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Kolae restaurant review: Southern Thai food bringing spice to Borough

Savour bold, bright flavours straight from the grill at this new Thai restaurant near Borough Market

Andy Oliver and Mark Dobbie, the duo behind the super successful Som Saa in Shoreditch, are back, with the opening of Kolae. The focus on Thai cuisine remains but at this new eatery near Borough Market, dishes are cooked in the traditional southern kolae style aka covered in spicy marinades and grilled over coals. Here’s why Kolae is our restaurant of the week.

Kolae Restaurant Review: Southern Thai In Borough, LondonPin
Mark Dobbie and Andy Oliver. Photography by Harriet Langford

Kolae, a new Thai restaurant near Borough Market, has been years in the making. I’m not referring solely to the three years since co-owners Andy Oliver and Mark Dobbie of Som Saa in Shoreditch, crowdfunded to set the opening in motion. But the years before that, when the two chefs immersed themselves in Thai cuisine at the likes of Nahm in London, Bo.Lan in Bangkok, and Pok Pok in Portland. It’s the education in Thai food that they received there, and the network of suppliers they’ve built assiduously since, that make Kolae what it is.

Kolae Restaurant Review: Southern Thai In Borough, LondonPin

Oliver is at the pass when The Glossary drops by for lunch. None of the customers pay him much heed; they’re far too busy sipping tamarind sodas and fighting over plates of prawn heads. Were they to look over they’d see him head down, checking plates, tweaking garnishes and adjusting seasoning. He tastes everything.

Kolae Restaurant Review: Southern Thai In Borough, LondonPin

At the heart of the dining room (a converted coach house abutting Neal’s Yard Dairy) is the open grill. In front is a stepped counter from which you can watch the chefs tending coals and turning skewers. Even better, you can see all the dishes as they hit the pass and hurriedly add them to your order. If you’re sitting upstairs in the peaceful first floor or, lucky you, in the gorgeous glass-walled private dining room, you’ll have to take the servers’ advice instead; they’ll help you compose a balanced meal from the assortment of grills, curries, pickles, salads, and small plates. 

Kolae Restaurant Review: Southern Thai In Borough, LondonPin

By the time I watched the chef toss what must be his one hundredth sour mango and roasted coconut salad in a row, I’m wondering what kind of fool I was to not order it in the first place. The same goes for the unremarkably named ‘relish of roasted shrimp paste and chilli’ and ‘coconut water pickles’; you could easily overlook them but they’re there to bring balance to the showier grills and curries. The move though is to come in a group and order the lot. You might want to order the kale and herb fritters twice.

The most important dishes are cooked in the style of cooking known as kolae (or golae) from which Kolae takes its name. The technique hails from the far south of Thailand, toward Malaysia, and sees ingredients bathed in sauces and spice pastes and grilled on the coals on repeat until smoky and tender.

Kolae Restaurant Review: Southern Thai In Borough, LondonPin
“The most important dishes are cooked in the style of cooking known as kolae (or golae) from which Kolae takes its name. The technique hails from the far south of Thailand, toward Malaysia, and sees ingredients bathed in sauces and spice pastes and grilled on the coals on repeat until smoky and tender.”
Kolae Restaurant Review: Southern Thai In Borough, LondonPin
Kolae Restaurant Review: Southern Thai In Borough, LondonPin

Oliver applies the technique to hogget chops, kabocha squash, chicken, and mussels, one of the restaurant’s most talked about dishes. If it comes off the menu, expect an outcry. They’re not mussels as you might know them; what they lose on the grill in slippery sweetness, they gain in robust flavour and firm texture, qualities that allow them to take on so much flavour from the coconut and turmeric marinade. A single smokey hogget chop has the fat and age to handle even more; it’s almost Christmassy with cassia and warm spices, hidden under a tumble of fried onions.

Kolae Restaurant Review: Southern Thai In Borough, LondonPin

A note on heat. Oliver aims for a level of spice you’d find in Thailand, so dishes are true to their origins; but not all dishes pack a punch, and some not an obvious one, as in the case of my prawn and betel leaf curry that builds slowly and surprisingly on the palate. A scoop of young coconut sorbet with pandan sticky rice and peanuts, the only dessert on the menu, is the soothing balm I need. Kolae has worked its magic.

THE LOWDOWN:

Meal for two (with wine): £150

Signature Dishes: Kolae grilled mussel skewer; Kolae hogget chop

What to drink: Pickled mango Dirty Martini


6 Park Street, Borough, London, SE1

kolae.com

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