For a true taste of Thailand, don’t think you have to travel far and wide. Isarn on Upper Street, Islington, may have a no-thrills look, but the food is exciting, enjoyable and extremely hot
I remember chatting to my good friend Tom Parker Bowles about Thai food. Discussing my love for Asian food, he insisted that I hadn’t truly experienced Thai food at its best until I had encountered spices that my palate couldn’t get its head around, a zingy, tingling feeling that was pleasure and pain all wrapped up in one astonishing dish. Visiting Isarn on Upper Street in Islington, I now know exactly what he means.
It all started simply enough. The look is clean, white and black walls livened up by rather cool lighting over the many tables. Our welcome was warm and traditional – every member of staff gave my wife and I a little bow as we walked past – and service was never over the top. There’s nothing worse than being asked time and time again if everything is OK.
For lovers of Asian food, Isarn’s menu is a good one, packed full of meat, fish and vegetable dishes, making decisions a tricky prospect. We decided to mix up the starters, opting for a couple of fish dishes – prawn puff and Thai fish cake – and one meat, the crispy duck and pomelo served on betel leaf. Being a proud meat-eater, I was surprised that the latter was the least appetizing of the three – not to say it was bad, just that the other two dishes had a lot more about them, a tangy dip helping them along the way.
Before our mains, we were encouraged to try some sweet plum wine, which served as delectable precursor to what was to come. Karen’s chargrilled swordfish with lemongrass mint peanut salsa was a chunky piece of fish, even if the strength of the wine had made her forget she ordered it (for the record, the waiting staff were right). My baby chicken was anything but small, served up in four quarters, accompanied by a chilli and tamarind dip. Which is where I discovered exactly what Tom Parker Bowles – without a care in the world, I smothered a bit of chicken in the sauce, took a bite and was then gasping for some of the sweet wine myself, as well as water and my Chang beer. It was hot, but addictively so.
With the plate wiped clean, it just had to be a serving of ice-cream and sorbets to calm the party on my tongue. This is proper Thai food in the heart of Upper Street: Tom would be hugely impressed.
119 Upper Street N1 1QP; 020 7424 5153; isarn.co.uk