Bellenden Road in Peckham is one of the loveliest streets in London. Running roughly parallel to the bustling Rye Lane, it is home to a couple of dozen independent restaurants, cafés and shops: Anderson & Co is one of my favourite brunch spots and Flock and Herd is an outstanding butcher, to name but two. Yet somehow, although I have heard great things about The Begging Bowl since I moved to south-east London, I only got round to eating there last weekend.
Set on the junction with Choumert Road, this Thai restaurant occupies a gorgeous building with plenty of seating in the pretty conservatory areas that adjoin the pavement — perfect for those late summer days when the weather is blowing hot and cold. The menu includes numerous Thai sharing plates. They suggest ordering about five dishes per two people, although the dishes vary considerably in size and in price. You won't find pad Thai here (which is often my order in Thai restaurants not because I'm unadventurous but because I love it!); instead, there is a range of creative dishes that include salads and veggies, meat, fish and curries. Unlimited jasmine rice and sticky rice are available for £2.50 per person.
As it was lunch time, my friend and I ordered four dishes: the marinated pork neck (£6), which came with a chilli lime dressing was wonderfully flavoursome and ; the stir-fry of morning glory, Thai garlic and soy (£6.50); the green papaya salad (£8.25); and the khao soi, a northern Thai dish of curried beef and egg noodles (£12). This was about the right amount of food for two hungry people — it certainly kept me full long past dinnertime. The pork was a relatively small dish so if there are more diners in your party, you will probably want to order more than one. I had plenty of morning glory in Vietnam and The Begging Bowl's execution was spot on.
Green papaya salad is always one of my favourite Thai dishes: it's so refreshing and has great contrasts of flavour and texture, and although it always feels like a 'boring' order, I never regret it. My favourite dish, though, was the khao soi, which I haven't tried before but which was excellent. The beef had a melt-in-the-mouth quality and the flavours in the curry combined beautifully. The portion was on the larger side — if you aren't into sharing plates (or don't want to share!), you could easily have this as a main course.
After this feast, we had no room for pudding but the dessert menus in a lot of Asian restaurants don't often appeal to me anyway. We did both have an iced Vietnamese-style drip coffee, though, which came with condensed milk, of course, and so served as a suitable pudding. Earlier in the meal, I had a Thai lemonade (lemon, lime, palm sugar and ginger beer; £3.50), but there's also an interesting cocktail menu and the Kaffir Sour (£9.50), with Kaffir-lime-infused gin, lemongrass, lime, bitters and egg whites, sounded particularly good.
We spent just under £30 per head, which isn't especially cheap — as is often the way with tapas-style menus — but I do think it was very good value bearing in mind the quality of the food and attention to detail. We arrived soon after 12:30 on a Saturday and the restaurant was fairly quiet but it was full to the rafters by the time we left, and there was a lively atmosphere. The service was good too, especially bearing in mind how busy they were, and it's also a baby-friendly venue, which is fairly common in this part of Peckham, although not ubiquitous, by any means.
The Begging Bowl. 168 Bellenden Road, London, SE15 4BW (Peckham Rye Overground). Website. Twitter.