Nothing reminds me more of the year I spent travelling throughout south-east Asia than iced coffee with condensed milk. I cannot recall how many times its tooth-achingly sweet caffeine hit kept me upright during Thai boat crossings, evening train rides through Malaysian rainforests, and endless Vietnamese bus journeys.
Cafea yen (iced coffee, condensed milk, evaporated milk); cha yen (iced black tea, condensed milk); and cha kieow yen (iced black tea, condensed milk) can be found on the drinks menu at Plaza Khao Gaeng, chef Luke Farrell’s new southern-Thai restaurant in London’s Arcade Food Hall (iced green tea, condensed milk and squirty cream). In addition, they offer an off-menu shot of Thai nom yen (Thai Pink Milk), which is an unholy combination of condensed milk and sweet-and-sour Snake Fruit Syrup, the colour of Gaviscon.
Inside the Plaza Khao Gaeng on New Oxford Street in London, there are plastic tablecloths from Bangkok, tinny silverware, loud music, and harsh strip lighting. The iced beverages are prepared with ChaTraMue, a traditional Thai tea and coffee brand, and served in large plastic cups with ice and a straw.
The signature drink is spiked with mangdana, a prized condiment produced by male water beetles in south-east Asia.
“In Thailand, people adore energising beverages,” explains Farrell. That amuses and amuses. Luke, the son of the renowned lepidopterist Clive Farrell, has been travelling to south-east Asia since his childhood. He spent more than fifteen years living, cooking, and working in Thailand, and now divides his time between his home in Bangkok and the family farm in Ryewater, Dorset, where he cultivates Asian speciality ingredients in greenhouses filled with his father’s butterflies.
Maeng Da Lagerita, flavoured with chilli salt and mangdana.
The spicy dishes at Plaza contain many of these herbs and spices, including curry leaves, pink pepper leaves, Thai basil, Chinese keys, and chillies. You can quench the flames with a mango, cucumber, and Thai basil soda or a kombucha made with tamarind, mint, and jasmine. A Gimlet is spritzed with Dorset-grown pomelo essence, and a fermented pineapple and vodka cooler is topped with butterfly pea tea ice shavings – a traditional infusion that turns purple when exposed to acid.