Luke Farrell, the chef behind the hottest London restaurant opening of 2022, will follow up that success with a new, Bangkok-inspired spot in the heart of Chinatown. Speedboat Bar, a collaboration with restaurant group JKS, is scheduled to open on Rupert Street this September.
The restaurant replaces Viet Populaire, Farrell’s pop-up in 2021, which took the site of restaurant XU, a more upmarket venue from the founders of Bao, which did not reopen having closed in the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 first shut down London restaurants.
Where Plaza Khao Gaeng at Arcade concentrates on the herbal, hot, and sour curries of southern Thailand, the food at Speedboat will focus on the “fast and furious wok cookery with roasted meats and zingy seafood salads,” according to press materials shared with Eater.
There’ll be whisky sodas, stir fries, river prawns in tamarind sauce; roasted meats and spicy dipping sauces, which will utilise the Thai herbs and ingredients cultivated and grown at Farrell’s nursery, Ryewater, in Dorset. Farrell told Eater there’ll be salted eggs with rice wine and anise, Thai and Chinese sausages, a “three crispy salad” of cashew, Chinese pork flattened into a crisp with five spice powder, and fish maw — in a dressing of mango, chilli, lime, garlic. This, Farrell says, is drinking food. “Pick through a tangle of it,” he says. There’ll be crispy chicken skins, too, which are shaken up with zeap seasoning in a cocktail shaker to order.
Farrell says that the main difference between Plaza and Speedboat, is that the Chinese-Thai cuisine of Bangkok is much more about “technique,” where southern Thai cooking is about the freshness of vegetables, chillies, and herbs.
There’s a different consideration here, given the Chinese element of the project and the fact it’s opening in Chinatown itself — and the attendant duty of care that comes with opening a Thai restaurant in London’s Chinatown in 2022.
“It’s the same approach as Plaza, with regards to the food,” Farrell told Eater on the phone today, 13 July. He’s referring to his comments before opening Plaza. “We are cooking in accordance to how they do so in Thailand. We’re at pains to make sure that it’s respectful,” Farrell told Eater in March. Since the chef spends half of his time in Bangkok, this cuisine is one that he feels more comfortable recreating in London. “Southern Thai food was something I was less familiar with,” he admits.
“It’s a hell of a challenge,” Farrell says. But confirmed to Eater that there are “Thai chefs on the team who will help with this.” A sense of place is not lost on Farrell either who is using Lo’s Noodle Factory for the restaurant’s noodles. He said it took some effort to get an account with the business which has been serving restaurants in Chinatown since 1978, and which has endured a series of well-documented challenges in recent years.
JKS’s own Karam Sethi, the creative lead on all of the group’s restaurants said the duty of care to the restaurant’s country of origin extended to the broader concept and design. “As with all the JKS restaurants, recreating restaurants that are faithful to their country of origin is of the utmost importance (you’ll see this most recently at Plaza Khao Gaeng),” Sethi said via email.
Asked how the group avoids falling into what could be called the Ivy Asia trap, Sethi said, “It’s typical in a [Thai] shophouse for the business to inhabit the ground floor with the living quarters upstairs. Therefore, the utilitarian, stainless steel finish downstairs at Speedboat is balanced with a softer, home-like finish upstairs, housing Luke’s own ornaments from Bangkok: amulets, awards, framed images of fish, and signed portraits of speedboat racers.
“All the tables, chairs, fabrics and even a traditional speedboat itself will hang above guests on the first floor.”
Like with Plaza, where Farrell believed he was offering something new to London, he believes this particular style of aggressive wok cookery found in Bangkok’s Chinatown “was missing.”
“I enjoy the challenge. China’s cuisine is all about the technique so we have been developing this for quite some time. I love this type of complexity — hopefully we’ll deliver something that is representative of Thai cuisine and Bangkok. Why not London?”