Monday 3 June 2013

The Begging Bowl - Revisited

I'm as guilty as the next blogger of rushing to restaurants when they first open and making a snap judgement from them, as was the case of The Begging Bowl in Peckham. When it first opened I was there with a large table of friends and though their Thai food was nice enough, it was just that - nice enough. Their dishes were, I felt, well conceived but lacking a little in punch. Therefore, when I came home to find my housemates slumped in front of the couch on a Saturday night, wrapped in blankets and watching The Titanic, I commanded them to get up and join me for dinner. Anything to escape an evening of Cameron's drudgery (I saw it at the cinema THREE times, and sobbed all the way through on the last two watchings...).

Pretty damn pleased I did so too, as we nabbed the last table outside under the heaters. It was a difficult menu to choose from. Deep fried pork belly kicked things off, crisp yet tender, the spicy dip helping things along. We squabbled over the last pieces. 

Grilled sardines and raw vegetables came with a caveat that this was a fishy dish, and indeed it was. The dip had the fermented funk I've smelled / tasted before, and while one housemate found it overwhelmingly so, I thought it brave to serve something quite so... rotten tasting. It brought me right back to the meal we'd had at Nahm in Bangkok. 

Show-stopper was a whole deep fried seabass, garnished with deep fried basil leaves, shallots and chilli. The fish was decimated by us, prising out nuggets of moist and crisp flesh. Each dish was accompanied by sticky rice and jasmine rice, the former perfect for the drier more salad-like dishes, the latter more suited to soaking up an incandescently spicy vegetable curry. Air was sucked through teeth and sweat broke upon brow. The curry was pretty phenomenal - something so seemingly straight-forward and ordered really to fill the vegetable quota, it had so many flavours going on, perked up by a garnish of chilli and cucumber. 

Marinated raw salmon salad came with sweet and sour strips of green mango, quelling those flames the curry had set us alight with. Service was harried but sweet, and the packed out restaurant smelled reassuringly of spice and fish sauce. 

With a bottle of wine, we were stuffed to the gills (7 dishes is, in hindsight, one too many for 3 people...) for a princely sum of £35 a head. I feel quite blessed to have such a brilliant restaurant local to me, and quite smug that I got over my initial judgements to revisit, as it's a restaurant that's served one of my favourite meals in 2013 so far. 

The Begging Bowl 

168 Bellenden Road
SE15 4BW

No reservations

Begging Bowl on Urbanspoon


Sharmila said...

That looks much more interesting than when we ate there on opening! Will need to get down there soon. The sea bass looks awesome.

Terd said...

Looks better than when it opened. Interesting.

I only went the once. Pathetic portion sizes, overpriced, some of the dishes v forgettable.

Would quite like to give it another try, though it was a shit experience last time, truth be told.

Either way, it'll have to work hard to better Ganapati for the money.

Richard Elliot said...

I went to the Begging Bowl after reading the review of your first visit and enjoyed dinner there. I should go back if it is continuing to improve (espeically after my average Thai in the US last week).

ibilly99 said...

I have been a long term resident of Thailand and am a frequent visitor and seeker out of authentic Thai food and so was very interested to seek out the hyped claims of the Begging Bowl as it is pretty local to my wife and I. Basically don't believe the hype - all of our dishes failed to hit the mark and the best I can say is that the ingredients were fresh and well presented and the staff are friendly and efficient in a cool space. The Thai fish cakes seemed liked canned tuna dressed up as deep fried barbequed chicken nuggets. Wet and rather pointless. The duck curry was too hot and lacked coconut milk and any sort of delicate flavours to have balance and was too effete in those that it had to be regarded as anywhere near 'street authentic'. The pork belly which replaced the menu pork belly option was like eating soggy cardboard - it's hard to make pork boring and tasteless but they did. By the time the last course came I wasn't expecting much and they didn't dissapoint - it was steamed sea bream with a jug of some sort of watery sauce. No flavours at all to speak of and so we asked for chilli sauce and got some sweet bottled variety to try and spice it up a bit. In the end we came away rather sad - because if this is a restaurant from an acolyte of David Thompson then he should dissociate himself forthwith. I have tasted a couple of dishes of his at London's Taste Festival and they were amongst the very best food of any cuisine that I have ever tasted. Here it was a confused, bland attempt at Thai food that missed the mark by miles. The place on Friday night was heaving and folk were having to queue for up to and over an hour so they were busy as they will ever be and most folk seemed to be enjoying themselves so what the heck. The staff were friendly and efficient and the place had a welcoming buzz but sadly if it's delicious food with Thai heritage you are after then try somewhere else because the Begging Bowl is definitely not it.

Hollow Legs said...

ibilly - i'm sorry you didn't have a good time, but I can really only report on what I experienced. Perhaps they were having an off day?

Hollow Legs said...

ibilly - i'm sorry you didn't have a good time, but I can really only report on what I experienced. Perhaps they were having an off day?