A pop up in Peckham, a year-long residency at Climpson’s Arch, and a successful crowdfunding campaign later – chefs and co-founders Andy Oliver, Mark Dobbie and Tom George are behind som saa, one of 2016’s most anticipated London openings. We get behind the scenes with Tom to find out more about the journey…

What dishes can people find in the different regions in Thailand?

As with any national cuisine there are an almost infinite variation of dishes across Thailand – some old, some new, some good and some less good! Broadly though, the Thai food we’ve come to know in the West is from central Thailand with a sweeter flavour profile and lots of coconut cream. Think red and green curries, pad thai and prawn crackers.

Which ones can be found on som saa’s menu?

At som saa we serve dishes from all over Thailand including some of the rich and aromatic Northern curries such as ‘gaeng hung lay’, fiery and tangy grilled dishes that might be found in the North East such as our ‘naem’ (grilled sour pork) and the now famous whole deep fried Isaan style seabass. We do serve plenty of central dishes too though.

Deep fried whole sea bass

Deep fried whole sea bass

You travelled to Thailand previously – which parts did you explore?

Andy and Mark have both lived and worked in Thailand for extended periods of time so have explored most parts of the country at one time or another.

What food discoveries did they find there?

Where to start? There are as many ways of preparing dishes as there are families and street stalls in Thailand. And you can learn something from all of them.

som saa_3

What three dishes should people look out for in Thailand?

Three’s simply not enough. But a few that spring to mind are…

Sai krok – fermented pork and rice sausages. Traditionally from Isaan but can now be found everywhere.

Hoi tod – mussel omelette. An unusual one, but there’s a stall famous for it in Bangkok Chinatown called Nai Mong Hoi Thod which does a fantastic version.

Kanom jin – these are a variety of slightly fermented rice noodle. They are close to a national obsession in Thailand and can be found in myriad forms, usually served with some sort of broth, sauce or curry, and different pickles herbs and garnishes.  There’s even an incredibly spicy Southern version that’s made using fermented fish guts, though that’s not for the faint hearted!

Gaeng Gari Jay

Gaeng Gari Jay

Where do you source your ingredients?

Using great quality Asian ingredients is central to som saa’s kitchen and we put a lot of effort into the sourcing.

Using great quality Asian ingredients is central to som saa’s kitchen and we put a lot of effort into the sourcing. A good deal of it comes from Thai, Chinese and Vietnamese suppliers but the Bangladeshi community in particular have some unusual ingredients that are either the same or very similar to ones in Thailand. We also source from a few left-field suppliers such as Kaffir Lime Tree Farm in Spain that Andy has a stake in and a great friend of ours Luke, who grows rare ingredients in hot houses in Dorset!

How have you paired the drinks to the food at som saa?

We have put a lot of thought into the drinks at som saa – we have a fantastic selection of wines from budget to top end juice that has all been designed to meld with the intensity of Thai flavours, and we have some cracking beers too. But we’re also firmly of the belief that the best pairing is eating what you want to eat, with whatever it is you want to drink! If you’re enjoying yourself then you’ve got a great pairing.

Som saa_2

From residencies to permanent restaurant: what did you learn along the way?

If you have the vision, can put together the team to do it and really love your own product, guests will always believe in it too.

That’s a tricky question. We all had plenty of restaurant experience before founding som saa so weren’t entirely new to the game. Believing in what you do, caring, being good to staff and trusting your gut instinct all come to mind though. You have to begin by focusing on showing people a great time first and foremost.

Any advice for food traders looking to do the same?

Think about whether you really do want to open a restaurant! Understand what you’re aiming for and make sure you have someone who has worked in one before. Plenty of food traders do some fantastic food but that doesn’t necessarily translate into a restaurant. But if you have the vision, can put together the team to do it and really love your own product, guests will always believe in it too.

som saa | 43A Commercial Street, London E1 6BD

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