Sunday, 4 December 2011

Champor Champor: how to get malayed

Hit and miss but worth the trip.

Champor Champor is not for purists. Apparently.

Who are these purists? What makes them search for purity in a world where there is no such thing? Not in cuisine anyway. No culture is unchanged by the comings and goings of foreign influence, and food is a manifestation of that. Would purists be happy with the fact that a vital part of Thai cuisine is the French baton?

You can’t buy a sandwich at Champor Champor, but we did start with banana bread. Once the novelty of it was over I was left wondering  what the point of it was. It dirtied the palate, went badly with the other “antipasti” – a sweet and sour spoonful of relish and spicy guacamole on cucumber – and made no sense in the context of the rest of the menu. And I’m no purist.

My companion and I spent so much time contemplating the meaning of the banana bread that it took us almost 20 minutes to decide on our food. Normally this wouldn’t be such an issue, especially as the restaurant was almost empty. However, in a fit of romanticism I had booked the mezzanine table, which sits by the window and on a level much higher than the restaurant floor. It is a beautiful table, enshrined in an ornately carved wooden box that gives the impression you are dining in a four-poster bed. Popular as it is with the diners, it must infuriate staff, who are unable to check on the diners without popping their head around the corner like a mother keeping an eye on her teenage son with a girl in his room.

This strangely voyeuristic act repeated itself three time during the first course, which somewhat put me off my sliced duck with tamarind sauce and a sweet potato mascarpone. The duck was also a little chewy, but the sweet potato was smooth and delicious.

The main course was chosen for me by the waiter, who had tired of hovering around corners and quite rightly started to chivvy us along. He selected his favourite item on the menu, beef sirloin with fresh green peppercorns, krachai (wild ginger) and lemongrass, which was excellent. However, sadly the French influence did not reach the steak, and it was overcooked. My companion’s duck soup (technically clay-pot salted duck leg with shitake mushroom and spring onion; Jasmine rice and water chestnut in lotus leaf) was tasty enough, but a little too salty and lacking any flair.

Flair was not lacking from the chocolate, chilli and jaggery cheesecake, however.  Another thing not missing was the chilli, which caught me on the back of the throat, causing me to sound like Rod Stewart for the remainder of the meal.

It was hard to leave such a charming place, even if the food was at times mediocre. Ownership recently changed hands and the decor has been scaled back. The ornaments and features that used to adorn the walls have been stripped. Many would prefer the more airy atmosphere, but I think it has lost a little of its charm. It’s still a wonderful place to take a date, especially if you can book the mezzanine, but for me the fireworks were with my guest, not the food.

62-64 Weston Street
London SE1 3QJ

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