This week The Guardian published a feature in which twenty of “Britain’s top chefs” each chose a “secret gem or neighbourhood hideaway” where they personally enjoyed eating. And Erchen Chang, co-founder of Bao and Xu, name-checked E11’s famous little BYO dining room.
“This is a neighbourhood Thai restaurant that’s cheap and fun and refreshing,” he said here, “and the food is just pure tasty…I went a couple of months ago with a big group and we ordered the whole blackboard menu. My favourite dishes were the clam with garlic, chilli and basil; the jungle curry crab, which was really dirty and hard to eat (you have to suck on the crab); and boat noodle soup which had that really good medicinal taste from dried roots that’s hard to find in London…There’s not much other decoration, but I think that makes the food stand out.”
And it goes without saying that many locals may head-noddingly agree. Although, it should be added, we only succeeded in booking a single table-for-two in the last six months of 2019 (despite calling repeatedly on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays). Maybe we were just unlucky; probably not quite organised enough, too.
On our most recent visit we did however tear through some classics like goong sarong and a super-warming Tom Yum with chicken, its spicy broth sour with citrusy notes of lemongrass, lime leaves and galangal. Yet as Chang says, it really is all about that handwritten specials board: the highlights were flaky curry puffs of tender braised oxtail, and fried crispy pork belly chunks (main pic above) with chilli and garlic. Chuck in prawn crackers, rice and a huge steaming pile of glistening greens – and we were very content indeed.
So roll on the “end of February or early March”, as the staff told us, which is when the restaurant reopens again after their winter break. But with this latest bit of publicity, one thing’s for sure: it’ll be that much harder to bag a table.