Farang in Highbury: Spicy Thai street food that is made to be shared
Spending a summer’s evening at Farang – the popular North London supper club-turned-restaurant – is one of the best ideas you will have this season. The walk through Highbury Fields already puts you in the mood for a place with tropical refreshments and lime-scented food; however, the experience will be nothing like what you imagined, unless you’re used to Thai street food feasts.
From the moment you get a table, the service will guide you through the two options on the menu: feasting and tasting. The former is a full selection of the dishes – including both small plates and mains – whilst the latter offers a large amount of smaller plates, perhaps giving you a better perspective on the food market culture. But don’t be fooled by the size of the portions: we guarantee that, unless you’re sharing your meal with more than one person, you’ll start to feel your trousers getting tighter after the fourth course.
To get a grasp of chef Seb Holmes’s cuisine – whose restaurant is part of the post-David Thompson Thai revolution, together with Kiln, Smoking Goat and Som Saa – we opted for the feasting option. But before getting into the best bites, let’s talk about the drinks – cocktails in our case. Following the service recommendation, we tried a sweet yet spearmint-like LadyBoy and a citrus-driven Kaffir Lime Sour. These provided a great combination of flavours and an even better balance of intensities: a must-try for cocktail lovers and a much-needed refreshment for what was to follow food-wise.
Then it was onto the starters. We warmed up our taste buds with a vegetarian version of the miang, a mix of mango and pomelo with peanuts wrapped in betel leaves, delicious and juicy.
What came after was a silky and very spicy aubergine mash combined with lime, incredibly crispy onions and a soft-boiled duck egg; another example of a good dish meant to be shared. A Gai Prik was probably the winner of the evening: crispy chicken is served with a sweet fish sauce, tender yet not greasy like you would expect from a variation on fried chicken, served again with a mild chilli sauce, a constant throughout the menu.
Aside from the chicken, the pork and beef were mouthwatering, buttery perfection. You can bet you’ll get a fantastic variety of produce at Farang; the chef choices were genuinely exceptional with shellfish and meat across the board. From the small plates selection, the Crispy Belly Pork Salad was – in many senses – a refreshing dish served with pickled watermelon, red cabbage and raspberry dressing. Balancing the more watery ingredients, the thick chunks of belly chicken added a satisfying character to the overall mix of plants and fruits.
The Thai plate par excellence finally arrived: a Gaeng Gatti (Very) Spicy Coconut and Turmeric Curry with tiger prawn heads. Under the innocent appearance of a typical ochre curry, the dish didn’t miss out on the opportunity to awaken every possible sense in our bodies. As is suggested by the title, it is likely the English dictionary lacks a unique word to describe how hot this course was. But once we overcame the initial shock, the sauce smoothly melted in the mouth. The prawn heads surfacing from the bowl had absorbed all those “hidden” flavours that made them deliciously rich: rambutan, samphire and lime. In spite of how good the starters are, be sure to leave space for this main. Though still on the spicy side, the Pad Char Hoi Spicy Cornish Mussels went milder than the prawns, complementing the gentler nature of the seafood with the addition of wild ginger.
By the time puddings arrived, we didn’t have much space left in our bellies, but it was worth it forcing ourselves to give the heavenly, creamy sorbets a go. If you are the let’s-try-this-thing-I’ve-never-heard-of type, then go straight to the pandan and banana, which was unexpected, without a real hint of the fruity sweetness – although if you’re not eating alone, do yourself a favour and order also the galangal and tamarind option; perfect for those with a sweet tooth and definitely not your traditional banana aroma either, this dessert played with both taste and smell.
With its welcoming small Buddhas on a barrel and wooden furniture, Farang brings to North London an exciting and diverse new culinary venue. On top of the chef’s surprising strong flavours, this Thai restaurant’s friendly sharing culture is sure to win your affections.
★★★★★Food ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Drinks ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮Service ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮
Photos: Cristiana Ferrauti
To book a table at Farang, 72 Highbury Park Highbury East London N5 2XE, call 020 7226 1609 or visit their website here.