A tribute to the raucous hybridity of Bangkok’s Chinatown speeds into London this autumn, as Speedboat Bar opens at 30 Rupert Street, with bookings available from 16 September.
The restaurant, which replaces not just dearly departed Taiwanese restaurant Xu, but also chef and grower Luke Farrell’s former banh mi pop-up Viet Populaire, is in homage to the Yaowarat Road in the Thai capital. Farrell’s vision for that tribute is a combination of lurid, aromatic soups, some with noodles; curries; salads tight with acidity and heat; and wok dishes from the coastal cuisines of Samut Sakhon and Samut Sonkhram.
Anchoring the menu is a soup: tom yam mama, based on a late-night concoction of Mama brand instant noodles, pork, squid, and the acid of lime and herbal fragrance of coriander, marked with scarlet chilli oil. It’s joined by muu grob, roasted meats cooked out of a bullet oven and tumbled into Thai curry pastes and sauces, and noodle dishes made with Chinatown standby Lo’s Noodles wares. Drinking snacks, including ceviches and and crispy chicken skin, will sit comfortably alongside salads of cashews, pork crackling, and dried fish.
The drinks menu will also be something of an event, with slushied beers flavoured with honey, calamansi, and ginger poured into frozen glasses and large whisky sodas. A pool table upstairs, portraits of speedboat racers that they have passed on to Farrell during visits to Bangkok, and other memorabilia will join the food and drink to create what Farrell intends to be a highly immersive, total sensory experiences.
Speedboat is the second fully fledged restaurant partnership between Farrell, whose Dorset nursery Ryewater has long supplied some of the city’s best Thai restaurants, and JKS, the group behind the likes of Gymkhana, Hoppers, and most recently Arcade Food Hall. The first, Plaza Khao Gaeng, opened above that food hall in April of this year, and is dedicated to the cuisine and culinary culture of southern Thailand. Farrell said in July that, having spent much of this time in Thailand in Bangkok, this opening feels more comfortable than that of Plaza, and remains at pains to stress that the culinary emulation that both restaurants trade on is, in his view, the most respectful route.
Both restaurants are self-consciously tributes, not just in the selection and execution of dishes, but in their designs, which are engineered as meticulously as any television set and are meant to be transportive. This, unlike the growing clutch of “nu-Thai” restaurants in the city, in which the backdrop is often a more derivatively “cool” furnishing, leaves Plaza and soon Speedboat walking something of a tightrope: if the food and drinks don’t live up to standard, the entire experience will collapse like a house of cards.
Plaza has thus far toed this line to a tee, with its complex palette of heats — some bracing and sour, some slow and fragrant — belying a myopic focus on capsaicin in many reviews. Farrell will hope that Speedboat, fuelled not on petrol but tom yum and whisky soda, can do the same.