The Begging Bowl brings Thai street fare to the trendy streets of Peckham and its now well-trodden Bellenden Road. This is unsurprising given that the chef, Jany Alty, previously worked with David Thompson on his classic cookbook on the theme. Having dined at Thompson’s absolutely top-notch Nahm restaurant whilst staying at the Metropolitan in Bangkok, a foodie experience that I will remember forever, I was eager to dine at the Begging Bowl. Indeed, when this trendy Peckham eatery opened in 2012, there was a flurry of excitement over its unusual menu.
As is typical on a Saturday night, the Begging Bowl was packed. Like so many of London’s most popular eateries, the restaurant does not take bookings. We ended up waiting about 45 minutes for our table. But this didn’t interrupt our evening as we enjoyed a carafe of chilled wine in the Victoria Inn, another local institution, directly opposite in the interim. Although the table (or should I say bench) that we finally secured was located in the wooden verandah area, we didn’t mind given the evening’s unseasonally warm weather on a September evening.
Alty’s experience with Thompson has undoubtedly served as an inspiration for her eclectic repertoire. The imaginative menu is impressively built around more unfamiliar ingredients and combinations, with dishes designed to be shared tapas-style. Seasonal western produce, such as celeriac, is also given Thai treatment. Colour-coded into four-different price brackets, from £6.25 to £14.75, and designed for sharing tapas-style, the dishes include only a few of the usual suspects. The rest of the menu is built around less familiar options and ingredients, such as a rich but mellow curry featuring firm-fleshed yam bean root.
Despite the extensive menu, however, I found the vegetarian options rather limited. I opted for the Mussaman curry with salt baked celeriac, new potatoes and peanuts (£10.50) and shared the Stir-fry of shitake mushrooms with green beans, tofu and coconut cream (£8.25). For me, the curry could’ve been a touch saucier to soak up the rice. It could’ve also done with a more fragrant coconut flavour as well as a sprinkling more chilli, a kick that is so reminiscent of Thai cuisine as the glory of Thai fare is dipping in and out of the heat. Overall, however, the food was hearty and very filling. I’m certainly going to return to try their lighter, juicy green Papaya Som Tam salad (£10.50), an assemblage of strips of tangy fruit and best of all, heaps of peanuts lending a soothing crunch. Salads are, for me anyway, usually the highlight of a meal. Sweet, sour, salty, rich: all the greatest hits are here, and did I mention that the £1 portion of jasmine or sticky rice is limitless? Unusually for a Thai eaterie, no noodle dishes are offered.
Although too full for dessert, I was delighted to learn that they do serve that classic and popular Thai Mango and Sticky Rice, garnished with crisp seeds of mung bean.
The staff were enthusiastic, knowledgeable and regularly asked if we needed anything further. Although the meal wasn’t perfect, it was very enjoyable. Overall, The Begging Bowl offers an innovative and experimental approach to Thai foods. I’d certainly return begging for more – hopefully after having enjoyed an afternoon coffee pick- me-up at the delightful Anderson & Co just across the road which serves excellent Square Mile coffee…
The Begging Bowl. 168 Bellenden Road, Peckham, SE15 4BW