Long Live Louie

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I’m looking to rent a place for a few weeks near the South London Gallery, just long enough to fully enjoy Chef Tom Geoffrey’s residence at South London Louie while I work my way through the amazing menu he has created for his six-week stay there, writes Michael Holland.

His blends of herbs and spices and fruits and vegetables come together in tastes and textures perhaps never experienced outside of Cambodia before. Certainly not by me or my dining companion who spent the first five minutes saying nothing else but ‘Wow!’ as we shared Oyster Mushroom Skewers – Until the chilli kicked in and she could only squeak her word.

Tom Geoffrey at work

Our dishes were presented one by one so that we could fully concentrate and really focus on the flavours. Something would hit the palate that you might recognise – a touch of lemongrass, maybe, or tamarind – but mostly every thing we ate was a new sensation. Each dish included something we could not work out what it could be: Tuk Trey Koh Kong was, I think, the wonderful stock that our clams were steamed in, but it’s ingredients remain an Asian mystery; the Khmer Spice turned a soft shell crab into something glorious and we may never know why; Annatto Glaze made the humble mushroom into the dish of the night for me and I am beyond caring how or why, I just know that I want to journey through all those tangs and zips and zests that gave every dish a ‘Wow Factor’ again. And again.

Of course, Tom Geoffrey uses good English produce as a foundation for his dishes: Pheasant, clams, pork cheek, chicken and fish, but this good English produce is not how you know it after he pimps it up with Cambodian and Khmer techniques he learnt on his many travels. Even a salad was concocted in such a way that it was no longer a side dish but a main event; its green bits, raw bits, crunchy bits and fruity bits all combined to make it a sweet and sour sensation.

I declared myself finished at one point but Nina saw the pumpkin-based dessert that she felt compelled to have. It said ‘slice’ but this was a hunky chunk that I did not think she could ever finish. How wrong was I? Cooked with an intriguing palm sugar glaze, covered with toasted coconut and drizzled with a syrup, I received a running commentary on its health-giving goodness between mouthfuls before she put her spoon down and announced the dish as her Plat du Jour.

South London Louie allows views over a mundane Peckham Road, its decor aims – successfully – at plain Jane, and there is a hum of grown up conversation as the staff move purposefully between tables, fetching and clearing away quietly and professionally, but all the time you are there is like being at a carnival of culinary treasures, where your head goes into a chilli spin before you rollercoaster around a crispy pheasant, ricochet off pickled mustard greens and ponder the Makrut lime, while your taste buds feel as if they have just been dragged awake from a deep slumber. 

We were still enjoying the fizz of spice on our lips and palate an hour after leaving, and we can’t wait to get back before Chef Tom goes off travelling to Malaysia in January.

Tom Geoffrey will be in residence until 22nd December.

South London Louie, 65 Peckham Road, SE5 8UH. 

0207 207 2524 – www.southlondonlouie.com

Two people, six dishes, two drinks: £84


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