For the next few Mondays, Andy Oliver is cooking Thai barbecue at his grill there. Having worked a while in Thailand as well as Nahm in London and now also The Begging Bowl (which I love), he's keeping himself (very) busy down at Bar Story. A simple set-up, it's best to go early (say, 7pm) as they temporarily close the orders when the grill gets full, and they also run out of things - it doesn't make sense to over-cater for a once-weekly menu. 7 of us arrived just as the rain stopped, flung the excess rain water off some plastic chairs and gingerly perched at a very wet table. Ah, the classic British barbecue.
Meaty king mushrooms were served lightly seared, room temperature and with a handful of
herbs that sparked a lively identification debate. Splodges of intensely red chilli sauce were scooped up eagerly with sticky rice, authentically out of a plastic bag, when the mushrooms were no more. Other salads we had were the Som Tum Thai (above) and a green mango salad (below) with grilled cuttlefish. I mistook a green chilli for a green bean in the Som Tum (you can see the bastard on the left hand side of the photo) and for about 10 minutes I was in some serious pain while my companions laughed and the sympathetic fetched water. The salads were quite similar in flavour; both tangy, both spicy with a hint of sweetness but where the Som Tam was a touch fruity, the cuttlefish salad was more herbal with leaves of mint and sliced shallots. I liked the cashew nuts in there - a nice change from peanuts. Andy clearly is adept at the fine balancing act of flavours that the Thais are such experts in.
Whiskey pork (above) was a pretty dish; smoky, with a pungent raw garlic, chilli and fish sauce dressing. Skewered pork, (below) called mu ping, were like an addictive porky candy - traditionally marinated in garlic, fish sauce and a lot of sugar, they're cooked with coconut milk, which we saw Andy fastidiously applying with a lemongrass brush while they were on the grill. This is one of my favourite dishes to bring / make at barbecues - my recipe is here. Everything was snaffled up quickly and not only because the paper plates were soon losing themselves to the damp table.
Fermented pork may raise an eyebrow to anyone new to South East Asian cuisine, and you can read more about it here. I felt Andy's version could be more sour, more fermented (and he agreed) but nevertheless this had a good porky flavour. I enjoyed the hidden chilli bombs that come out and POW you in the face, but also the contrast in the crunchy cabbage and the soft meat.
A secret special of grilled octopus followed - tender tentacles dipped in a lime-heavy sauce. That same sauce was served with a whole grilled seabass - stuffed with aromatics, I marvelled at how he'd managed to cook the fish perfectly on a barbecue in near dark (by now). You know a fish is cooked well when you're able to prise away the flesh from the bone to leave the fish skeleton, with merely a wooden spoon and fork.
By now, our bellies were starting to protrude and we were thankful for the leisurely procession of dishes. Grilled chicken legs, chopped Asian style (i.e. right through the bone into segments) had crisp, sticky skin and it was was served with two dipping sauces; one sweet and subtle, the other crunchy with roasted rice, ferociously citrus-spiked and spicy with ground dried chillis.
And then came the show-stopper; a whole smoked and roasted duck which the poor chefs had to chop up in the dark, so you'll have to imagine (or see here at the end of the post) as my picture was so terrible it wasn't worth the memory space. Only one is served per night, as the smoker it sits in for hours isn't big enough for any more. It is then finished off on the grill for the hot crispy skin, and chopped up to reveal the blush-pink meat, served alongside the duck's offal grilled on a couple of skewers. More of that intense sweet, sour and crunchy dipping sauce arrived with it, and we were instructed to seek out the flavoursome bits of neck to nibble on. We ate until we felt fit to burst, and then I was pretty freaking glad I just so happened to have some empty Tupperware in my bag. I didn't engineer this I didn't I didn't (ahem).
For £20 a head we ate handsomely. Thai food is clearly a passion for Andy; the way he talks about Thai food and his animated descriptions of each dish and the way they're made, even after a busy service, is inspiring. If you're in a large group doubling up the orders is a good idea (as we did), and the menu changes every week, though staples like the mu ping stay on. If I haven't convinced you enough to go then I don't know what will.
They serve from 5pm - cash only, Monday evenings.
213 Blenheim Grove
London SE15 4QL
(The frontage is sometimes closed so you need to walk under the railway arch to the back)