You know when you’re watching a new series on Netflix, and you’re trying to feel it out to see if it’s worth cancelling the next month’s worth of social commitments for? It can be tough. Do I like the characters? Does it make me laugh? And does it involve Steven Yeun fighting zombies? We gave up on Iron Fist after two episodes because no amount of money in the world can convince us to watch anything that boring, but we could watch Aziz Ansari literally all day in Master of None.
You might be wondering what this has to do with Farang, a Thai restaurant that’s taken up residence in an old neighbourhood Italian in Highbury. Farang opened in February 2017 as a pop-up that planned to be around for at least six months. And like trying to decide whether a series is going to be worth it in the long haul, this period is an opportunity to figure out whether a permanent restaurant is eventually going to be worth a punt.
In Farang’s favour, the food’s good, the menu’s easy to understand, and the staff are great at explaining dishes if you’re not sure what the hell a ‘miang bite’ is. Relax - there’s still red curry on the menu, even if a lot of the dishes feel adventurous compared to the local you might occasionally visit for some noodles. Those miang bites turn out to be little parcels of prawn and pomegranate wrapped in a betel leaf, to be munched in a single killer mouthful. There’s a starter of fresh mackerel with a zingy dressing that’ll wake you up like a flasher in a car park, and a whole seabass that’s been deep-fried and covered in fragrant herbs and crispy shallots that’ll make you happy.
The food will remind you of restaurants like The Begging Bowl in Peckham and Smoking Goat in Soho, which makes sense - the guys behind Farang used to work there too. Is it perfect? Of course not - it isn’t technically a permanent spot, after all. There are slip-ups on service, the mismatched Italian-Thai dining room feels dark and if we’re completely honest, a bit gloomy. Some of the flavours, like the mackerel or a starter dish of pork, prawn and pineapple bites, can feel imbalanced, and verge on being overpoweringly sweet.
That sweetness is something we came across when we ate at Farang’s original incarnation as a stall at street food event Dinerama, which suggests there’s still tinkering to be done. But overall, even as a long ‘pop-up’, it’s still a pretty good restaurant. We’re not as wild-eyed about it as, say, Som Saa’s original residency at Climpson’s Arch, but our instinct is that it should have a permanent home. And like the first few episodes of a programme aren’t always the best ones, we’re hoping that Farang progresses from good to fantastic as the season goes on.
As far as curries go, this one’s pretty darn good - there are plenty of chunks of fish coated in a satisfyingly spicy and savoury curry sauce. The fish at Farang is pretty good in general.
A little bit of prawn, a little pomegranate, and some herbs and fried shallots wrapped up in a betel leaf. It’s very tasty.
Mention the words ‘braised’ and ‘cheeks’ in the same sentence and we’re there, instantly. This curry’s one of the best things on the menu, and you should order it.
These little starter bites are made up of chunks of pineapple topped with caramelised pork, prawns, and chicken with peanuts. Incredibly sweet - it could have done with dialling the sugar down and adding more heat into the mix.