On the rainiest Friday night of the year I ventured to south west London to visit Blue Elephant. I’d been to the Paris branch of the esteemed Thai restaurant in 2006 but funnily enough never the London outpost, so I was looking forward to checking it out in its new setting. After being in Fulham for 25 years, Blue Elephant recently relocated to Imperial Wharf, where we walked around in said rain before finding it, sat overlooking the Thames as part of the new multi-million pound complex.
The interiors have been modelled on the historic Saran Rom Palace in Bangkok which was built in the late 19th century as a royal residence. The bright mustard yellow walls, carved dark wood Asian antiques, leafy green foliage and the tranquil river views give the space an exotic, serene feel.
Once in and drying off, we sat down to lychee and mango martinis then complementary tom yam soup, a delicious spicy and sour concoction made from free range chicken with ginseng and garnished with peanut and pineapple before ordering a bottle of Thai white wine. When in Rome and all that. My brush with Thai wines is limited to a dodgy tasting at Vinopolis in Borough Market, but this was surprisingly good on its own and worked perfectly with the food.
Founder and head chef Nooror Somany-Steppe has created a new menu, split into three large sections featuring some creative dishes I’d never heard of along with traditional classics and old favourites. Thankfully, none of which contain monosodium glutamate, which has in the past given oriental cuisine a bit of a bad rep – in fact, the restaurant has had an anti-MSG philosophy for over thirty years. Mrs Somany-Steppe oversaw the training in Bangkok of the chefs who head up the kitchens in London, so the kitchen staff certainly know what they’re doing…
The 'Thai Cooking of the Past' menu is based on ancient recipes, often shaped by the Chinese, Portuguese and Indian influences that have helped shape the country and its cuisine. Here you’ll find fragrant curries, tender lamb, dried spices in coconut milk, Thai sweet potatoes and roasted peanuts. From this section, I chose Chef Nooror's Ma Auan as a starter: delicious steamed, minced chicken and crab infused with foie gras. Two big thumbs up.
The 'Thai Cuisine of Today' dishes include popular, modern dishes like green curry, free range chicken, steamed sea bream, organic lemongrass, raw salmon fish and fresh lime juice. I dared to give the crab curry a go, which came with an extremely hot, four elephant warning, betel leaves, whole wheat noodles and about five glasses of water. The 'Thai Kitchen of Tomorrow' menu features future classics as Khun Noorer and the other world-leading Thai chefs evolve cuisine using modern fusions, cooking techniques and ingredients, which we'll have to taste next time.
For dessert, we had refreshing fruit sorbets before begrudingly venturing back out into the rain, which was the only disappointing thing of the evening (but we can't hold the restaurant accountable for bad weather). If you’re after good, authentic Thai food, this is the best place in London for it.