I had made a grave error in wearing a white top for the evening.
I could be forgiven, because we were going to Lahpet, a newish Burmese restaurant near London Fields. What do the Burmese eat? I hadn’t the foggiest. Yak possibly?
Sadly, there wasn’t any yak on the menu, but there were fritters. And sauce, lots of it, which was terrible news for my choice of outfit. Mild, balanced curries. Texture. Salads you could really give a shit about, and lots of soft, velvety meat that had spent a lot of time carefully falling to pieces. It was a good place to have dinner on the first properly autumnal day of the year.
Food-wise, that is. Perhaps slightly less so on the actual temperature front, because the glass doors that made up the entire front of the restaurant were left open when we visited. Things got a little brisk, but it was nothing a jumper couldn’t fix. Indeed, a trio of baby boomers turned up in a car (!) at one point in pointy shoes and halter-neck tops and, aghast at being assigned a table next to the window/door, swiftly departed. Snowflakes, eh? Meanwhile, a 40th birthday was in full swing behind us, its attendees impervious to slight chill. (It may have had something to do with the number of empty bottles of highly drinkable house vino (£18.00) from Borough Wines…)
Basically, take your cardy and you’ll be fine.
Fritters then. They came first, taking up the space on the menu that these days are often given over to ‘snacks’, and were a bit of a mixed bag. A pair made from Shan tofu, indistinguishable from Sicilian fried chickpea panelle, were bland and forgettable, a poor overture to what was to come; but the chubby patties of kidney beans were satisfyingly robust, with a warming kick of ginger that worked especially well when dunked judiciously in the accompanying sweet tamarind dip. Anyone who knows anything about me knows I’m an absolute slag for dip, and I hoovered the stuff up like an anteater hoovers up termites. Overall: damn tasty, but, if I’m being picky (and I always am), it could have been a little thicker.
We had correctly anticipated the eponymous tea leaf salad – lahpet means ‘pickled tea leaf’ in Burmese – to be a absolute showstopper, and it was, but even better was the ginger salad which came served in little lettuce bowls. Both were huge, filling, butch piles of designer roughage, the vegetative equivalent of Arnold Schwarzenegger circa 1977 (but, unlike Arnie, not pumped full of steroids).
The bro’est of bros could have eaten one of these for lunch with fragile masculinity intact, is what I’m trying to say.
Seeds and beans are apparently big in Burma, so there were broad beans, chick peas, peanuts, sesame seeds and, of course, the pickled tea leaves, which crackled and crunched in the mouth in a textural display that was quite special.
A clear, spicy fish soup is offered as a side but if you’re smart you’ll order it for in between those salads and your mains to give your palate a quick cleanse before the next round. The Mains part of the menu is heavy on curries, which are dense and flavoursome; not as spicy as their Indian and Sri Lankan cousins but not as sweet as similar dishes from China or Thailand.
Both were utterly fantastic, cuddle-in-a-bowl type dishes. The sort of thing that’d do just the job after a long day herding yaks, for instance, or furiously cycling down CS6 in the pissing rain. The Hake Masala (£16) was my favourite, with its creamy, garlicky, gingery coconut sauce that I spooned up afterwards like soup. The Pork & Mustard Green Curry (£12) had a bit more of a kick to it, but my stomach had taken too much of a pounding from that monster salad to eat too much, alas.
I find most Asian restaurants’ pudding menus a little limited, and Lahpet is no exception, but if you’re into bananas then the poached one with coconut, jaggery crumble and homemade ice cream (£7.50) smacks simultaneously of tropical beaches and roaring fireplaces. The comforting element comes from the jaggery, which is a kind of cane sugar made from palm tree sap. It’s popular across Asia – I first encountered it on holiday in Sri Lanka – but it also tastes very similar to maple syrup.
Lahpet is a pop-up space so it’s a little rough and ready – I was sitting on the exact same beige backless stool I was 12 years ago in GCSE Chemistry – but its owners Dan and Burmese chef Zaw have done a great job of making the little space their own. Twinkly, bright and welcoming, go on a chilly day (with a pashmina) for a guilt-free take on Asian comfort food.
Lahpet, 5 Helmsley Place, London, E8 3SB
Author: Emily Gibson
Emily is an urban adventurer, blogger and
glutton foodie on an epic quest to uncover the best things to eat, drink and do in London. She lives in East London and loves ceviche, cycling and magic shows. Lifelong nemeses include beetroot, beards and wine served in tumblers.