The Best Burmese Restaurants in London
Just Opened London’s ‘Best of’ series covers a combination of recently opened venues and established London favourites, to make sure you get the full lowdown on where to spend your time and hard-earned cash.
Words: MiMi Aye
Burmese food is a feast for the senses – the aroma from a bubbling pot of pork and mango curry; the vision of a rainbow salad of rice, carrots, potatoes, and coriander; the crackle and crunch of a handful of home-made crisps; and the sensation of rice noodles slick with rich tomato and turmeric sauce.
Our cuisine takes influences from its neighbours Thailand, India and China, and combines them with techniques, ingredients and flavours of its own to make something delicious and unique. Texture is as important as flavour – a dish might have soft but springy noodles, crunchy sour pickles, bean sprouts that snap to the bite, and rich, tender chunks of chicken.
Until recently, there wasn’t much opportunity to try Burmese food in London, but I’m thrilled to say that it finally seems to be making an impact on these shores. Not only are Burmese supper clubs and restaurants coming onto the scene, but Burmese dishes are even appearing on the menus of other establishments.
Here are the 7 best places to try Burmese food in London right now.
1. The Shan State
The Shan State opened quietly at the end of last year in the heart of London’s Chinatown – the Shan people are one of the 138 ethnicities that live in Burma. The menu actually reels wildly all over Asia, so it can be difficult to locate the Burmese and Shan dishes, but real gems can be found, such as excellent Shan noodles (look for the weirdly-named ‘State Noodles’) and the best lahpet thohk (pickled tea leaf salad) around.
Shan tofu is made from chickpeas or split peas rather than soya, and theirs comes as perfect fritters, crisp outside and fluffy inside, served with a tangy tamarind dip, or warm and melted over a bowl of spicy noodles. Ask for recommendations from the friendly staff who are all from Burma and glad to help.
The Shan State, 102 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 5EF
For over two decades, Mandalay on Edgware Road was *the* destination to head to if you wanted to treat yourself to a traditional Burmese ‘rice table’. Burma was once known as the rice bowl of Asia, and a day-to-day meal will combine rice with fish or meat curries, vegetable dishes, soup, relishes and fritters all served at the same time. The best way to experience this kind of spread is to be invited to the home of a local, but with their comprehensive menu, dining at Mandalay always felt like the next best thing, especially as the Ally family were so charming.
At the end of last year, Mandalay closed to rebrand itself as Mandalay Golden Myanmar, but it aims to reopen next month (June 2017) on Kilburn High Road, bigger and better than before.
Mandalay, Kilburn High Road, NW6 7JN
Dan Anton and Zaw Mahesh began with a bustling stall in Maltby Street Market dishing up classic Burmese street food (weird fact – almost all the males in my family are called Zaw), but then earlier this year they made the leftfield move of opening up a fine dining restaurant in Hackney, serving thoroughly modern takes on Burmese cuisine.
The oldies are the best though – their mohinga, Burma’s national dish of fish broth and rice vermicelli heaped with crispy split-pea fritters, roast chilli and coriander, comes highly recommended, as does their signature dish of lahpet thohk (pickled tea leaf salad).
Lahpet, 5 Helmsley Place, E8 3SB
4. Rangoon Sisters
Launched in 2013, the Rangoon Sisters aka Emily and Amy Chung were the first Burmese supper club to hit the streets of London. Originally known as the Dawei Sisters after the part of Burma their mother hails from, these ladies know exactly what they’re doing – Emily spent six months in Yangon in 2014 cribbing up on street food, as well as home-cooked dishes.
An evening at one of their supper clubs is as Burmese as it gets, both in terms of convivial ambience as well as food – try their nangyi thohk (Mandalay chicken noodle salad) and ameh-hnut (tender beef curry).
Rangoon Sisters, monthly supper club, venues vary
5. Yee Cho
Freya Coote’s supper club Yee Cho began life last year and serves up Burmese staples such as roasted aubergine salad and meatball curry, but is also well worth a visit if you’re curious about Anglo-Indian cuisine, which is popular in Burma thanks to the large community there.
Coote’s menu features classic Anglo-Indian dishes such as aloo cutlet and omelette curry, and she’s also cleverly taken the base from ohn-no khao swe (Burmese coconut noodles) and transformed it into a hearty curry served with rice.
Yee Cho, monthly supper club, venues vary
6. Som Saa
There’s a big overlap between Northern Thai and Burmese cuisine thanks to the fact that Chiang Mai was part of Burma for over 200 years (and still hosts a huge Burmese community), so it’s no surprise that Som Saa’s Northern Thai kitchen led by Masterchef alumni Andy Oliver has the odd Burmese dish or two.
Their gaeng hung lay is an intense Burmese-style curry of pork belly and shoulder, topped with pickled garlic and ginger, which goes fabulously with sticky rice.
Som Saa, 43A Commercial Street, E1 6BD
7. Kiln Soho
From the people behind Smoking Goat, Kiln opened last year to even greater acclaim. It describes itself as serving regional Thai food ‘with influences from Yunnan and Burma’ – grab a table near the eponymous kiln, get cosy, and try their fragrant Burmese wild ginger and short rib curry, which has a nice kick to it but then melts in the mouth.
Kiln Soho, 58 Brewer Street, W1F 9TL
MiMi Aye is a Burmese food writer and author of NOODLE! 100 Great Recipes (Absolute Press).