Saturday 3 August 2013

The Begging Bowl, Bellenden Road, south London

(Images from the Begging Bowl web site)
On a warm summer's evening, the hum of conversation and the aroma of Thai cooking might lure you towards the Begging Bowl. You can't book ahead of time, but you can register in person and decamp to the pub opposite - the staff will call you when a table of ready. There is a row of tables outside, sheltered by the glass roof held up by cast iron pillars or you can sit at one of the closely-packed tables inside. Service by the young staff is effervescent and effective - they are good at subtle up-selling. On the menu, the dishes are colour-coded according to price.  The fish cakes, with sweet chilli sauce, (£5.75) are a bit too crispy, but nice enough. The seafood curry is creamy, but can be runny and stingy. Better is the marinated raw salmon with samphire, lemongrass, green mango and chilli lime dressing (£9.75). The chilli is too dominant, but the freshness is really palatable. By contrast, the deep fried pork belly, with sour chilli dip and gravy (£9.75), is quite heavy and dry. Meat eaters might prefer the beef cheek, which is fatty, succulent and tasty. The piece de resistance is probably the deep-fried sea bass, with sweet, sour and chilli dressing with deep fried shallots, garlic and Thai basil  (£14.50). You need to fillet the fish yourself, but there is a lot of flesh and the flavours work well together.  Your dishes are served with appropriate portions of sticky rice and Jasmine rice. The Begging Bowl has a broad selection of wines, starting at £16.60 a bottle and £5.60 a glass. The staff recommend the Cote de Duras 2011, Terroirs de Duc, (£25 a bottle) - a very clean and drinkable wine that goes well with seafood.  Beer is a tad pricey. A 330ml bottle of Estrella Damm costs £4.20, for example. The Begging Bowl has a good vibe, but the food is hit and miss. 7/10