The Begging Bowl, Peckham

The Begging Bowl in Peckham has just opened, on the site that was formerly a short-lived pizza place and before that, a fairly well regarded cafe. Tucked in the back streets of the ‘posh’ side of Peckham, Bellenden (stop sniggering), we visited as a group of nine to attempt to try most of the menu.

No reservations taken, a small line snaked out of the restaurant; it was looking popular already, less than a week into service. Inside was packed and noisy and we squidged onto a bench to tackle the task of ordering. Happily, we managed to utter the words we all dream of – ‘we’ll have one of everything’. The menu is split into ‘Slight Dishes £4.50’, ‘Light Dishes £7.50’ and ‘Robust Dishes £9.50’, with sticky rice and steamed rice included.

Deep fried salmon with sour fruits and chilli (top picture) came from the light dishes, and for £7.50 seemed a little on the small side. Perhaps it is the plate they used, as a smaller plate might have made it seem better value. Nevertheless, it was pretty delicious – tender chunks of flaky salmon was mixed with shallots and lots of citrus and herbs, with a good chilli kick to it.

Betel leaves came 5 to a plate and was topped with nuts, palm sugar and pomelo. This was one of my favourites of the night, and I wondered whether the chap I saw buying £50’s worth of betel leaves from the local Oriental supermarket last week was doing so for this dish. They were the perfect little mouthful of grassiness, sour, sweet and savoury. I had something very similar in Nahm in Bangkok except these were a little less weird.

Thai fishcakes were less favoured; their characteristic traditional bounciness that comes from pounding the fish until elastic was missing, and instead these were fluffier and with a more potatoey texture. Lime leaves were mixed in with each nugget giving them a nice fragrance though.

Coconut and galangal soup with chicken and mushrooms (so, tom kha gai?) came in a tureen and was beautifully fragrant and flavoursome, the galangal coming out strong. Tom Yum soup with prawns was less successful; it needed stronger flavours of that sour, savoury, spicy balance.

Of the robust dishes, the curry with pork shoulder and ginger impressed the most. The pork was juicy, the gravy heavily spiked with coconut. I wished for a little bit more chilli heat.

Green curry was made with rabbit instead of the ubiquitous chicken, but if I’m honest I probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. The addition of both apple and pea aubergines were a nice touch though, and it had a pleasant nose-clearing kick. Another main I was impressed with was a grilled bream smeared with a red curry paste and served wrapped up in the banana leaves it was grilled in.

The only disappointing dish was the grilled sirloin steak served with chilli sauce, cucumber and some herbs. The beef wasn’t particularly beefy and I was unsure of how to tackle it – a bite of steak and a bite of cucumber? A dunk in each sauce? Wrapped in basil? It seemed least balanced of the robust dishes and was lacking in something.

Otherwise, I was pretty impressed with The Begging Bowl. Although I could have done with some more chilli in most of the dishes, the balance of flavours so prized in Thai food was mostly there. I think they’re pretty brave in eschewing the noodles of Thailand – everyone loves a pad Thai, no? – but maybe that is yet to come.

The waiting staff could have been overwhelmed by the amount of people eating but instead they were calm, sweet and friendly, and we had a good chat when they asked us for feedback on the dishes we’d had. Given it was the opening week I can only imagine it’ll get better; I don’t know anywhere locally that does decent Thai food so I’ll definitely be back.

The Begging Bowl
168 Bellenden Road
SE15 4BW

[No reservations]

Thanks to Lizzie for this lovely article, you can visit her website: and follow her on twitter @hollowlegs

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  1. Lanre Makele 30 Aug 2012

    I wish I could talk about the quality of the food at the Begging bowl unfortunately, our experience was slightly different and we never got the chance to provide positive feedback. Below is a letter that I sent to its proprietors detailing our experience on the 17th August (by email and post on the 20th August). I received a brief one minute phone call from the hostess saying she would call me back within 24 hours to discuss, that was over a week ago and I am still waiting. Their food might be amazing (I wouldn’t know) however, their customer service was seriously lacking. Happy Reading.

    To Whom It May Concern,

    FAO: The Proprietor of the Begging Bowl, Peckham Rye

    I am writing to draw your attention to the poor customer service we received on the evening of Friday 17th August 2012.

    Having lived in the area for a couple of years we noticed that your restaurant was new and we were keen to pay it a visit. On the evening it was understandably busy and as prior reservation isn’t possible, we arrived as early as we could. There was a small queue at the time and as such we put our name on the waiting list and were told that we would be contacted in forty five minutes when a table would be available. At this point we made a note of the person just ahead of us in the queue.

    Having waited for over an hour at the local pub with still no phone call, we wandered back to the restaurant in the hope that a table would now be available (given the reasonable amount of time we had allowed). On arrival, we politely asked at the door if a table was free and explained the length of our wait. At this point the hostess stared at us blankly and we had to prompt her to check that our name and telephone number were indeed on the waiting list. It was at this stage that we noticed the man who earlier was directly in front of us in the queue was already seated and eating.

    The hostess then told us that there were currently no tables available and we informed her that this wasn’t a problem and we would wait by the door. She stated in a rather discourteous manner that this wasn’t feasible and we should wait on the pavement outside the restaurant (please note, at this stage, we were the only couple waiting to be seated). Once again we agreed to this request and while waiting patiently, we witnessed her proceed to telephone at least four other customers and seat another three groups. This seemed surprising considering that the man just ahead of us earlier in the queue was near completion of his meal (they were a table of two, as we would have been).

