked and the marinade excellent, packing in plenty of fresh coconut flavour that went well with the prawns (14/20).
For the main courses we tried three dishes. Braised guinea fowl soup curry was flavoured with lemongrass and turmeric. This was quite an aromatic combination, though the meat’s delicate flavour did not really come through much, and its texture was obviously affected by the soup in which it rested (12/20). Better was wok-fried chicken with flowering garlic chives, yellow beans and chrysanthemum leaves. The beans were lightly cooked and the chicken went well with its accompaniments (14/20).
Best of all was a special of the day, gaeng tair po, a red curry of pork shoulder with whole kaffir limes, and morning glory leaves. This is a speciality of Kanchanaburi province in the west of Thailand and is usually made with fish, but the pork worked really well. The curry sauce itself was superb: deep, rich and full of complex flavour. This was just what red curry should be like but never is in the UK, a lovely dish (easily 15/20). Jasmine rice or sticky rice appears depending on what you order. To finish I had some fruit, but there was a also turmeric-grilled banana with salted palm sugar ice cream. A pot of filter coffee was pleasant, as well it might be at £3.90.
Service was very friendly and capable. The bill, with just water to drink, came to £37 a head. If you had beer or shared a modest bottle of wine then a typical cost per head might be around £50. This seems fair to me given the high quality of the food, especially given the general mediocre standard of Thai food in London. The spicing here is vibrant, the menu full of interesting dishes; it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and it is no surprise that Som Saa seems to be prospering.