★★★★☆ / Thai and Lao

Plaza Khao Gaeng review – a trippy taste of Thailand on Tottenham Court Road

The punchy restaurant hidden away on top of a food court

It’s a bit of a tired cliche to say that restaurants, when serving food originally from faraway shores, can whisk you away to those far flung places. And yet, for the bulk of 2022 at least, that has been somewhat true. As chronic issues with renewing passports and lost luggage plagued would-be travellers, it’s been far less stressful (for the most part) to seek out foreign flavours using Oyster cards and train tickets rather than boarding passes.

Plaza Khao Gaeng inadvertently leans into this daycation vibe with its decor. Located in Arcade Food Hall (the completely overhauled reincarnation of Arcade Food Theatre), they have taken over the mezzanine previously occupied by Tou from Tata Eatery. But in contrast to Tou’s sleek and polished furnishings plucked straight from a luxe Italian furniture showroom, Plaza Khao Gaeng’s decor evokes the feel of a cheap and cheerful Bangkok eatery with its stark lighting and plastic tablecloths.

It felt like the perfect place to take dining companion Norfolk Dumpling. While Norfolk Dumpling loves Thai food, as a resident of semi-rural East Anglia, they rarely have anything worthwhile to eat – and a hastily made takeaway pad thai doesn’t count.

A la carte at Plaza Khao Gaeng

Nam chub was certainly a world away from the starters at most high street Thai restaurants. The shrimp paste relish roared with a bellicose spiciness that was both immediate and cumulative. Beneath its potent piquancy were undertones of umami and citrus. Slathering it over the sweet cucumbers or crispy lettuce, then pairing it with musky turmeric or – even better – fragrant Thai basil, made for a winsome appetiser.

illustrative photo of the nam chub at Plaza Khao Gaeng
Whom amongst us has not put on a wee bit of winter chub?

Chicken wings were only mildly greasy, allowing the cracklingly crisp curls of the batter to shine through. That crunchiness was enhanced further by the equally snappy garnish of what were probably fried shallots. A light lilt of turmeric completed a surprisingly enjoyable starter.

illustrative photo of the fried chicken wings at Plaza Khao Gaeng
I say ‘surprisingly’ as most chicken on this island is dismal.

Even under Plaza Khao Gaeng’s stark lighting, the tender hunks of beef shoulder in the massaman curry shimmered seductively. Their meaty moreishness and squidgy unctousness were enhanced by the gentle milky sweetness of the sauce. Equally toothsome potatoes rounded out a dish so startlingly multifaceted and satisfying that it melted Norfolk Dumpling’s mind and stiffened their spine.

illustrative photo of the beef massaman curry at Plaza Khao Gaeng
Show-off.

The optional roti was by no means bad, but it had little to recommend it over a decent multipack roti available in supermarket freezer aisles.

illustrative photo of the roti at Plaza Khao Gaeng
Rote roti.

Sadly, the beef shoulder massaman lost some of its lustre on a subsequent visit. While the hunks of beef were still tender, they weren’t quite as squidgy and rich as they had been before. The sauce was also more one-dimensional in its sweetness, almost resembling chip shop slurry in places. Anyway, the kitchen seems to have issues with consistency.

illustrative photo of the beef massaman curry with potatoes at Plaza Khao Gaeng
A tough burden to shoulder.

Decadently fatty pork belly was exquisitely tender. The rich, sticky sauce sang a melodious tune, but one of star anise and soy-derived umami rather than one of notes and octaves.

illustrative photo of the braised pork belly at Plaza Khao Gaeng
Happy oinking sounds.

Although the squid and mussels in the orange seafood curry were weedy and a little limp, the sauce more than made up for their textural deficiencies. Immediately then cumulatively hot and sour with a citrusy undertone, it made our brows shimmer with beads of sweat.

illustrative photo of the squid and mussel orange curry at Plaza Khao Gaeng
The beans mussel’d in on the action.

The prawn curry followed a similar pattern to the orange seafood curry, with so-so mouthfeel paired with accomplished saucing. Relatively plump but ultimately forgettable prawns were made less disappointing by the mellow sourness of the sauce. Taut, yielding and swaggeringly girthsome beans provided the pleasing texture that the prawns could not.

illustrative photo of the prawn curry at Plaza Khao Gaeng
Not designed for Instagram and all the better for it.

Despite being finely ground, pork larb still had an unmistakable mouth-coating meatiness. It proved to be the perfect conveyor for the sharp brightness of galangal and the strident pop of peppercorns.

illustrative photo of the pork larb at Plaza Khao Gaeng
It was the larb of times, it was the worst of times.

Glossy, meaty and moist sheaves of bream would’ve made for fine eating on their own. They were made even better by a mild but nonetheless moreish sauce full of peppery and citrusy notes.

illustrative photo of the bream curry at Plaza Khao Gaeng
Fishing for compliments.

