‘Why don’t we go to Kaosarn instead?’ The text from wine-botherer Ruth Ford read a year or so ago when I suggested we visit some upstart of a restaurant in Brixton village. ‘I’ve heard not-great things about ___, but Kaosarn will be guaranteed good times.’
We didn’t end up going for some reason or another, but that epithet stuck with me. In my head, Kaosarn became the unfaddy, honest restaurant we all needed round the corner.
Oh the excitement, the unfettered joy we felt when we heard that Kaosarn was opening on St John’s Hill in Wandsworth. The lead came from a tweet from Luke Mackay that the much-loved Thai canteen was making its way westward, expanding from its Brixton home closer to my home.
St John’s Hill has had a strange relationship with restaurants - so often has some unsuspecting and naive budding-restaurateur arrived and fled within the year. St John’s hill is no Northcote Road - sans gloss and prams, but it’s lately had an influx of good things happen to it. Joining the rather brilliant Fish Club, French deli and Chinese Good Earth Express were Ben’s Canteen, which recently hosted a dinner from Roganic’s ex head-chef Ben Spalding, and two new popular drinking establishments - the Plough and Powder Keg Diplomacy.
Thrown into the mix is Kaosarn, the Thai canteen with the cult following. And the ‘Hill’ has been screaming - aching, in fact - for a place like this.
Opening today, it was manned by a full staff of efficient ladies and led by the industrious Gisele. Much more of a restaurant than the cafe in Brixton, the space is roomy and light (there’s a back room that can be hired for private functions as well), with tables lit intimately with candles. The menu is so extensive (the first page already divided into starters, salads, noodles and soups) we had to reign ourselves in. Armed with four bottles of Chang beer from the offie across the road, we were ready.
On Gisele’s recommendation we started with moo ping - skewers of tender pork, sticky with sauce and dark and shiny with the caramelisation of palm sugar. It was a confident and competent start to the meal.
The tom kha gai - chicken pieces in a hot coconut soup - was a compact explosion of flavours - laced with chilli and lemongrass and flavoured with slices of galangal and plump mushrooms.
Hot tiger prawns and bamboo with red curry paste had the lick of Thai basil and was sprinkled with Thai aubergines and green peppercorns. The menace of red chilli slices thrilled through this stunning dish - our favourite and the one that will draw us back. (Pad prig gang on the menu)
Yum woonsen - warm glass noodle salad with prawns, minced pork, peanuts, chilli, coriander, red onion and spring onion was light yet satisfying. The balance of sweet sugar with the tang of fish sauce was right on. I could eat bowls and bowls of this.
Though it was the first night, there were no nerves, no cock-ups and by seven o’clock was almost full. Kaosarn will live up to its Brixton reputation and draw the food-loving crowd to St John’s Hill, light up nights out and provide what they’re known for: guaranteed good times.
110 St John’s Hill
020 7223 7888
BYO, cash only (cash machine across the road), takeaway