I skipped last Christmas and headed to Cambodia and Laos for three weeks of travelling with my flatmates. We swung in a lot of hammocks, ate a lot of fried chicken noodle, and drank a lot of Beer Lao. I don’t often drink beer but I am a big advocate of the right drink at the right time, and after a sweaty day clambering over ruined temples, it is most definitely the right drink. Since then I have always given the beer menu at Asian restaurants a cursory glance, in the hope of finding it next to the Asahi and Singha, but with no luck. However, the other day someone on Twitter and in London mentioned that they were drinking it. I queried where she was and discovered East Street, a pan-Asian restaurant, just north of Oxford Street on Rathbone Place.
A few days later I found myself battling through a torrential rainstorm (the sort where umbrellas are essentially useless as the rain is coming sideways and upwards) to meet a friend for lunch there. Beer Lao may have been on the agenda, but in that weather, I was definitely not in South-East Asia anymore (Toto). The inside is very cool, but very self-consciously Asian. There are big colourful illuminated signs hanging from the ceiling, an Anime film projected on the back wall, and lots of Neon lights. It is the sort of decoration a restaurant would wear if it was going as Asian to a fancy dress party.
I was served a glass of cold Redbush tea as I sat down, which was a nice touch if not particularly nice itself. However the Thai spicy prawn crackers, that I ordered while I waited for my lost (non-Londoner) friend to find me, were. Crisp, with a good kick of spice they were very morish, and once again I am ashamed to say, my tendency to eat more than my fair-share reared its ugly hungry head. I also finally got to order my beloved Beer Lao. Away from the hammocks and steaming rivers, it was alright.
I had my heart (read: stomach) set on a prawn Pad Thai from the start, so I ordered that while my friend had the Daging Lembu Goreng (gingery steak with rice). My friend’s dish featured on the ‘Eastern Express Menu’ (£7.95, or £8.95 with added meat, for a main and a starter) so we also ordered a plate of Gyoza to share. The food came quickly and the Pad Thai was fresh, sweet, tangy and just slightly greasy (as a good Pad Thai should be). The prawns were large and juicy; there was a big chunk of lime to squeeze over it, and plenty of toasted peanuts to stir in. My friend’s beef (after a slight panic it might have coriander in it as supposed to just sprinkled, pickoffable, on top) was tender and tasty. We finished up with fresh mint teas (I was going back to work) and the bill came in at just under £30 for the two of us.
East Street seemed to me very much like an Asian version of Wahaca – bold, bright, noisy and good for big groups of friends. It is perhaps not quite as authentically Asian as it would like to believe, it is a bit too clean-cut for that, but then the real thing requires long haul flights and injections. What it does do is good, fresh, tasty food at a reasonable price, which for me, is worth facing the British rain for.
(Flatmate 1 has just informed me they sell Beer Lao in The Porterhouse. YOU COULD HAVE TOLD ME THAT.)