As expected the meat itself in the chicken curry was nothing to write home about, but the sauce was an entirely different matter. Musky with a prickly, peppery heat, it’s exactly the kind of thing you want on milquetoast meat.

illustrative photo of the chicken and betel leaf curry at Plaza Khao Gaeng Arcade Food Hall
This review’s procrastination was brought to you, in part, by Foo Fighters.

Bitter gourd is the kind of mundane ingredient that would repel a lot of the culinarily unadventurous people that can still be found in London, so props to Plaza Khao Gaeng for fielding it. The gourd slices had a crispness comparable to melon or bell peppers, but with a strident bitterness rather than any kind of sweetness. This was tempered by the greasy fried egg, which also leant the dish a welcome fry-up vibe.

illustrative photo of the bitter gourd with fried egg at Plaza Khao Gaeng
Gourd your loins.

The sole dessert of coconut tapioca with lychee was somewhat akin to a tropical trifle, albeit an unbalanced one. The smooth coconut pudding coated the mouth, its rich milkiness helped along by extant sheaves of coconut. The tapioca pearls were a bit too small for my liking – certainly not big enough to play sugary ping pong in one’s mouth. There weren’t enough of the lychees which, even though I suspect that they had recently seen the inside of a can, were winsome with their fleshy sweetness. It’s still eminently worth ordering this dessert though, if only for the richness of the coconut pudding.

illustrative photo of the coconut tapioca with lychee at Plaza Khao Gaeng
Wibble wobble.

If you need some dairy-based relief as a salve for the heat from the spicier dishes available here, the iced coffee is a good bet with the distinctive sweetness of condensed milk mixed in with a surprisingly chocolatey brew.

illustrative photo of the iced coffee at Plaza Khao Gaeng
*Stares at Caffe Nero iced coffees resentfully*
illustrative photo of the iced coffee with condensed milk at Plaza Khao Gaeng
*Stares at Starbucks’ iced coffees resentfully*
illustrative photo of the iced coffee with condensed milk at Plaza Khao Gaeng Arcade Food Hall
*Stares at Pret iced coffees resentfully*

Crab special at Plaza Khao Gaeng

If you book ahead by a few days, then you can order the crab special set menu at Plaza Khao Gaeng – and you must indeed book ahead, despite the lack of any advance warning from the restaurant to do so.

Wee gobfuls of coconut and cashew wrapped in betel leaf were unexpectedly delightful. Sticky and crunchy with oodles of umami and sweetness as well as a touch of zesty tang – this is how you rustle up a starter.

miang at Plaza Khao Gaeng Arcade Food Hall
What canapes want to be, when they grow up.

The pork larb wasn’t quite as bright and sharp as it had been before. But it was fattier this time around, so it’s still a winner in my books.

illustrative photo of the pork larb at Plaza Khao Gaeng Arcade Food Hall
Laap it up.

The headlining crab comes precracked, but it’s still a roll-up-your-sleeves affair where you have to beware of splatter. Although the thin sauce was seemingly one note in its pepperiness at first, it had a cumulative spicy heat that made my lower lip tremble. The crab meat was a smidge too soft and I wish there had been more of the funky head meat. While it was all pleasing enough in its own right, it didn’t have the addictive quality of the comparable crab dish that was available at the now defunct Soho branch of The Smoking Goat.

illustrative photo of the crab curry at Plaza Khao Gaeng Arcade Food Hall
Thankfully a finger bowl and wet wipes were provided.

The coconut tapioca with lychee was just as enjoyable as it had been before.

illustrative photo of the coconut tapioca with lychees at Plaza Khao Gaeng Arcade Food Hall
Sticky small-grained rice is also provided, but you ain’t gettin’ a pic of that.

The Verdict

Although I have concerns about the consistency of the kitchen at Plaza Khao Gaeng – it’s not as even as, say, Leytonstone’s superlative Singburi. But that shouldn’t detract from the exemplary results that occur when the kitchen is firing on all cylinders.

The depth and richness of its sauces are good enough to whisk you away – not off to southern Thailand, but away from the noisy cacophony of one’s mind. Away from the little everyday hassles furrowing one’s brow. Or, at least, they did for me. That kind of travel, that kind of escape, is always well worth savouring.

Name: Plaza Khao Gaeng

Address: Upstairs/mezzanine, 103-105 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1DB

Phone: none listed

Web: https://plazakhaogaeng.com

Opening Hours: Monday-Thursday noon-14.30 and 17.00-22.00. Friday-Saturday noon-22.00. Sunday noon-19.30. 

Reservations? essential, especially for the weekend crab special.

Average cost for one person inc soft drinks: £50 approx. (£75 for the weekend crab special) 

Rating: ★★★★☆

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