Famously Rick Stein’s favourite spot for Pad Thai, Clapham Common’s The Pepper Tree treats diners to thrifty, no nonsense, authentic Thai meals. Perfect for a quick bite and a natter over a few bottles of beer.
Located a stone's throw from Clapham Common, The Pepper Tree is the ideal spot for a tasty meal before a night out on Clapham High Street, or indeed after a day sunning yourself on the common. Inside, the venue takes minimalism to a new level. Winning no prizes for interior design, the white washed walls and stripped wooden floors remind guests that this canteen-style eatery is all about the food. Large wooden benches are surprisingly comfortable but given the small space, an intimate date can soon become a shared affair. The outdoor ‘terrace’ is ill advised given that it’s roadside, but many a happy diner have sat there when the temperatures sore, with Thai food being a surprisingly good bedfellow to long summer days.
Staff greet guests (usually queuing out of the door) and advise on wait times – around twenty minutes on a busy Friday evening. Once seated, the evening becomes a very relaxed occasion, and even though waiters can't really be praised for their people skills, the fact that no one is rushed into settling their bill is highly commendable, considering the swelling queues. It's predominantly a younger crowd, comprising twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings, local families and young professionals catching up in their City suits.
The Pepper Tree epitomises authentic Thai cooking, delivering fresh flavours with very light price tags. Punchy curries, crunchy salads and flavour-packed noodle dishes grace the main of the menu. The impressive array of starters make for perfect sharing plates – there are classics such as satay and spring rolls as well as tasty dim sum and zesty, hot soups.
Each starter is priced around £3.50, and well worth sampling, not least the sweetcorn cakes (a panko-breaded crispy shell encasing homely and warming sweetcorn filling, lightly flecked with red chili); the vegetable dim sum (packed full of exotic vegetables and well seasoned tofu); and the prawn tom yum soup (delicately flavoured with coriander and lemongrass and peppered with soft, plump prawns).
Main courses continue the theme, with a massaman chicken curry (£5.75) with coconut rice (£2.35) instantly comforting thanks to its warming, rich and tangy tones. The curry is laden with peanuts and potato and the chicken supple, and paired with the creamy coconut rice for an altogether indulgent dish. With the prawn pad Thai (£6.95) getting considerable praise from Rick Stein, it thankfully doesn't disappoint. The lime and fresh vegetables paired with juicy prawns and unctuous noodles disappears in no time, with chopped peanuts providing the perfect variation in texture.
The wine list is short, but everyone dining here knows this isn’t the place to sample the latest Beaujolais. There are a few whites and a few reds, all around the £11-£15 mark. Savvy diners opt for beer, the perfect accompaniment to Thai cuisine. Never mind your favourite European brand, The Pepper Tree serves three Thai varieties – Chang, Singha or Tiger, all at £3.50 a bottle. Teetotalers can enjoy a fresh orange or apple juice at £1.50, both of which offer some perfectly suited refreshment.
The Last Word
Foodies from Clapham and beyond know the value of this no-nonsense, full flavour dining experience. The prices encourage clientele to sample a wide variety of the fresh, flavour packed and authentic dishes, and given that queue, it’s surely Clapham’s worst kept secret.