(This restaurant is now closed)
Until a short time ago I confess that I had no idea where Imperial Wharf could possibly be, but I had the notion that it was a long way from anywhere convenient. In fact it’s London’s undiscovered playground with outstanding transport connections. It’s just one stop on the train from West Brompton (served also by the Wimbledon branch of the District Line) or one stop by rail from Clapham Junction. There is a bus (391) that will transport prospective diners from Hammersmith and Richmond and another (C3) from Earls Court.
I can’t think of many better views to enjoy over a summer night’s dinner. Blue Elephant basks in the warmth of a setting sun and diners watch the dusk fall over the River Thames. The quality of light changes inside the restaurant as well. The striking dragon bar is transformed into a shimmering swathe of richly tooled gold. The dark polished wood of windows and doors reflect the low lights. Outside has become a sophisticated night-time cityscape.
The bar at Blue Elephant is a destination in its own right and is perhaps one of the most magnificent I have ever seen. The barmen are particularly skilled, it seems, in making those exotic cocktails that waft one away to swaying palms. Granted, that’s a romantic notion but the cocktails here are some of the most beautiful and potent around, and a couple will undoubtedly have you wafting somewhere, even if it’s only home on a late bus.
Raspberry Bellini (Champagne, raspberry, Crème de Framboise) was our host’s choice of cocktail and she, a lady of discerning taste, pronounced herself addicted to the version here. My guest chose the fruity yet deceptively powerful Pomelo Martini (vodka, pomelo grapefruit, Limoncello, Cointreau). My preferred cocktail has long been Lychee Martini and they offer one at Blue Elephant, but I wanted something unique that spoke of this very individual bar. Tom Yam Mary (vodka, red chilli, tomato juice) was piquant, potent and perfectly spiced with far more vodka than some similar cocktails I have tried recently. This should be a signature tipple. If you don’t find anything on the cocktail menu that takes your fancy then ask the barman to mix another classic, or perhaps even your own recipe.
Blue Elephant offers a selection of menus that will give you a vibrant culinary overview of past, present and future Thai cuisine. Mrs. Nooror Somany Steppe is one of the founders of the Blue Elephant Group which also includes the iconic La Porte des Indes. She has been responsible for introducing the world to her authentic Thai food but she has also enjoyed presenting innovation and her perspective on evolved Thai food. Even the most enthusiastic Thai restaurant-goer will find new and exciting dishes at Blue Elephant, but traditionalists will feel equally at home.
We chose the Memories of Siam Tasting Menu this time but we will graze on other menus in the future. This offered flair along with flavour. Even the crockery here is bespoke, with each piece being hand-decorated in distinctive blue and white. It’s contemporary and simple but remarkable. Each dish and even the complimentary amuse bouche looks graceful with that as a backdrop.
Satay of strips of grilled naturally-reared British buffalo and marinated free-range chicken, with home-made peanut sauce and cucumber relish for dipping, was the first of our starters. It’s evident that the chef here believes the choice of raw ingredients is just as important as the preparation. It’s possible to ruin good meat, but difficult to elevate poor-quality chicken to anything other than rubber.
Chef Nooror’s Ma Auan – Steamed minced chicken with crab-meat and foie gras – was originally created during the reign of King Rama V. You might not think that you know anything about Thai history but you will all have heard of this king. Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua or Rama V was the fifth monarch of Siam under the House of Chakri. He is said to be one of the greatest kings of Thailand, or Siam as it was formerly known. He undertook to modernise his country and keep it from the clutches of the French and British who were always noted collectors of other people’s lands. It’s all very worthy but you will possibly only start to recognise the man when you know that Anna Leonowens was one of his tutors. His father was THE king in “The King and I”. The dishes provenance is impressive and this stands as a great starter in its own right. Delicate and moreish.
Tom Jew Kai is a free-range chicken soup, and another dish dating from the reign of the previously-mentioned King Chulalongkorn. It’s considered as a cure for the common cold, although I am sure this monarch did not have a Jewish mum. This light broth was spicy and would have been a meal in itself with only the addition of a handful of noodles.
Fresh Lime Seabass was part of our array of main dishes. Steamed fillet of seabass was flavoured with lemongrass, fresh lime juice and crushed chilli. The sweetness of the white fish was contrasted by the chilli and was perfumed by the lemongrass. Any fish lover would be delighted by this.
Massaman lamb curry is a staple in Thai restaurants but it’s a popular dish because it offers so much that we crave from Asian food. Tender meat in a rich and flavourful sauce has long been appreciated and Massaman lamb curry was described in a poem by King Rama II, whose reign was known as the “Golden Age of Rattanakosin Literature”. Evidently a man of refined tastes in every regard.
Wild-catch prawns were stir-fried with garlic and black pepper and were juicy with an agreeable heat from the pepper, a spice that is often overlooked as banal and ordinary. Here it is used as flavouring rather than as an apologetic seasoning. Delicious.
Slices of marinated duck breast grilled and served rare on a bed of seaweed, topped with tamarind sauce was notable. Tamarind alone is a sour and mouth-puckering ingredient but it is used in sauces and dips along with sugar and spices to give a garnish that not only imparts flavour of its own but which enhances anything that it partners. A winning combination.
Thailand is blessed with a wealth of sweets and desserts. They range from the courtly and refined to the rustic. Chef Nooror has both traditional and contemporary on the Blue Elephant menu, although you will likely have only a little space left after such a considerable repast. We had little tastes of fresh fruit and desserts starting with ginger coconut crème brulée, which was much more interesting than the Western version: creamy and rich with distinct ginger flavour.
Longan Black Sticky Rice Pudding was made from simmered black sticky rice with palm sugar, longan, and young coconut meat, and topped with coconut cream. A longan looks much like a lychee and is native to South East Asia. The desserts on offer might change with availability of ingredients, but try the taro puffs if they are on the bill of fare. Taro is a purple-fleshed root vegetable, and boiled taro with coconut milk is one of the traditional Thai desserts, but here it is used as a filling for French choux pastry. It has a nutty flavour almost like a European chestnut.
We finished our meal with a cup of jasmine tea but I noted that Blue Elephant offers their own White Tea and even Thai coffee, packages of which the guests can buy as they leave. It’s a company that prides itself on inviting their guests to enjoy an all-round experience: the ambiance, food, drink and even something to take home with you along with memories and a plan to return. I have tried both dinner and Sunday Brunch and now I am on a mission to persuade this restaurant to open for breakfast. I have no idea what would be on the menu but I know it would be good …and the eggs would be free-range.
Monday to Saturday: 12 noon – 2:30pm
Sunday: 12 noon – 3:30pm
Monday to Saturday: 06:00pm – 11:00pm
Sunday: 06:00pm – 10:30pm
Blue Elephant – London
The Boulevard, Imperial Wharf, Townmead Road,
London SW6 2UB
Restaurant review by Chrissie Walker © 2018