The Begging Bowl brings the spirit of Thai street food to Peckham
On a typically packed and buzzing night at The Begging Bowl, a restaurant in Peckham, customers sit al fresco on the front patio. One may order Thai basil mojitos and lemongrass martinis; or perhaps feast upon fishcakes and spicy green curry with rabbit (made with an in-house curry paste).
Chef Jane Alty may be seen in the tight quarters of her kitchen, reading out orders, plating dishes and directing staff. This jewel of a restaurant, which opened in August around the way from Peckham Rye rail station, has steadily grown in popularity. However, where are the noodles?
Some may say Alty’s approach to Thai food is unorthodox. She spent three years at David Thompson’s Michelin-starred Nahm restaurant in Belgravia, and later helped him develop his cookbook Thai Street Food. After a stint at Galvin at Windows, she started her own catering company called Tastebud, where she delved deeper into Thai cooking.
It was then that she says she “galvanised my idea with Thai food, which I find interesting and exciting to cook.” And the concept of The Begging Bowl was born.
However, it was until another few years that Alty, along with partners Jenny Evans and Jamie Younger (who worked with her at Bibendum and is co-owner of the Palmerston and The Herne), was finally able to open the restaurant.
Unlike Nahm at the Halkin, The Begging Bowl aims to be a casual and informal space. The dining room décor of green and orange wall panelling with a mix of small and communal tables spills out into the front outdoor space.
And unlike the menu at Nahm, which focuses on formal, royal Thai cuisine, The Begging Bowl’s food reflects the way most Thai people eat – smallish dishes that are meant to be shared.“I wanted to get away from what I did [at Nahm] as much as possible and I like street food,” says Alty. “
Opportunities to cook with locals, namely her in-laws on her occasional visits to Thailand have probably supported her to develop her craft. Alty’s husband, who is half Thai, has a mother and uncle living in Bangkok, who are both apparently great home cooks. With her acquired cooking technique from her personal and professional life, Alty seems perfectly content to serve her diners Thai food the way she sees fit.
“I’m basically just making food how I like to eat it by keeping the heat up. I’m far from interested in how I should be cooking. People have travelled enough that they want to eat something authentic and are knowledgeable enough to want to eat it hot [like in Thailand]. From the response, it seems to be going well.”
The Begging Bowl seemed to received productive feedback from local publications and bloggers, who have also commented on its interesting ‘traditional’ Thai décor like orchids.
A healthy stream of regulars seems to indicate that the people of Peckham have embraced The Begging Bowl.
Recently, Alty has had to hire another chef and expanded its lunch menu to include Thai salads, skewers and banana rotis. She also changes the menu to reflect the seasons and speaks enthusiastically about creating dishes using ingredients that are rarely found in Thai restaurants in London. These include banana blossoms (“It’s a unique product to work with”) and flowering chives (“I have a specialist veggie supplier that works from New Covent Garden Market”). With such distinctively Thai ingredients on the menu, one can hardly fault The Begging Bowl for its abstaining of the usual Buddha paraphernalia and endless noodle dishes.
“We’re trying to get people to eat like they do in Thailand,” says Alty. “I’ve put up a new menu for lunch that has more street food dishes.”
This means, rest assured, that the noodles found all over Thailand, may now also be enjoyed at The Begging Bowl.
168 Bellenden Rd, Peckham
020 7635 2627
Open Thu.-Sat., 12 p.m.-3 p.m.; Tue.-Sat., 6 p.m.-close
How might other restaurants implement street food into a fine dining experience?