Freelance writer and photographer who has contributed to UKTV, Expedia, Hotels.com and USA Today and lives in West London.
Published November 3rd 2012
Real Thai food from a real Thai family
Esarn Kheaw on Uxbridge Road is a five-minute walk from Shepherd's Bush, a lively neighbourhood just to the west of central London and famous for its BBC associations. It's an area that's become increasingly gentrified over the years while still retaining much of its everyday buzz. A few steps from the restaurant, Shepherd's Bush Market is a bustling bazaar selling everything from falafel to fresh fish.
The restaurant is set in a modest streetfront property in a terrace of shops, but you'll spot its bright green colour scheme and Thai styling right away as you approach it. Inside, the decor has a retro feeling, with one wall dedicated to photographs of the Thai royal family and others given over to colourful murals in folk art style.
After arriving in London in 1974 and working as a sous chef for many years, Mongkol Puntar and his wife Chantorn opened Esarn Kheaw 20 years ago. Now, Mongkol is Director, , Chantorn is head chef, their daughter Tanny is general manager and son Thames also works for the business.
Esarn, often spelled Isaan, is the northeastern region of Thailand, on the border with Laos, and it has its own distinctive cuisine. Most Thai restaurants in London serve food from the central Thai region, but many of the dishes on the Esarn Kheaw menu are from Chantorn's northeastern Thai repertoire, a cuisine she learnt as a girl in her home province of Ubon Ratchathani.
Thai soup is a great place to start at this restaurant. Try Tom Kha, a fiery yet smooth dish with the principal ingredients including coconut milk, lime leaves, galanga (a ginger-like root) and tamarind juice.
The menu continues with a strong seafood section including Pla Duk Pad Prik, stir fried catfish with chilli, sweet basil and oyster sauce. There's also Koong Pad Kratiem, stir fried king prawns with garlic and peppercorns.
Curries are also a strong suit here with offerings like Gang Neau Massaman, cubed beef in coconut cream and curry paste with new potatoes, peanuts, tamarind juice and button onions.
You should also try a dish or two from the Esarn Specialities section of the menu. Sweet Ox liver is charcoal grilled strips of ox liver served with a hot chilli sauce while Tiger Cry is grilled strips of sirloin steak with a hot chilli sauce.
This popular neighbourhood restaurant attracts not only locals but Londoners from other areas as well as tourists. What unites them is the desire to find a truly authentic Thai food experience that's distinctively different from most of the Thai food available elsewhere.