fiery southern thai canteen inside Arcade Food Hall

“How is your spice tolerance?” asked our server, as she led my friend and I to our table.

“Horrible,” I replied. ‘I find Sriracha spicy.

“Awesome, then you’ll love this place.” she said, rubbing her hands in joy.

And that’s the kind of place Plaza Khao Gaeng is. Not that he’s trying to force-feed you capsaicin, but chef-owner Luke Farrell isn’t holding back or trying to do anything stupid to appease the masses. This new no-frills southern Thai canteen located on the mezzanine level inside JKS Arcade food hall next to Center Point is a highly sought after commodity.

We were greeted by the sound of ladles slamming against woks, the sight of towering flames rippling above the open kitchen, and a nostril-tingling fish sauce funk. All very good signs.

My boyfriend felt the interiors here looked like a film set. From strip lights to rickety wooden chairs and shiny patterned plastic tablecloths, Plaza Khao Gaeng has paid meticulous attention to detail and managed to bring Thailand to Londoners without ever feeling gimmicky or fetishistic. Plus, the sounds of the busy food hall crowd at lunchtime really add to the ambiance.

The more you eat, the more the heat rises, burns and spreads. Seriously addictive stuff.

We started with miang phuket (cashews, nuts, seeds and chillies in coconut and palm sugar with leaves). A leaf-wrapped treat was a masterclass in sweetness, crunch, and punch, but as someone with no affinity for the hot stuff, I carefully ruled out the chilies. To save our taste buds, we opted for the (slightly) milder dishes on the menu. A rich and complex gaeng massaman neua (massaman beef curry), sprinkled with chewy potatoes and jelly-like shallots, slow-cooked to soak up the pool of flavors. The gaeng gati gai (chicken and coconut curry with betel leaves) was a deceptively simple bowl of creamy brown comforting stuff, but the more you ate, the more the heat rose, burned and spread. Seriously addictive stuff.

My only real problem is that it’s not a good place to go with vegetarians or people who don’t like fish. My buddy showered at the pool and I were not fond of the nam chub (condiment of roasted shrimp paste with fresh vegetables, cucumbers and mint leaves). It came out too late and we both agreed the batter was too bitter and too spicy, the heat is all consuming and overpowering, in what was a faint tramp note. Maybe someone with a better spice tolerance would have enjoyed it more.

But overall, I’m really glad that a place like Plaza Khao Gaeng exists. Not just because it’s a good central meeting point for great food at an incredible price (our bill for two with drinks was £69), but because it’s rare to see a restaurant and a chef do not pretend to be what they are not. Farrell charts his own path with his shamelessly expressive the kitchen and he doesn’t care if you can’t handle it or not. Go now, but maybe order a glass of milk with your food.

The atmosphere The smells and sights are like being on the streets of Thailand.

The food Southern Thai cuisine ranging from curries to spicy salads with a spicy edge.

The drinks Refreshing, fruity and herbal cocktails, highballs and non-alcoholic sodas to provide much-needed relief from the heat.

Tip Time Out? Bring a big group of buddies (who can handle their spices), order a bucket of Singha beers and sit down at the big table to watch all the fiery kitchen action.

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