    Having now been waiting for over an hour and a half (twenty minutes of which was spent on a pavement) we were hungry and starting to lose our patience. We went back to the front door and chatted to a friendly couple that had just arrived and they mentioned that they were not on the waiting list and they had visited on the off chance that they might get a table. We informed them that we had been waiting for over an hour and a half and while worth a try, it was probably unlikely that they would be successful. Imagine our surprise when the hostess returned (still failing to acknowledge us) to the door and advised the new couple that they could be seated immediately.

    Thankfully, the very friendly couple pointed out that this hardly seemed fair given that they had just arrived and we were there before them. The hostess proceeded to shrug, offer us no apology (which had been absent all evening) and lead us to a table. The menu was shoved in front of us with an extremely brusque explanation and she walked off to speak with other customers. It was at this point that we decided to leave. Despite the lengthy wait and still feeling rather ravenous (we had arrived at 8pm and it was now approaching 10pm), the absolutely appalling service had left us feeling that we no longer wanted to give you our custom.

    I am rarely one to complain and consider myself to be incredibly tolerant. I also completely understand that it was busy and the task of arranging seating without a reservation system would be taxing for anyone. Nonetheless, I believe that the service and attitude we were subjected to was shocking and unacceptable. At no point in the evening were we offered an apology for an incredibly lengthy wait and for being repeatedly overlooked whilst others who had arrived after us were seated before us.

    It would be easy to put this down to an oversight given that it was busy (although this does seem unlikely as we were in her line of site while waiting and it appeared that she just refused to acknowledge us). Our only other assumption is that perhaps we were not dressed appropriately however, like most people, we had just arrived from our respective office jobs and nothing had been highlighted.

    I would recommend that you should invest heavily in training your staff on the importance of customer service and treating people with common courtesy and respect. The whole experience left us feeling deflated and we will definitely not be offering our custom or recommending your restaurant to the number of friends that we have in the area. You may feel that this is something you can live with but please bear in mind; we could easily have been food critics. I do hope you take this correspondence on board and make some changes that you feel will paint your establishment in a better light.

  2. We were very excited with the new addition of a new restaurant on Bellenden Road. Seeing the queue of people night after night since its opening, we were sure that things would bode well. So a merry group of us, put our name down on their waiting list and sat across the road in eager anticipation of our first experience of the begging bowl. After an hour wait for the new kid on the block, we were welcomed by their very friendly staff and worked our way through their tapas style menu. The menu was small but each dish seem exciting and very different from the usual thai fare you would expect, it only had two vegetarian dishes so upset the vegetarians in our group. Each dish was priced between £5.50 and £12.50. So if you ordered the suggested five dishes between two your meal would soon add up. Between eight of us we ordered a selection of dishes to share. When the food came, we were immediately surprised by the tiny size of the portions. Although the food was decent and some of it quite delicious, the concept of asian tapas at these prices and portion sizes was disappointing. If we were really hungry rather just snacking the meal we had here would fall very short of satisfactory. In the end we had to fill ourselves with the rice that luckily for us kept on coming and a couple of prawn balls from the chinese next door.

    The staff were attentive and welcoming, but several of our dishes did not arrive and only after about an hour did we get told that they had run out of ingredients. This led to a drawn-out meal, with some dishes arriving 45 minutes later than the first.

    We would love to support this local eatery, but if we would ever go back, I would need to come with a heavy wallet. With other options of Thai food in Brixton market and fiery chinese in Camberwell. Sadly I think we will travel out of our local to get our fix of asian food at much cheaper prices and proper portions

  3. Sarah Holmes 29 Sep 2012

    I had heard great things about this place and I wasn’t disappointed. I have to say I’m a little surprised by some of the earlier comments as I felt that the service was excellent, our waitress was really friendly and sweet, and the woman on the door was doing a good job of organizing everyone. They were extremely busy and so we had to wait a while over the road to be seated on a busy Friday night visit, but this was understandable as they seem to be very popular.

    So the food, (oh the food!) It was great – we went for the coconut and galangal soup, thai fishcakes, the betel leaves, green curry, the pork, the tofu and the sirloin steak. Everything bar the steak was delicious and although not cheap, rice and tea were included and unlimited which I felt was a nice touch! The only negative I have is to agree with the review and say that the steak isn’t a dish I would recommend as it felt a bit plain and out of place. The soup was really pleasant with nice chunks of chicken and just the right amount of heat. The tofu was surprisingly good – my friend ordered this and I don’t usually go for tofu as I find it a bit bland but this dish was packed with flavour. The leaves were amazing – we ordered another plateful! The green rabbit(!) curry was great and the pork was incredible. The dishes came when ready so not quite in the order expected, but all the dishes were delicious and complemented each other well so I didn’t see this as a negative at all. In fact, having been to Thailand and eaten plenty of street food, it made it feel like a more authentic experience of Thai street food with the bustling atmosphere and warm glow of the interior.

    Good drink selection – large choice of wines and beers, and the cocktails with a Thai twist that we had were lovely. For this visit I went with a friend and it was a great start to our Friday night, have only just moved to the area and am very pleased to have quality Thai food on my doorstep so I will definitely be back!


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