“Farang” translates as “foreigner”. Though perhaps consciously branding as a foreign interpretation of Thai cuisine, a taste of the food here certainy feels authentic – whatever that means. Farang is home to head chef Seb Holmes. Originally opened in February 2017, Farang set up as a pop-up that planned to be around for at least six months. That residency proved a success – even through lock-down when the kitchen skilfully adapted to take-away boxes and a line of condiments under the name “Payst”. So successful was its opening months of innovation that the kitchen now lives on in the form of a permanent restaurant between Highbury & Islington and Finsbury Park.
The spaciousness and homeliness of the dining room provides a relaxed neighbourhood backdrop for a meal here. The space also feels all the more homely thanks to blossoming greens hanging from the ceiling and planted around the tables – very botanical. The far side of the restaurant is its adjoining deli which sells their own “Payst” – a selection of Farang’s very own curry pastes and dipping sauces – as well as ready-to-eat food and an array of the very best of Asian condiments, including everything from tamarind and palm sugar to White Mausu spices and an array of salts.
The food here is impressive and rightly so. Holmes has plenty of compatriots at other Thai restaurants where he earned his stripes, all of which have earned stellar repuations and are considered as some of the best in town: The Begging Bowl, Som Saa, Kiln, Nahm, Smoking Goat. Amazingly for a Thai restaurant of this calibre, Farang had a dedicated vegetarian and vegan section of the menu, divided into large and small plates.
To start, we were offered the Crispy Aubergine (£5.50), served with salted curry leaves, lemon zest and their very own Burnt Chilli Sauce which has a penetrable smoky depth. These aubergine are deep-fried and are absolutely the way to start your wander through Farang’s small and large plates. They are cracking, crackling, moreish bites of both expectation and delivery with a powerful chilli finish that raps your knuckles and sorts you out for what follows.
Onto smaller plates, we enjoyed the Spicy Pomelo Salad to share (£9.99). Combined with lemongrass, green mango and dressed in a pineapple curry leaf ‘nahm yum’, just as in Thailand, this is seriously spicy – so be warned! But somehow, Farang manage to balance the smokey heat of chilli with all the freshness of pomelo, lime, toasted coconut and peanuts, ginger, coriander, kaffir lime, salt and Thai shallots. A symphony of flavours. A fine balancing act which Farang succeed on executing effortlessly well.
For mains, the veggie / vegan option is the Crispy blooming onion aromatic coconut vegetable curry, pickles & ginger (£18.50), served with Jasmine rice (£2.99). Servings are generous here and the curries are definitely made for sharing. Evoking a Malaysian rendang, the flavours were decadent, lip-smacking and distinct. Happily for me, coconut milk and cream is the smiling guide to sweeter southern and Bangkok Thai food, as opposed to the more austere cooking of the north.
To drink, I went for the signature Watermelon Spritz – a cocktail of aperol, gin, lime, watermelon syrup and tonic. A refreshing little number, this is a cooling sip and a welcome counterpoint to the heat of the plates. My companion went for the Mandrian Negroni. With all the strength of a negroni, a sip of this drink adds fire to the heat and leaves the throat very warm!
Farang is absolutely deserving of its reputation as one of the best Thai retaurants in London. My companion is lucky enough to have this as her local Thai and I’ll be sure to be accompanying return visits.
Farang, 72 Highbury Park, London N5 2XE