I love how, every now and then, London can floor you with surprise. The city is an incredibly rich example of multiculturalism, but I have to say that this is the first time I ever felt like I was in a completely different country.
It was a Friday night, and I was out at after-work drinks with DQ. Slightly giggly due to too much wine and not enough food in my stomach, I suggested that instead of going home and being boring, we go out for dinner. A quick look at Urbanspoon showed Heron – a Thai restaurant within a pub just down the street. DQ remembered going there once or twice for lunch and thought it was pretty good, so we headed down.
The Heron is basically a sports pub, typical of the locals you might imagine in some small English countryside town, where the guys have nothing to do but drink a few pints and watch the footie. TVs with Sky Sports were positioned all around the bar so that wherever you were sitting, you could have a view of whatever match was featuring that night. Even worse, there was no food to be seen on any of the tables.
Just as we were about to walk out and try to find somewhere else, I saw a staircase. It couldn’t hurt to have a look. That’s when it happened. We walked through to a small room, where immediately, all eyes darted to us, like we were obviously in the wrong place and must be looking for the bathrooms. Undeterred, we sat down and our server, a nervous-looking girl with broken English asked if we’d been before because their dinner menu was just in Thai, and she could possibly try to translate it for us, but it is quite long and she might struggle.
The blasting Thai karaoke music on the big screen TVs and garish disco lanterns all around made it difficult to concentrate, but we eventually settled on a minced pork with chili, a sort of Tom Yom soup with giant prawns and spongy omelet-type squares of eggs and a dish of spicy Thai sausages. Naturally sensing that this was not exactly the type of place where you can get spring rolls with sweet chili dipping sauce, this was proper authentic Thai.
The rest of the evening was kind of a blur of fantasticness. The food was amazing. The chili in the pork was hot enough to singe your eyebrows, and the soup was a multi-layered example of the balance that Thai food should exhibit – the perfect combination of sweet, spicy, sour and bitter. The sausages were bursting – almost chorizo like in spice and flavour. It was a beautiful thing.
On top of that – the entertainment. I mentioned before the karaoke tracks playing on the TVs? Nothing compared to when one overly-keen budding star of the London/Thai karaoke circuit at the 12-top next to us, grabbed the mic and belted out a version of Mariah Carey’s ‘Hero’ that could have quite easily made the ‘train wreck’ compilation of auditions on Britain’s Got Talent. By the end of the song, everyone in the restaurant was joining in. The experience was unreal, completely foreign and so much fun. It was like we were on holiday.
The bill came to £45 for two with two beers a piece and a side of rice. It’s not takeaway prices, but it’s worth it. In fact, I’ve actually hemmed and hawed whether or not to write about this place, simply because I want it to remain a secret, but at the end of the day, Heron can not go unrecognized as the most authentic Thai experience in London.