Monday, 21 June 2010

Isarn review - fabulous Thai mango with sticky rice


Address: 119 Upper Street,
London N1 1QP
Tel: 020 7424 5153
Nearest Tube station: Angel

Ratings (out of 5 *)
Price: below £15 pp
Service charge: 12.5%
Taste: ***
Service: ***
Ambience: ****
“Why didn’t you bring along your camera?” Wife mumbled under her breath. I guess it has almost become a habit of taking a shot of the dishes brought to our table every single place we have gone to after I started London Chow. It started with the camera attached to my phone and I moved on to bringing my Olympus autofocus along. Nowadays, my Nikon is getting a tad conspicuous. I do try to be as discreet as possible with my camera. I do apologise to my fellow diners if it bothers them.

“It’s alright,” I replied as I pushed through the door into Isarn, “Let’s enjoy the meal, shall we?”. Wife gave a shrug and followed me in. Isarn, a Thai restaurant is owned by Tina Juengsoongneum, sister of Alan Yau who started Hakkasan, Yauatcha, Cha Cha Moon and Wagamama among other prominent restaurants in London. I’m certainly not suggesting that Yau was the reason why Isarn was packed on Monday evening but I suspect Isarn benefited from the well established system that Yau is known for.


“Sawadii kah”, a Thai staff purred and showed us to our table, somewhere in the middle of the long narrow restaurant. She set a bowl of crackers on our table. I waited for the sweet Thai chilli sauce that normally comes with the crackers but there was none to be had. “Have you got that sweet sauce to go with the crackers?” I beckoned to a passing staff. “Sauce?” she looked puzzled for a split second and came back with some chilli sauce – the garlic chilli sauce that you could get from Tesco. Hmm, not exactly what I was looking for but I wasn’t there for the crackers, was I?

It didn’t took us long to decide what to get. Wife and I have got this repertoire when it comes to Thai restaurants. I would invariably go for phad thai while she would opt for tom yam gung. My penchant for phad thai started during an exercise held in Thailand quite some time back – the barrack’s canteen served the best phad thai ever. Till this day I suspect it might be due to the fact that I was thoroughly famished when I tucked into that piping hot phad thai.

Isarn’s phad thai (£7.50) came with a twist. That was the first time I had phad thai with fried tofu bits. While it added an interesting texture to the dish, I did miss the peanut gratings that was missing in the dish. That said, I must add that Isarn was really generous with their prawns in the dish. Halfway through the dish, I began to wonder whether it was meant to be prawns with flat noodles instead of the other way round. Note that the portion is quite small and you would probably need something else if you went with an empty stomach.

Wife was raving about Isarn’s tom yam gung (£5.90). Like phad thai, this is one Thai dish that everyone knows. While there are instant paste readily available at supermarkets, it’s difficult to get the dish at the desired spiciness. In my opinion, the a decent tom yam gung must not only have fresh ingredients (and I’m talking about large prawns and mushrooms here), it must not be too spicy. Instead the spiciness should only kick in after the tom yam goes down the back of your palate. Isarn’s tom yam gung is one such example.

We ordered some pineapple rice (£3.50) to go with the tom yam gung. It was a bit too mushy for my liking and I though the MSG was overwhelming. But the pineapple bits did nullify that somewhat.

Now, if I were to return to Isarn again, it would be because of its mango with black sticky rice. At £6.50, it costs as much as a main course and only rightly so. Come with half a juicy mango that would melt in your mouth, the black sticky rice (which tasted very much like pulau hitam) was to die for with accompanying coconut milk. At that point in time, I regretted not lugging my Nikon along for the dish was quite a sight as well.

It’s funny how you come to know of places to eat. Isarn was mentioned in passing by a mere acquaintance. Apparently her son loves Isarn’s tom yam gung to bits and for good reason too. Did Isarn deliver? Surely. Would I be back again? Definitely.
(read about our second visit to Isarn - this time with pictures).

Just curious, are you bothered at all when someone on another table brings along a camera and start photographing every dish on the table (his, not yours)?

Isarn on Urbanspoon

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4 comments:

HungryinLondon said...

Ohhh this sounds good! always in need for good Thai, will definitely check this out, thanks!
Regards to your wife :)

C K said...

@HungryinLondon,
Decent Thai food isn't really in short supply in London, is it? Oh, thanks!

HungryinLondon said...

yes you are right but i have been disappointed a few times recently. with thai I feel the cheaper and more basic the better usually. (I've been to Nahm for my birthday and it was really not that great..)
What's your favourite Thai?

C K said...

Hmm, I haven't come across a Thai place in London that is a good all-rounder. Mudmee near Bishopgate does a mean phad thai though. The tom yam gung at Isarn is fantastic.

But I am of course open to suggestions. :)