The Blue Elephant Chelsea is dripping with authenticity, courtesy of master chef Nooror Somany Steppé, Thailand’s unofficial culinary ambassador.
Imperial Wharf sounds smart and indeed it is. It was for centuries a working-class area with poor housing. Things have changed and it’s doubtful that youngsters will be diving off the sides of gleaming yachts into the murky tide. The river bank is now fringed with new and stylish apartment blocks and moorings for those aforementioned boats. There are restaurants, and one of those is The Blue Elephant – tasteful in every regard.
This isn’t a new restaurant but it is a new location for a much-loved establishment. Until recently the Blue Elephant Fulham was based in its according Broadway home and it was an outpost of Thai refinement there for 25 years or so. But the views from Imperial Wharf are much more interesting and attractive, and now there are tables outside – they will be the ones sought, should we ever have a summer.
The Blue Elephant London occupies an enviable plot in that new development, but step though those anonymous doors and you are in Thailand; more accurately a traditional house in Thailand. The interior was inspired by the Saran Rom Palace of Bangkok, which was once the seat of Thailand’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. It has the ambiance of a home rather than a restaurant. OK, a home with lots of friends over for dinner.
The new Blue Elephant is smaller than the original but its intimate proportions add to the cosy atmosphere. It’s designed to give flexibility of seating as well as space for private dining. The restaurant is a testament to Thai craft and continuity. There are carved statues and friezes and a lower ground floor bar which is a shimmering vision of tooled gold. Teak woodwork and exotic flowers make this an unmistakable satellite of mainland Thailand.
The Blue Elephant menu has been created by the founder of the Blue Elephant Group, Chef Nooror Somany Steppé. She is one of the most celebrated chefs in Asia and indeed among the most respected woman chefs in the world. She is considered the unofficial culinary ambassador of Thailand.
Sunday Brunch at Blue Elephant is a must for any lover of Thai food with midday hunger pangs. It’s also the ideal venue for an introduction to Thai food, as one can take just a little of each dish from the buffet, and decide on one’s favourites. One can graze on exquisitely crafted starters. There are fish cakes with dipping sauce and they are a perfect first taste to provide the novice with a hint of aromatic spice typical of this cuisine: a Thai dish should have hot, sour, salty and sweet notes to create a delicious flavour tapestry.
Spring Rolls offer texture and freshness. The Blue Elephant Thai rendering of traditional dishes is crisp, above all else. This is a ubiquitous dish on many Asian restaurant menus but these were generously stuffed and worthy of a try. Rice cakes are offered on porcelain spoons with a chicken sauce alongside. Thai salads are chopped and crushed before your very eyes. Skewers of marinated grilled chicken partnered with satay dip is bound to be popular as it’s a snack familiar to everyone, but a must-try from the starter station is Banana Dim Sum: strange but true – this is a startlingly simple Oriental nibble of crunchy deep-fried wrapper and sweet banana interior. Banana is, in fact, one of those fruits that work perfectly well in both savoury and sweet dishes.
You will want to take the rare opportunity to try some Thai wine. Monsoon Valley Blended Red (vintage Buddhist era 2553) from the Siam Winery was a revelation. In truth Thailand isn’t a country famed for its wine but this was a creditable bottle and would have passed muster even if it had sported a French label. Siam Winery was established in 1986 by Chalerm Yoovidhya and now has a state-of-the-art winery in Samut Sakorn, 30 miles south-west of Bangkok. They cultivate over 300 acres of vineyards and have a wine tourism and education centre. Siam Winery is surely a producer to watch, and a visit is bound to be fascinating for any wine enthusiast.
Blue Elephant introduced me to a new fruit. The salaka looks like a long-faced lychee with a hair-cut but has a taste somewhat between that and a pineapple. The jellies, flavoured with fruit or jasmine, and with a crunchy sugar coating, make an exotic petit four, with a few morsels of moreish Kao Too, rather like a brown-sugar coconut ice which I think this restaurant should sell by the boxful.
This isn’t Indian food with a difference; it’s not Chinese food with a slant. Thai is a classic cuisine in its own right and Blue Elephant is spreading the word. The Sunday Brunch is great value for money and it’s the opportunity to relax and enjoy high-end food with the family. Children are welcomed and will find not only food to enjoy but also face-painting to make their outing even more memorable.
The Blue Elephant restaurant London address: Imperial Wharf, The Blvd, Townmead Road, London SW6 2UB
Sundays 12-3:30pm and 6-10:30pm
Closed on Mondays