Brixton Village (formerly known as Granville Arcade) has had a reversal of fortune recently. Once a dilapidated rundown covered area with empty shops and a slightly forlorn atmosphere, it has been revived to become a thriving community of shops, stalls, coffee joints and places to eat, opening late on certain nights and attracting a crowd who love good food. And nowhere more so than the new Thai restaurant Kaosarn.
Located toward the back of the market with an exit onto Coldharbour Lane, it has gained the attention of many people, including Jay Rayner in the Observer in the less than two months that it has been open. I hoped that this was because it offers good food rather than just being the newest kid on the block. And after visiting on Friday night, I can say, it’s definitely the former rather than the latter. Kaosarn is good (even if there is confusion as to whether the name is Kaosarn or Kaosan!)
Small, with modern decor, it seats about 18 people inside and has about 10 other covers outside when the weather allows and all but one table was taken at 6.30 on a Friday night. We hadn’t booked, but with some sweet talking and smiling, we managed to snaffle the last seat if we promised to have it back in time for a 7.30 booking. Luckily the menu is short and to point and we didn’t take long to decide on our order. My usually soup-ambivalent mother ordered the Tom Yum soup and I went for the ‘filo style pastries’ or gaew tod with prawn and pork to start. As Kaosarn is BYO and we hadn’t come with any booze in case we had to go somewhere else licensed, we just ordered a sparkling water each.
The service is friendly, slightly curt and fairly efficient and although we only had a hour to eat, we didn’t feel we were being rushed when the soup arrived very promptly. Chocka with plump prawns and straw mushrooms, the tom yum was flavoursome and spicy with a pleasant kick. I looked enviously as I waited for my pastries which took about five minutes more to arrive. Like twists of paratha, rather than the shattering sheets of filo, they were deep fried mouthfuls of loveliness with a good amount of tasty pork and prawn as a filling. Dipped into a very non-gloopy chilli sauce, they were a great start.
I was now rather excited for my Bangkok style grilled chicken or Gai Yang for main. Half a chargrilled chicken with crispy skin, it came with a mouthwatering sounding papaya salad and sticky rice on the side for the rather good price of £11.50. The chicken was the dark, firm meat of a bird with decent welfare standards and not the pappy textured meat of a Nando’s. The skin was also miles above the usual. Well spiced, crisp and the perfect way to baste the flesh beneath to keep it moist and juicy, it was amazingly good. The meat was so tender it came away from the bone easily with just the traditional Thai spoon and fork rather than a knife. The rice was piping hot and perfect for soaking up the last juices of the chicken and the incredible herb flecked chilli dipping sauce on the side.
The salad was disappointing though. A bit watery with some odd chunks of under-ripe tomato and some random pieces of lime thrown on top of a cradle of iceberg lettuce and shredded veg, it promised much and delivered little. Vaguely sour, it lacked that wonderful complexity I expect of Thai food. I left most of it and concentrated on the chicken and rice instead.
My mum’s Pad Thai was more successful. Rich with tomato and egg, it was laden with more prawns and a restrained amount of crushed peanuts so that it didn’t resemble peanut butter ramen like many British interpretations of pad thai do. It managed to deliver the right sweet sour salty notes that one expects from South East Asian food and went down very well. I had almost ten minutes to watch it being enjoyed as again the food arrived on the table somewhat erratically and there was quite a gap between the two main courses.
The place was packed and they were turning people away constantly. If they’d been three times bigger, they could have filled the restaurant and still had people wanting and waiting at the door. We felt slightly smug to have squeezed in and sampled Kaosarn’s delights, especially when, salad aside, they were so good. We were ready to leave by 7.30 and yet didn’t feel pressured or pushed out at all. The staff waved us off warmly and we wandered home feeling very pleased to have discovered a genuinely good neighbourhood restaurant in the shape of Kaosarn, especially since it was such good value. Our meal in total came in at just on £30 and that’s mainly because I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu…
Take yourself to taste a little bit of Thailand at Kaosarn as soon as possible. If you’re lucky you’ll get a weekend night booking. If not, skive off work and treat yourself to a great Thai lunch during the week. I guarantee that chicken is worth it!*
*I have returned to Kaosarn three or four times since this visit and be warned. The menu has changed, removing all the veggie options, although if you catch them in the right mood, they’ll volunteer that some dishes can be made with tofu. I have also found the service going from the friendly side of efficient to the rude side of anything. The last time I went, my vegetarian friend and I left after being snapped at over tofu and went to the infinitely more friendly Thai-D in Market Row where they did a mean veggie green curry and I had great fishcakes.