One of the surprising things about London is that you can get very good, cheap Thai food in pubs. My friends and I call them Thai pubs, but they're just normal pubs serving Thai food cooked by Thai chefs instead of the usual pub fare such as roasts and chips.
One of the best kept secrets in London is the amazing Thai food served at The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill Gate, just down the road from Portobello Market. I no longer go to Notting Hill for the market because 1) it's chock full of tourists, 2) seriously, there's no room to walk around and 3) it's gone kind of mainstream, just like Camden Market, and pricey. But I do go to Notting Hill for the Thai food.
I first heard about The Churchill Arms about 15 years ago from a Japanese friend of mine. Apparently it was all the rage amongst the Japanese expats and it still is to this day, mainly due to word of mouth, rather than advertising.
The menu isn't extensive although they do the usual starters, noodles, stir fries and curries. Nothing fancy. Just good, wholesome and HOT Thai food. The prices are decent and the portions are big. And it's always full of people. If you go at lunchtime or dinnertime, you'll need to book as there will surely be a long queue, normally half an hour to an hour. We went around 3pm on a Saturday and although we didn't have to wait, the restaurant was still crowded throughout our entire meal.
The exterior is just like any other English pub. Lots of flowers and people having a pint standing up outside.
As is the interior. But when you go to the back where the restaurant is, you find yourself in a tropical oasis.
It used to be a lepidopterist's dream, what with all the walls being covered by collections of preserved and mounted butterflies and moths, but these days they've toned it down and replaced most of the insects with cozy pictures of Thailand. And lots of hanging plants. But you can see a few butterflies in frames at the back.
It was a scorching day and we started off with half a pint of ice cold lager to quench the thirst.
And a glass of water. Because we decided to order the Pad Kee Mao with beef instead of the sweeter Pad Thai. Pad Kee Mao is MUCH spicier and the waiter warned us about the chillies. The last time we had it was several years ago, so we pooh-poohed his warning and smiled smugly.
We also ordered Phat Phrik Khing, pork with green beans stir-fried with red curry paste, one of my favourite dishes.
Naturally we shared everything.
The waiter wasn't lying. The Pad Kee Mao was SERIOUSLY HOT. We drank our beer. We drank our water. We breathed in lots of oxygen. But it was HOT! HOT! HOT! And really good. Even through the chillies we could still taste all the flavours. It was hot even though I took care to scrape off every single, tiny bit of red chilli in the fried noodles. And there were frikking loads. It must have been the seeds.
The stir-friend pork provided a welcome relief to the heat and tasted slightly sweet in comparison. Just to be sure, we went in search of some gelato to temper the heat and settle our stomachs.