30 Rupert Street
What’s the vibe?
With a drippy nose, smudged mascara and flushed cheeks, it’s easy to conflate a meal at Speedboat Bar with a messy breakup. You see, the food here is hot. The kind of spice that isn’t dampened to pander to weak English tongues. A heat of duct-clearing, tongue-tingling proportions, thanks to the liberal use of Thai chilis, green peppercorns, ginger, vinegars and makrut limes.
It’s one of the latest conquests from restaurant group JKS (think BAO, Hoppers, Berenjak etc.) and resides on Rupert Street in Soho’s Chinatown. The design-led fingerprints trademarking JSK restaurants are all over the place, with a strong visual identity inspired by the late-night canteens on Yaowarat Road (Bangkok’s Chinatown) and Thai drag boat racing. It’s a high-wattage cocktail of laminated menus, ceiling strip lights, scratched metal tables and photo-festooned walls – all accompanied by the dulcet tones of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack emanating from the speakers.
And despite being a place that doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, the food is a different matter. The brain behind Speedboat Bar is Luke Farrell, the chef also responsible for Viet Populare, Bebek! Bebek! and Plaza Khao Gaeng, who divides his time between Thailand, London and Dorset – where he grows native Thai herbs in his greenhouse that would otherwise perish in transit. In a similar vein to those who helm the kitchens of Somaa, Kolae and Kiln, Farrell is part of a wave of British chefs with a deep fascination and love for the food of Thailand.
A trip to Speedboat Bar is like a really good first date – you find yourself thinking about it days after visiting. Are we falling hard? Potentially.
What to eat?
Kick-off with a few appetisers like the cashew nut, pork crackling and dried prawn salad topped with blousy fronds of coriander, the trademark chicken matches with green mango kerabu or the fiery zaep seasoning chicken skins. Then, onto the main event. The fried mackerel is a non-negotiable – a crispy-fleshed fish laid in a lake of coconut, palm sugar-rich sauce reminiscent of a massaman. From there, get the crispy pepper pork – a dish that draws parallels with Cantonese roasted meats, the naem fried rice pitted with lacto-fermented pork and rind, and the thick wok-flamed drunken noodles topped with a heap of krachai, herbs and chillies. It’s worth noting at this point that there’s not really a wrong order to be made at Speedboat Bar unless you have an aversion to various permutations of chilli, fish sauce and galangal. And in that case, you shouldn’t bother coming at all.
The dessert menu comprises one pudding. A pineapple pie with taro ice cream inspired by those wrapped in cellophane that line the shelves of 7-11 stores in Thailand. A crispy, fried shell encasing a piping hot, syrupy pineappley filling that’s evocative of the McDonald’s apple pie.
What to drink?
Extinguish your mouth inferno with a soothing glass of chai yen, a malty and mellow Thai iced tea made with condensed milk. Or saunter to the cocktail menu if you’re in the mood for a tropical tipple. The phed pokati margarita might be up there with the best – a weighty stein filled with green mango, Cazcabel tequila, makrut lime leaf, green chilli and amchur salt. We’d drink them by the bucket.