I had high hopes for Lahpet, one of London’s first Burmese restaurants proper, a cuisine that I feel is underappreciated in this city. It’s surprising there aren’t more takes on this food which celebrates the very best of Asia; it’s quite literally a melting pot of traditions, spices, herbs, pastes, sauces. Following on from its successful year-long pop-up in Hackney, founders Dan Anton and Head Chef Zaw Mahesh have just brought their contemporary take on Burmese cooking to the heart of Shoreditch. Having read reviews of their Spitafields stall and passing pop-up, I was keen to head East (of the City and the food scene) to try it for myself.
“Lahpet” translates directly from Burmese as “tea” which is reflected in the restaurant’s signature dish: the Tea Leaf Salad. Another highlight of the menu is supposed to be the home-made Shan tofu, made on site from scratch using split peas. I regret not trying either…but more on that later.
One of the successes of this restaurant is its design: as well as a long communal table (ideal for birthday dinners, this evening’s party being a case in point), there a few cosy booths near the window and seats around the bar which for me are always the best in the house. And this is so especially here: the drinks list is worth a perusal: the wines are Borough sourced and more excitingly, the cocktails are herb infused, including the Lemongrass Mimosas my companion and I enjoyed. The appearance of this Asian root in my cocktail brought back fond memories of my Yumtini in Como’s Nahm restaurant in Thailand, after which this blog is titled!
Onto the food, disappointingly, the kitchen had run out of their only vegetarian main – the Pumpkin Stuffed with Wild Rice (£11). When I queried what the other options were, the answers were limited to either their Shan noodles with vegetables and tofu or their Roasted Aubergine Salad (£7.50) as a main. I was stunned to find only one vegetarian main on their menu based on a cuisine so rooted in spices, herbs and vegetables. For starters (well, actually as a main) I’d expect to see at least one aromatic curry. But alas, settling for the Aubergine, we also ordered a selection of their Fritters – Mandalay (Red Bean), Sweetcorn, Bottle Gourd and Tofu – to share (£8).
The fritter bites came first and weren’t were I had hoped for at all – more batter, less vegetables. Though the tamarind dip that came with was delicious, it’s something I’ve enjoyed in Indian foods many times and so was underwhelming in terms of novelty.
Then came the Aubergine – rather confusingly served as a small plate rather than the main as promised and ordered. Eventually, they swapped it for a moderately larger portion (with a £5 surcharge!). Whilst the dish was packed with umami flavours, helped by the generous scattering of sesame seeds and peanuts, it was too cold (not even room temperature) and not particularly exciting. The melange of mushy flavours became one-dimensional and uninteresting. Essentially, the dish doesn’t work well as a main. The foods weren’t exciting which I have found Burmese food to be in the past.
For a restaurant with plenty of opportunities to hone its craft due to its time on the street food scene and residency circuits, there were more missteps than I would’ve liked at Lahpet. Lahpet isn’t the last word in Burmese food for Londoners. It is, I hope, just the beginning.
Laphet, 58 Bethnal Green Road, E1 6JW