Tom is delighted to find a whole fresh cuisine to explore – in the heart of London.
Lahpet thohk. Pickled tea leaf salad. A dish, in the words of food writer Mimi Aye, that is ‘the most iconic of Burmese foods and unique to the country’. It’s also one of the most thrilling things I’ve eaten for years, at once alien and utterly familiar; soothingly rich, softly astringent, with a pert acidity and low throb of garlic and chilli. The texture also beguiles, crisp peanuts and deep-fried beans versus the comforting chew of tea and dried shrimp. While there are whispers of all sorts of familiar cuisines – Thai, Lao, Chinese – it has a character, a soul very much of its own.
I love Aye’s book, Mandalay, about the food of her beloved Burma, a deeply evocative mixture of memoir, recipes and reference. Once again, the people are suffering under a repressive military regime, the country torn apart. But here at Lahpet, the second West End branch of the Shoreditch original, the beauty of its cuisine burns bright. The room is resolutely modern, all discreet wood and cascades of verdant greenery, set to decent electronica.
Grilled chicken thighs, great succulent chunks of subtly spiced flesh, show true art on the grill, while house pickles, daikon with fennel, cumin and coriander seed, offer brisk crunch. There’s a nod across to Peru, with an Andaman ceviche, heavy on the salt and chilli, as is right, but with the inspired addition of shrimp floss and coconut. The fish is gleamingly fresh. A pork belly and bamboo curry sees great slabs of pork, complete with brittle crackling, placed atop splendidly sour bamboo, the warm chilli heat turned up with a scattering of balachaung – the dried shrimp and chilli condiment where no two recipes are the same. It’s so damned addictive I end up eating it by the spoonful.
Finally, mohinga, fish noodle soup and Burma’s national dish. Yes, I know, it’s traditionally a breakfast dish, but I’m new to Burmese food, and rather overexcited, so do forgive the occasional cultural faux pas. Anyway, I’d merrily slurp this all day long, with its chunks of bream, squiggles of squid, growl of fermented fish paste and chilli, with a crisp fritter and tangle of rice vermicelli noodles, all in the most lip-puckeringly sour broth.
This, though, is just the start. I feel like a child in the most exciting of sweet shops, and a whole new world awaits.
About £35 per head. Lahpet, 21 Slingsby Place, London WC2; lahpet.co.uk
DRINKS: Olly’s reds for Easter lamb
Lamb is a rare treat for me, so I love sharing a celebratory splash-out red such as my Dalrymple Pinot pick from Tasmania – up there with the best. For a classic pairing, Spanish Rioja or Ribera del Duero are safe bets, but if you’re lavishing spice on your lamb, dive into Portugal’s Douro Valley for bottles with sufficient fruity ballast to absorb any heat. For a rich slow-roast shoulder, try my epic Shiraz Viognier blend from sustainable Aussie winery RedHeads offering remarkable scented splendour. But France’s Rhône wins my heart with my wine of the week.
WINE OF THE WEEK: LES GRANDES SERRES CAIRANNE ‘CARIUS’ 2018 (14.5%), £10, Co-Op. A gorgeous, romping red with a dusky exotic hint – stock up beyond Easter. This is sky-high quality for the cash.
SPECIALLY SELECTED RIBERA DEL DUERO 2019 (13.5%), £7.99, Aldi. Best lamb pairing on a budget, with a wonderfully warming ripe fruit depth.
THE BEST DOURO RED 2019 (13.5%), £8, Morrisons. Rich red with black cherry oomph and a boost of spice. Terrific with lamb tagine.
REDHEADS COCO RÔTIE 2020 (14.5%), £14.99, laithwaites.co.uk. Voluptuous, silky and truffle-like, this fulsome Aussie is stunning with slow-roast lamb.
DALRYMPLE PINOT NOIR 2019 (14%), £33.75, flagshipwines.co.uk. Enchanting Pinot. Intensely scrumptious: think wild strawberries rolling through mountain herbs. Epic.